REVIEW: Liberty Brown, Hylton Riverside, Sunderland

Liberty Brown - Timber Beach Road, Wessington Way, Sunderland.
Liberty Brown - Timber Beach Road, Wessington Way, Sunderland.
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FESTIVE fare for large groups can be a tricky culinary feat to master.

Over the years, my annual Christmas reunion with my school pals has been a mixed bag of meals at various venues.

Some dinners come late, some not at all, and some are so scarce and bland on the turkey front you really wish they hadn’t arrived at all.

I have to hand it to Liberty Brown, they managed to cope admirably with our ever-increasing brood of ten adults, two children, one toddler and three babies.

The little legs of the group were treated to a one-on-one with the man himself ahead of the meal. A grotto had been set up to the rear of the restaurant which houses Santa and his elf.

Book ahead (at a cost of £5 per child) so you can stipulate a message for the kids to be told by Santa. It’s all been well-planned to help create a fitting air of magic. Like all good Santas, he presented the kids with a gift too.

Children satisfied with their presents, it was time to settle them down for lunch. Liberty Brown is fairly capacious meaning it can cater for large groups, and we were given a set of tables which had been strung together with plenty of space for the cavalcade of buggies which now accompanies our group outings.

At £25 per person, you can choose from a Christmas party menu, if you’re thinking ahead to next year, which features a good choice of festive and non-festive foods, for those already sick of the sight of turkey.

I chose the distinctly non-Christmassy tempura tiger prawns with Asian salad and a sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Meals cooked en masse at this busy period aren’t always the best, but this was presented with panache. Two chunky, succulent large prawns were served on one of those trendy slate plates with a colourful, zingy salad that added some 

If you’d rather stick with more traditional choices, starters also include hearty winter broth with a Cheddar cheese dumpling and potato skins with bacon, brie and cranberry sauce.

Bracing myself for the mounds of pigs of blankets I consumed on Christmas Day, I chose one of the lighter main meal options: salmon fillet.

It arrived in a gloriously sticky balsamic glaze on a bed of creamy pesto mash and courgette pickle.

I could help but eye up my friends’ plates who’d gone with the traditional Christmas dinner, a generous portion served with a huge fluffy cloud of Yorkshire pudding. They had to ask for more gravy to smother the pud, but our waitress was speedy in meeting our demands.

She was particularly great with the kids, bringing them extras, such as chips, to keep them happy. Sweet tooths tucked into chocolate brownies and caramel apple pie from the pudding menu, while I went with the savoury option of a selection of cheeses.

There was wedge upon wedge of smoked, soft and blue options for me to pick my way through and I eventually had to admit defeat and leave some untouched.

We’re already planning a return trip next year. As festive meals go, this was a Christmas cracker.