THAT old analogy about waiting for ages for a bus and then two come along. It could be applied to Liverpool and its relationship with celebrity chefs. Or at least the restaurants they lend their big names to.
Anticipation was rife on the town last June when Liverpool Confidential revealed that Simon Rimmer, he of TV's Sunday Brunch, was opening up on Dale Street.
'There is a big difference between a city centre restaurant and one in the suburbs. You are servicing the local community, they want to feel that it is a home from home'
"Simon Rimmer at Layla” was set to open January gone, part of the Hilton Doubletree Hotel development of the historic Municipal Annex.
Blimey. Who isn't famished?
“It still is happening,” insists the Wallasey-born chef. “It is a beautiful old building, so every time they have wanted to do something, because it is Grade II listed, it takes months to get the planning permission changed on it.
“And so it's slow, slow, slow. Now the provisional opening date for it is August, but I think it's more likely to be September.”
Yet while we are hanging about at the bus stop with a bag of Quavers, Rimmer is not. He has another timetable and another listed building in his clutches, this time in Woolton.
The Elephant is one of the city's best known pubs and one which Rimmer thinks is worth a jumbo punt.
The founder of award-winning vegetarian restaurant Greens, in Didsbury, and Earle in Hale, has put the family silver on the line to take ownership of it and its restaurant attachment, The Bubble Room. Here we find ourselves having a 15-minute gab while Rimmer keeps lookout for a man from Anglesey bearing pork pie samples.
Bubble about to burstThe TV chef has teamed up with Roy Ellis and Neil Macleod, founders of the Revolution chain of bars, in a new venture named Flying Pig and Lobster.
In terms of demographics, Woolton village is probably the nearest an L postcode gets to affluent Cheshire where Rimmer made his name, but he says it was an accidental decision.
“At first we were looking in the city centre but this site came up.”
Rimmer's arrival has not gone unnoticed by villagers – although there has been no change - as yet.
“The place is busy as it is,” he says looking around. "we wanted to stay in touch with our customers.
“There is nothing worse than taking over a busy place and you say 'right, we're going to change everything and all that money you've been spending here for years... you know nothing and we know better than you'. You can alienate customers very very quickly.”
As a chef, he must be desperate to change everything?
“We've changed a lot of systems at the back end, but otherwise nothing.
“Rather, we took a step back and we listened to what people had to say."
Rimmer goes on: “There is a big difference between a city centre restaurant and one in the suburbs. You are servicing the local community, they want to feel that it is a home from home."
Change is a-coming: Rimmer and his partners will be doing a big refurb of both the pub and the restaurant at the end of May. Each will be closed for about a month and there will be excitements in July with a relaunch.
“The Bubble Room will be a modern, American-style brasserie, basically," he says.
“So pulled pork?”
“Nah, not so much that. It's been done to death,” he shakes his head. “It's more in terms of technique. For example we will be doing a proper eight-hour cook Texan chilli. We've got things like salmon jambalaya on, Gilhooley smoked scallops in a garlic and shrimp sauce, which is stunning. So we are using some American techniques but it will be beautiful when it's done, it will be fantastic."
That trademark vegetarian food?
“There will be great veggie food,” he adds. “Fourteen per cent of the population don't eat meat. It would be bad business not to.”
After that, world domination?
Me and The Elephant: 'Simon Rimmer says 'this is my pension'
Rimmer nods. He's not revealing the name of the new concept yet but “hopefully it will be the first of many”.
So what of The Elephant, a pub that certainly managed to alienate the locals when it became Casa del Cocodrilo in one controversial reincarnation in 2007, when the famously eponymous head on the Grade II building ended up in a skip?
The two operations have always run out of one kitchen but now The Elephant will walk alone, with a dedicated food prep area and team.
In a city short on pubs with great food there's a big market and one which the team are keen to exploit.
“It sounds very arrogant," says Rimmer, "but we know exactly what we want to do and that it is all the things that I believe in. We are working with lots of local suppliers and producers. The butcher around the corner is going to make bacon to our specs for us. We have a local baker. We are working with farmers who breed longhorn beef."
World domination of the concept may have to wait a while, but, for the moment, being The Best Suburban Restaurant In The City will have to do.
"What a good local restaurant has to be is this," he says. If you are going out with your girlfriends I want you to come here; if it is your birthday I want you to come here; if you go out with your mum for a bit of lunch I want you to come here. And if you are gouinf on a date it has to be irresistible."
“So you're not after the WAG crowd?”
“No, more than that. "I want this to be the best local restaurant that there is.”
“Yes, without a shadow of a doubt.”
Secret gardenFifteen minutes up and Rimmer poses for a picture outside the chronically fatigued Elephant. Every bit the public personality, we nail the snap in one.
And yes, he admits he loves the TV life and, yes, all the trappings that go with it. No Ford Focus and package holiday in Tenerife for him "although there's nothing wrong with that".
“This is my pension, when all the poncey side of my life comes to an end,” he says.
"First and foremost, though, I'm a chef.”
*Follow Angie Sammons on Twitter here