IN the hugely competitive restaurant business, it’s the little touches that keep customers coming back time and again — the complimentary bread sticks, the waiter who knows his stuff, the free liqueur at the end of the meal (even better, the two free liqueurs), writes MICHELLE TOMPKINS.

At Coal Grill and Bar there is one big reason why my friends and I will be back for more, and that’s the manager Cel Butcher.

From the moment we stepped through the doors to the late hour at which we finally ran out of gossip, he was there with his friendly smile and good-natured questions, yet crucially knew exactly when to retreat and leave us to our chatter.

It was a level of service rarely perfected elsewhere, where the staff can be either too scarce or too full-on, and it left a lasting impression.

The three of us were meeting for one of our quarterly get togethers, where the food matters less than the subjects under discussion.

As such, our eyes were caught by the prix fixe menu, available from Sunday to Thursday from 5pm, with two courses for £10.95 and three for £12.95.

The choices are limited but there was something there for all of us and we started with two orders of crumbed brie wedges and one of fajita dusted whitebait.

I love deep-fried cheese, but there’s no denying it feels like the ultimate foodie sin, so this small portion of just two wedges with its fresh side of mango and sweet chilli salsa felt like a happy compromise. The coating was crisp and the cheese gooey, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be.

The whitebait was a more generous portion, with a whole heap of little fish staring up from the plate. I tried a couple and the coating was just the right side of spicy, cooled down by a tangy aioli. So far, so good.

Determined to make amends for a decadent starter, I ordered the cobb salad for a main course, but it certainly wasn’t a salad for slimmers. The huge bowl of leaves was dotted with egg, avocado, chicken, bacon, bleu cheese and the most delicious croutons which reminded me of the fried bread my mum used to make.

There were so many flavours on the plate there was no need for a dressing, but I dread to think how many calories were in that one bowl-full of ‘salad’.

The other two went for the veggie chimichanga, a tortilla stuffed with cheese, salsa and garlic rice, with guacamole and sour cream on the side.

If anything, theirs looked even more impressive than mine - crammed to the brim and packed with vibrant colours - and they made all the right appreciative noises between our tales of school dramas, fashion faux pas and university fees.

Despite Cel’s best efforts, we declined desserts (chocolate brownie, sticky toffee pudding or mixed berry brulee on the prix fixe menu) and opted for coffees instead, which we were allowed to spin out for over an hour with no pressure to leave - another big plus in my book.

The coffees were well priced at £2.65, but our one and only niggle of the whole evening was the extortionate prices of the other drinks - close to £8 for a white wine and soda and the same for a large glass of Rioja.

I know from a previous visit that the soft drinks can be pretty painful too - last time, we paid almost £17 for five large glasses of Pepsi.

But, of course, when manager Cel asked if we’d enjoyed our meal we all did that very British thing of nodding enthusiastically and keeping quiet about our little gripe. It certainly won’t stop us going back for more.