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Restaurant review: The Piazza Cafe

After Tony Benn, Angie Sammons fasts in the slow lane at the Met Cathedral

Written by . Published on February 14th 2011.

Restaurant review: The Piazza Cafe

ECCLESIASTICAL food offerings have come a long way since the five loaves and two fishes days; a notion which might have had the early Atkins dieter shrinking, but only in horror.

While the word 'kettle' causes most people in the protest movement to recoil, it brings only a contented smile to Tony Benn's face

In Seel Street, St Peter's Church has long been an altar to food and drink, in the shape of Alma De Cuba. Over at the Anglican Cathedral, the more staid Refectory has been feeding the five thousands for well over a decade.

Farmers markets and beer festivals are held in churches all across the city, the biggest mass annual homage to real ale sells out in five minutes and takes place in the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Crypt.

But it's only in the last few years that the self-same Paddy's Wigwam has put on a proper spread of its own – and before the Doubting Thomases start to rant and point out that there has always been a café within its walls: yeah, I know.

It was over at the other end of Hope Street last Saturday that Tony Benn chose to address a TUC anti-spending cuts rally. More than 2,000 followers climbed the hill in bitter rain to hear his sermon on St James's Mount. By the end, they were high, not particularly dry, up for a fight with David Cameron and clearly ravenous.

For it came to pass that not a morsel was left within the Anglican's sandstone eating enclave; and just as we thought it might be a good idea to put two children out of their misery and give them some lunch.

With no miracle forthcoming from the tea-loving god of socialism (while the word “kettle” causes most people in the protest movement to recoil, it brings only a contented smile to Benn's face), it was off to see what the opposition on the other mount, Mount Pleasant, could do.

The Piazza is a relatively new addition to the cathedral, a building you either love or don't. I do. Particularly the smell in there which takes me back to Mass at the age of three. Some really bad architecture was demolished to make way for the café, and for the glorious flight of steps that now leads up to the main place of worship.

The Piazza is bolted onto the edge. Inside it is bright and modern, yet somehow warm – beech veneer furniture here, squashy sofas there.

Bistro-style mains aren't particularly expensive on the face of it - around six quid for one of the specials of the day. In this case we are talking scouse; lime/herb-encrusted seared salmon fillet; Parma-wrapped chicken. Each comes with two salads (potato, cous-cous, pasta and the like) from a choice.

So we ordered one of these specials each, and a jacket potato with cheese (£4.55) which IS expensive on the face of it.

The Piazza is a canteen-style self service. This was a concept I ended up wanting to take literally. By the time we finally secured all the meals we were twitching nervously, having been step away from jumping over the counter, donning a pinny and giving the pleasant young lady a hand.

Not that it was at all busy.

It was all reminiscent of the scally at the front of the queue at the petrol station window at 1am; the one sending the bloke around the shop for a Ginsters, before telling him he wants a litre of Sprite when he comes back. And then a Yorkie.

It all arrived in drips. Except unlike the Shell-station, shell-suited nuisance - “Oh, and a can of custard, mate” - we had ordered it all in one go.

First up the scouse (£6.95). We were able to observe, over several minutes, as it sat on our tray, rapidly cooling, that it was not a particularly generous portion. This was while we waited for the salmon (£5.95) to be served. Did we want it hot or cold? Hot, everything hot please.

Eventually it came. As the clock ticked we studied both dishes, side by side, while the king of the soil was prepared.

Three down one to go. Getting nearer, eh! Just waiting for that tempting sounding chicken, which we ordered all that time ago, in the first flush....“Oh, that's off now. Sorry...”

We made do with a pannini (£4.95), beef and tomato, from a choice of two - the other being ham and cheese. By the time we, the adults, were able to sit down with the kids (we could only keep this Christian ideal of eating togetherness going for so long), they had devoured their food and had buggered off outside in the deluge to play dangerous tag on those steps.

For the record, the scouse and beetroot was as good as any you will ever taste, a lovely velvety warming bowl of lamby stew that those children who lived in the Victorian workhouse, which once stood on this very site, would have died and gone to Heaven for. They would have had to beg for more, mind, for there was only one potato. Good name for another game outside.

The salmon: a little dry, but the citrussy marinade had brought out the flavours of the flesh beautifully. It was a good advert for what can sometimes be quite a chore of a fish to enjoy.

Like the children, the salads hadn't sat around for long, which was all to their credit. The potato salad and cous-cous were flavoursome and moreish; even the leaves, cucumber and tomatoes were full of colour, flavour and vitality.

The pannini, however, was dull. What's the expression? Not much meat in the sandwich.

Who knows what the baked potato was like: by the time we sat down it had mostly been polished off by the seven-year-old who declared it the finest he'd ever tasted.

Cakes are bought in, but forgive the Piazza their sins. These are Dafna's cakes, from the eponymous bakery on Smithdown Road. Crafted by the patron saint of cheesecakes herself.

Two huge paving slabs of Boston brownie (£2.15 each) were a crunchy, gooey cocoa paradise and a wodge of cranberry and almond loaf (£2.45) was such a superb example of moist cakery that it deserved to have a halo quivering over it.

We find room on the table for these desserts, in among the remaining plates of the first course, while being reminded of the old motto: “What God has given, let no man take away, for he is too busy mopping the floor.”

It's not that the staff don't care in here. Far from it, they're helpful and well meaning, but just need a bit of instruction. At the very start when we expressed a desire to sit by the window, but could not because the table had not been cleared, our chap was over there under his own steam to make it right.

Admittedly there was more of them to cater for, but had the cast of the Last Supper experienced this rather tardy level of service, history might have turned out very differently. And they hadn't even thought of Lent yet.

Repent and eat.

Rating: 11/20
Breakdown: 6/10 food
2/5 Service
3/5 atmosphere
Address: The Piazza Cafe
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
Mount Pleasant
L3 5TQ
0151 707 3536

Liverpool Confidential reviewers dine unannounced and always pick up their own bills.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, bars, grills and cafes compared with like. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip, 16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect.

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

E. Q. MennicalFebruary 11th 2011.

The Piazza used to be a good bit cheaper which was why it was so popular at lunchtimes with people working in the nearby universities. Prices have crept up over the years so its popularity has waned somewhat.

Liverpool Cathedral's refectory has been going for yonks but it was only when its controversial make-over of a few years ago brought diners and drinkers into the nave itself (or "The Great Space" as the "dezoyners" call it) that it got into the news.

Oh and Liverpool children play 'tick'; 'tag' is something you read about in American comics.

AnonymousFebruary 11th 2011.

you clearly don't have any children, sir. tick is something they played in your day. long gone now, like your prejudices

E. Q. MennicalFebruary 11th 2011.

Get HER!

Blimey! What did I say to deserve that?

AnonymousFebruary 11th 2011.

i am not a woman. yet more sweeping generalizations

Eamon To ThatFebruary 12th 2011.

Anonymous, why do you associate women with sweeping? That is a very out of date idea. I think most men help out around the home these days. I know I do my share of the household chores and I'm surprising the wife with a new Dyson for Valentines day.
You need to get into the 20th Century. 21st even!

silver tiaraFebruary 13th 2011.

now then now then!

AnonymousFebruary 13th 2011.

Should've gone the Everyman

captain von trappFebruary 14th 2011.

very entertaining account. are the echo still printing their pr driven drivel on restaurants?

Doris TorresFebruary 14th 2011.

Nearly five quid for a jacket spud? I would have expected it decked in a Berghaus, never mind its own skin.


MerseymikeFebruary 22nd 2011.

Do the profits benefit Vatican plc? If so, a boycott is in order

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