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Restaurant review: Hard Day's Bite

Blakes may be a Beatles-themed restaurant but, says AA Grill, it's all in the best possible taste

Published on January 14th 2010.


Restaurant review: Hard Day's Bite

THE most shocking thing about the Hard Days Night Hotel (apart from that missing apostrophe) is that it has taken until now for a Beatles-themed hotel to appear in Liverpool.

I think they have missed a trick
with the loos. The possibilities are limitless: All You Need is Lav, Spend
a Penny Lane, For
the Benefit of Mr . . . (don’t go there – ed)

As a business proposition it makes a lot of sense. And, more to the point, a lot of cents. And in case you think I’m just an old cynic, the first sign that this four-star city centre hotel has one eye on the US market is on the door leading to what we British know as the toilet. The sign reads “Restroom”, a word the Americans invented in order to avoid the word “toilet” and thus any connection with what actually goes on in there.

They haven’t done a bad job on the multi-million pound refurbishment of a grand, Grade II listed building on North John Street. You could quibble about the occasional clash of styles, and The Times was sniffy about the specially-commissioned Beatles artwork (well they would be, wouldn’t they?) but there is not a lot to dislike here. Indeed, it might not be brash enough for the average Yankee tourist taste.

The Beatles theme has not been trowelled on. There are plenty of pictures, of course, the inevitable background music, a Lennon suite complete with white piano (that’ll be £650 for the night, please) plus the odd linguistic hint: Bar Four, the basement Hari bar and the Two of Us (one from the Beatles backlist) wedding chapel. But I think they have missed a trick with the loos. The possibilities, after all, are limitless: All You Need is Lav, Spend a Penny Lane, Urin-ate Days A Week, For the Benefit of Mr . . . (don’t go there – ed).

Take a left past the uniformed concierges for the main Bar Four; turn right for Blakes restaurant (which has its own entrance on to the street). Sandwiched in the middle (or, as the hotel brochure grandly puts it, “at the epicentre of the hotel”) is an attractive looking brasserie with an attractive looking menu (char grilled sardines with tomato and basil salad, chicken and leek pie).

Blakes (what have these people got against apostrophes?) takes its name from Sir Peter Blake, designer of that Sergeant Pepper album cover, and some of the famous Sixties’ faces featured on it adorn one wall of the restaurant. The dining area inhabits a handsome space: high ceiling, oversized shades, and big windows, partially covered with what looked to me like net curtains but which I was assured were stylishly retro.

There is always a temptation in themed restaurant to have a bit of fun with the menu. Sometimes this works well: the Bob Dylan-themed Positively Front Street Restaurant in Santa Cruz used to do a veggie burger they called It Ain’t Meat, Babe. At Blakes, they have a dessert going by the name of Yellow Matter Custard, a line from the popular old singalong “I am the Walrus”. Apparently, it was the chef’s idea (the dessert, not the song). I’m not sure whether he has a cheeky sense of humour or a flimsy grasp of the lyrics but, either way, it’s hard to get past the image of pus leaking from a putrefying canine corpse.

Our lovely waitress “I’m not a Beatles fan but my parents are” typified the attitude of all the staff; informal and informative, chatty but not gobby – they provide the sunny Scouse welcome those Americans, and let’s not forget the Japanese, visitors expect.

At £12 for the signature fish pie and £14 for a rib eye with fat chips and smoked green beans, these are not astronomical prices, considering the target market.

Chicken livers (£5) had enjoyed a brief, sizzling fling in the pan. Soft and gently offally, they found a fab foil in strips of sweet Cheshire air-dried ham, which snapped like twigs. Cornish crab (£6) was moist and fresh, and the bloody mary dressing had a nice astringency but the proportions were wrong. The meat, piled high, was skimpily dressed.

Whole grilled dover sole (£20) was making a rare appearance on a Liverpool menu. Tender (no rubber sole, this one), yet still firm of flesh, it tasted great and was confident enough to turn up unadorned. But a warm dill and potato salad – while nice enough – was a little too mild mannered for this delicate fish.

Best end of English lamb (£18.50) was close to perfection; yielding, a little pink in the middle, with a sweet, full flavour. It came with Bury black pudding, nice thyme gravy and a gorgeous crisp carrot and potato cake, which was so good we ordered another one, on its own, and carved it up between us.

A side dish of vegetables included batons of carrot, turnip and swede, in perfect symmetry, and which, once the condiments had worked their magic, were just fine. A decent enough Pinot noir sent it all on its way.

There were only a couple of off notes – a rather acrid coffee (Illy, I suspect), and the vintage Fonseca port, at £16.50, was virtually indistinguishable from any number of half-the-price alternatives.

And that Yellow Matter Custard? Well, it’s pink, actually, and not really a dessert at all, but a cocktail including vodka, hibiscus flower and chilled champagne that tastes better than the name suggest but is little more than a rather expensive novelty at £8.95.

Local cheeses (£6) came up trumps, however, with Mrs Kirkham and a good Shropshire blue among the aces, served with top quality wheat biscuits, poached grapes and excellent roasted walnuts. Cheese Pleased Me.

Free range chicken, diver caught scallops and organic salmon showed a kitchen aiming above the average, although the “free range” Goosnargh chicken actually isn’t. Still, the thought was there. Certainly, Blakes is not the average hotel restaurant and could yet rival the Malmaison for the quality of its food.

Other reviews of this restaurant have rounded off with the title of some Beatles song or other. Not so me; after all, that sort of thing is so yesterday.

Rating: 16.5/20
Breakdown: 8/10 Food
4.5/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Blakes
Hard Day's Night Hotel
North John Street
Liverpool 2
0151 236 1964

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

Jack HarperMay 23rd 2008.

Is the name to commemorate the popular character Inspector Blake in the classic television series 'On The Buses'? Unfortunatelythe name 'Blakey's' has gone already to the student bar on Hope Street.

Kevin DonovanMay 23rd 2008.

Blakes, for those of us of mature years, was a little shop in Cases Street where chaps went before the weekend. So cafflicks won't be able to go this new edible version. Oh I can't break away from these chains.

Freddie GarrityMay 23rd 2008.

Then change it! Do I - er - get a pint?

TV KellyMay 23rd 2008.

Cheese pleased me. Red card for Grill.

The Mysterious StrangerMay 23rd 2008.

Ahem! (Deepens voice, dons cloak) - Alas, milady, Ye Cracke has not sold drinkable Guinness for many a year and I have a prior engagement at 1700hrs at a place that does…(With a sweep of his cloak he leaps through the window with an uncanny silence)

apostophe manMay 23rd 2008.

who'll be the first to give blakes seven?

Font of all knowledgeMay 23rd 2008.

I think you should change it to "Sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep, yeah!" because that looks like a picture of lamb you've used there

Liverpool ConfidentialMay 23rd 2008.

Do you want us to change it to that then, Freddie? We're in that mood you know...

Lord StreetMay 23rd 2008.

Yes Mr. Donovan! And the gentleman with the brilliantined hair selling the "marital aids" and "prophylactics" wore a white coat so he'd look like a doctor and thus diminish embarrassment for the customer! Verily they were the good old days of customer service! (Of course I was in school uniform and only looked inside the shop as a ‘dare’.

that'smtbollockstoyouMay 23rd 2008.

Mr Grill, are you the Egg Man?

Desperate DanMay 23rd 2008.

There are so many rubbish eateries attached to hotels that it's good to see soemthing a bit different. My wife and I have eaten several times at Blakes since it opened and it hadn't disappointed yet. Good to see too that they haven't been tempted to go for the bland American fare for the tourist/guest market. You got it right AA Grill IMHO

Freddie GarrityMay 23rd 2008.

"Hard Day's Bite? 'Hard Day's Shite' more like! The most annoying thing about the Echo and the Post is their endlessly repetitive puns on Beatles' song-titles for headlines for flaccid ‘news’ stories, and now this tedious, unfunny practice is polluting Liverpool Confidential! Stop this horror NOW!

Barbara WindsorMay 23rd 2008.

How, do you mean? Before the weekend? is this some sort of sexual innuendo?

Liverpool ConfidentialMay 23rd 2008.

If you are in Ye Cracke at 5, you might. But only if you do "The Freddie" so we know who we are dealing with

Old Ma GrillMay 23rd 2008.

Nonsense, and you are ignoring the excellent "Urinate Days a Week". Keep it up, Grill.

robroy fingerheadMay 23rd 2008.

All you need is Lav - genius!

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