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Restaurant review: Upstairs at the Bluecoat

AA Grill finds little comfort among the crumbs five years down the line

Written by . Published on March 8th 2013.

Restaurant review: Upstairs at the Bluecoat

WHEN the wraps came off the £12.5m metamorphosis of Britain's oldest arts centre, you could be sure not everybody would be happy.

That particularly went for former patrons of its charming refectory, operated under the guidance of Paddy Byrne, he of the revered Everyman Bistro – both snatched from us by Progress, the merciless god of strategic development.

Thai green curry featured largely inoffensive chunks of flesh, some a little chewy, though that could not be said of the vegetables, which gave the impression of having been left on a low light while the kitchen staff took several days' annual leave

In place of the Bluecoat cafe came the anonymous Espresso coffee bar, at ground level, and the Upstairs restaurant, which is, er, upstairs.

Upstairs At The Bluecoat Liverpool %2831%29 %281024X768%29 

In those days a central bar divided the first floor room between those who were there for supper and those who were there for supping. Now there is no distinction and the “restaurant” has become a, daytime only, “bistro”.

With its lofty ceilling and arched sash windows, this ought to be a great setting for a meal. But the décor, which Confidential called “swishy” back in 2008 – is showing its age. Couches have grown shabby, tables damaged, the wall next to us scuff-marked, a chunk of it missing at one corner.

A waitress pulled back a curtain to let in what would have been a welcome shaft of sunlight had it not shown up great daubs of fingermarks on the plastic chairs.

Suspended from the ceiling is a giant, rectangular light box, rather impressive but with no lid. A couple of months after its installation we had noted how it was an attraction to certain smaller species of wildlife, some of whom liked it so much they had seen out their, albeit brief, lives there.

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Five years on, we gazed upwards and wondered if any of the expired insects which had made it their final, luminescent resting place were the same ones we saw last time. Try getting a vacuum cleaner up there.

Atop the bar, a line of globe-shaped paper shades leant over at an angle of 45 degrees. We're guessing this was deliberate but it was hard to tell amid a general air of dishevelment, evident in everything from the crumb-covered table that greeted our entry, to the stained, dog-eared menus we were presented with.

A few feet from us, the occupants of a table had gone but the considerable detritus of their meal remained. Like the Mary Celeste, but without the mystery. In the manner of a motorway pile-up, it grimly compelled us to keep looking. As it was still doing when we left, 90 minutes later.

Part way through lunch, one waiter, rather than take away the remnants of our starter, moved them to the other side of the table, although we could at least be grateful that there, behind the flowers and the jug of water, they were partially hidden from view.

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The menu was divided, roughly speaking, into sandwiches, salads and “lighter bites”, and more substantial “winter warmers”. Confusingly, only three items were specified as “homemade” but, we were firmly informed, “everything's homemade”.

The waiter had greeted us like old friends, which is to say “matey” in my case, “my love” in Mrs Grill's. Variations on this theme included “mate” and “hun” and I half expected to be addressed as “mush” though that would risk reminding us of the vegetables in the Thai curry – but I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Upstairs At The Bluecoat Liverpool %288%29 %281024X768%29Vegetable spring rolls (£5.95) were as stodgy as they looked. Casings which ought to have been thin and crunchy, were instead damp, glutinous, thick and sticky. Their filling – sweetcorn, pepper and carrot included – was a little underseasoned, an accompanying chilli sauce oversweet. We mentioned we were sharing but had to make do with the one plate. “Good job I'm not with anybody important,” noted Mrs G.

“Traditional homemade scouse” (£9.95) had evidently been given the salt intended for the spring rolls, and then some. The advertised “lamb and beef” seemed to have come from the same animal – cow was our guess – but was strangely pink for meat that had presumably been cooking for some time.

Upstairs At The Bluecoat Liverpool %2816%29 %281024X768%29Scouse and a barm cake

“Crusty bread” was a soft roll with a pat of butter perched awkwardly on top, while a sizeable sprig of parsley was sprawled across the dish when it needed chopping up and stirring through before serving.

Thai green curry (£7.95, or with chicken for another £1.50) featured largely inoffensive chunks of flesh, some a little chewy, though that could not be said of the vegetables, which gave the impression of having been left on a low light while the kitchen staff took several days' annual leave.

Upstairs At The Bluecoat Liverpool %2826%29 %281024X768%29 

Oil separated out to the edges more and more the longer the curry stayed in the dish, and most of it did stay in the dish.

A shared dessert of “homemade” strawberry and cherry bakewell (£3.50) – one plate, one fork – was the best thing about the whole experience; at least they kept the best for last.

Upstairs At The Bluecoat Liverpool %2828%29 %281024X768%29 

Perhaps we were missing the point about this place and wouldn't know a “creative setting” if we tripped over it. Maybe, in keeping with the Bluecoat's purpose, and taking inspiration from Tracy Emin's unmade bed, our surroundings were intended as a representation of the true artist's chaotic lifestyle. Or maybe it was just a mess.

This used to be the concert room and that's the tragedy of this waste of a great space.

Our grandmothers used to insist "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all". At Confidential we have another saying: if you can't say anything nice, you're in the wrong restaurant.

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. Critics dine unannounced and we picks up their bills - never the restaurant, never a PR company.




Food  4/10
Service  2/5 


Upstairs at the Bluecoat
The Bluecoat,
School Lane,
Liverpool, L1 3BX.
0151 702 5324 

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Venues are rated against the best 
examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, British restaurants against other British restaurants etc. Following on from this the scores represent: 

1-5:     Order of the dog bowl
6-9:     Get the chippy 
10-11: It's an emergency
12-13: If you happen to be passing
14-15: Worth a trip out 
16-17: Very good to exceptional 
18-20: As good as it gets 

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23 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Matt SloaneMarch 8th 2013.

I remember eating there for free before a gig a few years back. I wanted my money back. A thoroughly charmless place - a mausoleum for the nation's combined restaurant mistakes of the past twenty years.

SaladDazeMarch 8th 2013.

Sounds like it hasn't improved since a former encounter...

SaladDazeMarch 8th 2013.

Some round here still remember that "Mrs Grill seemed especially taken with our new friends, partly, I suspected, because all of them were substantially older than her."

CarolineMarch 8th 2013.

omgoodness.the curry looks disgusting...I would have sent it back..

Philip CoppellMarch 8th 2013.

The Bluecoat was ruined when it was redeveloped, should never have been allowed and is not an assert to the Arta or the eateries .

Mark LoudonMarch 8th 2013.

It is amazing just how bad it is, and how casual and unconcerned the staff are in the midst of the filth and poor food. How do they survive? They cant do that much business. And downstairs is really overpriced. Shame, because I think there are good things about the new building, it is a nice place to hang out right in the city centre and shows some good stuff. They are really shooting themselves in the foot with the catering though.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 9th 2013.

Completely agree.

Paul WardMarch 8th 2013.

It makes the staff and standards in Burger King look good.

What's that luminous nasty in the last photo?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 9th 2013.


Absinthe & TurksMarch 8th 2013.

They turned the popular old concert room into a rubbish restaurant and the pleasant ground floor gallery into a draughty bus-station buffet with high prices and slow service.

And plastic chairs. Paper cups.

But these people know best, as they kept telling us over and over again at the time of the re-opening, and they had to take away the visitors' book because the new, corporate entertainment Blue Coat alienated nearly everyone who had supported it for decades.

Plum McDuffMarch 8th 2013.

I once nearly dined here but it was lunchtime, time was limited and we simply got fed up 'waiting to be greeted' in the door when the place was almost empty.

Rory TanianMarch 8th 2013.

They've managed to turn that lovely, light, airy, large, dignified room into a neglected, cluttered and unattractive church hall. I thought people weren't allowed to do this sort of thing to listed buildings.

I actually bought a drink in there once; it took ages to be served even though I was one of very few customers and the attitude of the 'barman' suggested that he thought I was wasting his time.
When I looked at my change I realised it was my time that was being wasted. I never went back.

Penny MitchellMarch 8th 2013.

you all should go to the Post Office pub up the road for the best food in Liverpool

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 9th 2013.

It's not great pub food, but, admittedly, it's miles better than the Bluecoat.

AnonymousMarch 25th 2013.

The Post Office is great! I'd put it firmly in the top 5 pubs in town where food is concerned.

Probe BoozemapMarch 8th 2013.

Proper pubs don't sell food.

Darth FormbyMarch 9th 2013.

Why pay £7.95 for that Thai Curry when I saw exactly the same thing on the floor outside the Penny Farthing last night for free?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Probe BoozemapMarch 10th 2013.

I an reliably informed that the Penny Farthing was Frank Zappa's favourite pub in Liverpool you know!

AnonymousMarch 25th 2013.

£7.95?! You can eat in Host for that.

Mike NearyMarch 10th 2013.

I asked for a dry white and got a lecture on how the last labour government took the world to within 'two seconds' (I promise I am quoting accurately) of 'financial meltdown' ... yes, none of us knew this but apparently every cash machine in Britain had 'two seconds' to go before expiring. I dealt with this by twisting my foot awkwardly and chewing one side of my lip which only served to spur this latterday Ballard into a second chapter on 'those immigrants'. I suppose in a strange kind of way my request for a dry white was granted, which is something I suppose.

Mike NearyMarch 10th 2013.

Damn ! I said 'suppose' twice. Oh well, bang goes another career.

Steve FaragherMarch 10th 2013.


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