An exciting new bistro called West 34 is coming to West Kirby next month, taking over one of the town’s most celebrated restaurant hotspots.
An award-winning north west chef has been brought in to help design the menu for West 34, which will replace Scog’s on the corner of Banks Road and Salisbury Avenue.
Billy and Victoria Preston, who took over Scog’s in November, are to close the restaurant after its Valentines Day celebrations on Sunday.
Then, after a hectic but minutely planned renovation programme, the couple aim to open West 34 on the site in early March.
The name is based on the restaurant’s address, 34 Banks Road, West Kirby, but with more than a nod to West 34th Street in Manhattan.
This West Kirby address has been iconic in its own right over the years, from its days as the Thistle Cafe in the early 1970s, to becoming the ultra-cool and massively popular birthplace of what was to grow into Lee Brennan’s What’s Cooking restaurant chain.
Then came Joe’s Diner and then the romantic Latin chic of the celebrated Italian eatery Scognamiglios, before its current incarnation as Scog’s. (If you can remember other businesses that have occupied the site, we would love to hear from you.)
The Prestons moved to West Kirby from London in September, but they are only too aware of the legacy of the venue, which is woven into Victoria’s childhood memories. Her parents and grandparents are all from Wirral, and she clearly feels hugely at home here.
Atilio, the legendary restaurateur behind Scognamiglio’s, was a good friend of her grandfather’s. “I used to know Atilio, and we would come here and eat pasta when I was little,” she smiles.
Billy and Victoria have been together for four years and married for a year and a half, and a table at Scog’s was also the scene of Billy’s first meeting with Victoria’s grandparents, long before the couple had thoughts of buying it.
Said Victoria: “We don’t want to be seen as these people coming from London and taking over. I have been coming here for so many years, and in some ways it feels rather difficult to change it, and a bit sad.
“This is one of the reasons why we wanted to run the restaurant as Scog’s for a couple of months because we wanted to get to know people and understand what they want. We didn’t want to just come and bulldoze people’s treasured restaurant.”
The couple’s combined skills should stand them in good stead for running their own restaurant. Billy, 39, is a former Evening Standard journalist who then moved into PR and marketing.
“I supplemented my income as a journalist working first as a waiter, then a barman, then a head waiter, and then I became manager of a couple of bars and restaurants in London,” he says.
Victoria, 29, is a passionate foodie like her parents, and worked in London staging Michelin star food events and glamorous fashion shows.
“It became a little soul-destroying in the end,” she confesses. “I realised that I had always been on the wrong side of the pass, creating new events, doing operations, doing the networking, putting the people together.
“I’ve been friends with the chefs , but I had never been on the other side, and this is my opportunity now.”
Victoria will not be head chef, but she will be a hands-on kitchen manager and is designing the West 34 menu along with the mystery consultant chef, who is a past winner of the north west section of the Great British Menu.
Said Billy: “Victoria has a real passion for cooking. I’m the luckiest man in the world because I get to sample Victoria’s food every day and it would be selfish of me not to share it with the rest of the world.”
So what can we expect from West 34? The couple say they are focusing on dishes made from the best local ingredients, organic when possible, and are currently in talks with a number of suppliers.
Victoria explained: “When we say local it can be Yorkshire, Lancashire, North Wales, but incredibly high quality produce. It’s the best of the north west and the best of the rest.
“It’s just making sure we put a real focus on organic where possible, free range eggs where possible, making sure that the animal welfare has been considered…it’s just basically cooking with consideration.
“We want to make it accessible as well. You don’t have to make the prices ridiculous to access sustainable, healthy eco-living and eating.”
The new design will be more bistro than restaurant, with a bar area where Billy will be able to demonstrate his flair for cocktail-making.
He said: “We like the idea of big tables where people can come in and spread their papers out and have a pitcher of Bloody Marys on the table and sit there reading their papers for as long as they want to. They can spend time over a light brunch at the weekends or a lunch.”
The bar, they promise, will be modern and cool. But West 34 is also aimed at serving the whole family.
Said Victoria: “We want it to be very kid friendly. We will have a cool kids’ menu as well…not just young kids but teenagers as well. We want teenagers to be able to feel that this is the place that they want to go.
“So when you are 15 there is something on the menu for you – it’s not just mum and dad food. It’s not about burgers and chips, though.
“You want to have something that is still delicious, so a child will look at the menu and like it, but the parents will approve too because it is healthy. We need to strike a balance between healthy eating and what children really want to eat.
“We really want West Kirby to feel as if we are part of the community as much as possible. West 34 is about being accessible. It’s for everyone. It’s not exclusive in any which way. It will just be a great place to go and have great food.”
The accessibility will even extend to dogs, with a dog friendly area being provided. And for that, dog lovers can largely thank the Prestons’ own beloved pet Ella, who the couple rescued all the way from Greece.
“Ella’s a bit feral, but she’s very much a part of the team,” said Billy. “Victoria was always sold on coming back here.
“But when we were looking at West Kirby, the three of us went for a long walk, out on the sands for a couple of hours talking about what we might do and how we could do it. By the time we headed back I was sold. Ella was so happy too.
“When we made that long walk along the beach, that’s when we made that decision, From it being a dream it became a reality on that walk.”