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Port in a storm

AA Grill investigates Filini at the Radisson to discover if the scoff is fit for Premiership royalty

Published on September 29th 2010.

Port in a storm

IF you are a top star, you want to be treated like one. Which means being stalked by dangerous sociopaths and staying at five-star hotels that provide all those things celebs expect as standard: comfort cooling, broadband internet access and pillows restuffed hourly by Polynesian hand maidens.

You might settle for four-star deluxe if you absolutely have to, and in Liverpool you absolutely have to. The city has no five-star hotel. Yet. There are plans afoot, but then there always are. The Radisson SAS, at the business end of town, offers the four-star deluxe treatment; although a notch below the prized five stars, the level of service is similarly superior – except the hand maidens are from Dovecot.

“Port?” queried Polly. “Port,” confirmed The Missus, smilingly. “Port?” repeated Polly, unwisely turning to me for help. “Port,” I agreed, for want of anything more useful to say

Thus, the Radisson is the hotel of choice for many of the world’s greatest egos, among them the majority of visiting Premiership and European football clubs. First impressions are suitably fabulous, greeted, as you are, by a swirl-shaped, multi-galleried atrium – Frank Lloyd Wright meets the set of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Crossing the lobby, you reach the long, rectangular Filini restaurant where the creative hands over to the corporate. Dark red walls, matching chairs and low lights give off a faint air of gloom.

The hotel’s PR blurb talks about “breathtaking views over the Mersey”. From where we were sat, the vista comprised a couple of apartment blocks, the offices of the Criminal Records Bureau and, in between, grey skies over the murky swell of the river. Not quite, to paraphrase Basil Fawlty, the hanging gardens of Babylon, but it may all be different on the ninth floor. After all, you can probably see Mold from there.

Basil was nowhere to be seen but, oddly enough, our waitress was a dead ringer for Polly, his ever-loyal accomplice at the Fawlty Towers hotel. Same smile, same hairstyle but, for the 2007 version, Polly’s polished vowels were replaced by Polish ones.

Hotel restaurants are not generally noted for fine food, but we had heard good reports about Filini’s brand of Sardinian-influenced, contemporary Italian cuisine. A sensational truffle risotto (£7.25) lent more than a grain of truth to these claims – 1,324 grains, actually, and if you don’t believe me, count them yourself. Rich, soft, creamy and not too mean with the truffle, comfort food at its loving best. Spiced pork belly in red wine reduction (£6.50) was nicely flavoured, but accompanying fine beans tasted like the sort supermarkets fly in by the planeload from Nairobi.

Rabbit stew with flagolet beans and chestnut mushrooms (£14.25) were all good enough, but the two portions of meat, on the bone, were surrounded by a vegetable soup mixture and flailed about in a sea of vapid, watery broth, putting me in mind of the submerged Mersey Ferry landing stage.

Beef fillet, red wine onions and garlic potato, was £23.50, which is fine if the meat in question is raised on the Northern Great Plains, with a personal trainer and a diet of oysters and champagne. Or if Thierry Henri is paying (he’s stayed at the Rad, along with the rest of his then Arsenal team-mates). What we got was pretty mundane and not even cooked the way it was wanted: the kitchen would do rare, medium or well done, we were told, but nothing in between.

Garlic potato surprised us by turning up as mash with no discernible trace of garlic. Had we known it was mash we wouldn’t have ordered more of the stuff from a limited selection of side orders (all £3.25). The only green vegetable among the sides, garlic beans, came off the same plane as the first batch and, like the garlic potato, was markedly devoid of vampire-repulsing powers.

Raspberries and champagne cream (£6.25) came encased in layers of meringue with the texture, and taste, of polystyrene, which would have been ideal if we’d been moving house the following day and brought along some of our more fragile items (the children, perhaps) to pack between courses.

Italian cheese (£6.25) comprised three characterless lumps with something described as lemon marmalade but tasting of cold hot dog onions, slices of golden delicious, which were neither of those things, and a few crackers from the bottom of the biscuit barrel.

When we ordered a glass of Port, there followed a painful, Fawlty-esque exchange that did no credit to any of those taking part.

“Port?” queried Polly. “Port,” confirmed The Missus, smilingly. “Port?” repeated Polly, unwisely turning to me for help. “Port,” I agreed, for want of anything more useful to say. “Port” said Polly, this time trying it on herself and drawing a blank. The Missus and I tried it in stereo. “Port”, we said, unable to muster a single word of helpful description. “Porrrrrt”, said Polly, adding, finally: “I will ask”. Fortunately, she asked the right person.

If only blue skies had smiled on the Mersey that night; if only we had eaten our meal in reverse, finishing with that dreamy risotto, our memory may have been different. But there may yet be a happy conclusion; a little bird informs us that everything at Filini is about to change – a completely new look and a completely new menu.

So we’ll be back, and in the meantime, it just goes to prove the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but if it’s Fawlty, start all over again.

Rating: 12.5/20
Breakdown: 6.5/10 Food
3/5 Service
3/5 Atmosphere
Address: Filini
Radisson SAS Hotel,
Old Hall Street
0151 966 1500

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Jon MooreJuly 13th 2007.

I ate off a wobbly formica table in there. Just a small gripe. I hope they get some new ones when they do it out

Dave MacJuly 13th 2007.

I've eaten at the Filini in Birmingham when I was at a conference and it's exactly the same. People like football players and tourists doing the cities probably stay at lots of Radisson hotels and they must be pretty fed up getting exactly the same food in each one. What fun is that? Why don't they make these places individual then people might go

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