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Restaurant review: Hope and glory

Locally sourced is the big thing at The London Carriage Works. But does their big menu revamp go the distance? Angie Sammons finds out

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.


Restaurant review: Hope and glory

At first glance, the only thing that is not local about The London Carriage Works is the name. And, right now, if they could get away with changing that, they might.

The food portions
have suddenly got bigger; if they never please the Michelin inspectors, they'll
have no trouble satisfying the
Michelin Man

Realistically, that will never happen. “The London Carriage Works” has become synonymous with fine dining, at least in the lingo of those who claim to know about these things. It has also fostered an image as Liverpool's best restaurant, and Michelin inspectors have confounded its owners, its very knowledgeable chef/proprietor Paul Askew and those chattering, clattering classes with their failure to award it the city's first star.

In the past, I have never been convinced by any of this. I have eaten pleasant enough fare on the odd gourmet night there, but a birthday blow-out two years ago was memorable only for the sky high cost of the final bill. Taxis, tips and a babysitter conspired to leave us £200 down (down being the word) for just three hours out. It was a sober, sobering experience.

Even as recently as last year, its “three courses for £55” was something only matched by the multi-starred Claridges and Savoy Grill.

Nevertheless, people, Quentin Tarantino among them, travel hundreds, nay, thousands of miles to stay at the Hope Street Hotel, of which LCW is part. The food is not so jetlagged, however, and they do go the distance in an effort to slash the food miles.

Veg is from Ormskirk and Claremont, the meat is Bowland and Whitchurch, the fish from Liverpool Bay. The spuds for the chips are either Spuntas (Cypruses) or those flavourful Agatas (Italian/French) that you don't get here, but, for LCW's purposes, they are all grown up the road. Even the vegetable oil they are cooked in (two fries, no water blanching) has been the subject of much slick experimentation, and is direct from a farm up the A59.

I say that I wasn't overwhelmed in the past, but many things have changed at LCW recently. I ate there during the Food Lovers Festival in September, and sensed it was time to try again.

Out is the £55 menu. Out is the brasserie menu. Those Snow Queen shards of glass still separate the two dining areas, but really it's all just one big restaurant now, with one big menu too, sectioned into a la carte and “tlcw favourites” where you can get your fish-and-chip fix etc.

On some sudden weight loss kick (14 bastard pounds gone, and counting) and not wanting to bore anyone with more musings on seared scallops, I availed myself of a salad of Barkham blue cheese with toasted walnuts, chicory and apple (£5.50). In the middle, a beautiful crisp and leafy assemblage. The cheese hit the mark on temperature, texture and creamy taste, and its several partners were as perfectly matched as an arranged marriage in Utah.

My friend was beaming at the lobster (£13.50). Fresh as Irish Sea spray, it was expertly prepared and perched amid a pretty necklace of mango, buttered spinach potato crisps and lobster foam.Great flavours, imaginatively assembled.

What of the wine? There are recommendations with each dish, but not wanting cider, we grabbed trainee sommelier Michael Garth. He insisted on an Oz Barossa Vallet Craneford merlot (£22) to wash down the loin of pork and the calves liver. “But it's like no merlot you've ever had before,” he coaxed. He was right. This specimen gave merlot a good name indeed.

I love the waiting on staff in this place. They are mostly locally sourced too. They do their jobs superbly and are the best ambassadors I've come across for this or any other restaurant in the city. Give them some 08 badges immediately.

My calves liver and pancetta (£15) was a joy to have and to behold, resting upon a Simpsons cloud of Parmesan potato. Mash would be the wrong word. This was gossamer.

Around the perimeter, balsamic baby onions, that classic French favourite of peas and lettuce and a scattering of pancetta. Beneath that the intensely rich scrapings of the pan. The revelations kept coming.

But go there starving. The food portions have suddenly got bigger; if they never please the Michelin inspectors, they'll have no trouble satisfying the Michelin Man.

The friend, shouting by now for those chips (£3.50), which, incidentally, were stunning when they arrived, refuses to contemplate eating the flesh of a pig that has not had a good run around, gulps of fresh air and ownership of a Chopper bike.

He was therefore delighted by the duroc pork (£20), a rare Iron Age breed from the Rhug estate in North Wales. Like Elvis Presley, the beast had lived life to the full and had eaten well, we were assured, all coming through in the taste and texture of the meat. Carramelised apple, baby beets and leeks provided the excellent, logical accompaniments. The only thing that failed to impress him all night was the only thing not sourced locally. Ratte potatoes may be a favourite of French chefs but these tubers were deemed tasteless.

His hot chocolate fondant (£8) looked as good as the intense cocoa waft coming across the table. From a seriously interesting list of puds. I did some damage to a blackcurrant sorbet (£5) which was all you would expect by now: Intensely fruity, cold and marvellous.

The London Carriage Works has long fancied itself as Liverpool's best restaurant. The difference is that now it probably is.

Rating:18/20
Breakdown:9/10 Food
5/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address:London Carriage Works,
Hope Street Hotel,
Hope Street,
L1.
0151 705 2222

Liverpool Confidential dines unannounced and picks up all its own bills.

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

BrianOctober 26th 2007.

I beg to differ with Anonymous. Whilst not going often, we have been half a dozen times and each time with different guests from other parts of the Country - one a real gourmet and a good cook to boot - and all, on each occasion, thought it was outstanding. Shame on Michelin for not rating it a star, it clearly is the best in Liverpool, and deserves one.

A ChefOctober 26th 2007.

You don't have to do pretentious fine dining (averagely) to get a star you know.

NostradamusOctober 26th 2007.

It will get a Michelin star. Be patient

London RoadOctober 26th 2007.

"Anonymous" and his/her friends are very lucky to be able to afford £55 a head, before even having a drink. You can buy a lot of armani denim with those sort of final bills

London RoadOctober 26th 2007.

I agree with you, but it has just very recently got a lot better, as Angie S says here. I went last week as a guest of someone and they seem to have dropped all the pretensions about fine dining which I hated. Have they still got their Michelin obsession? I don't know, but it was certainly value for money and a real cut above the bollocks you get in Ego.

AnonymousOctober 26th 2007.

i THINK THE lcw HAS GONE DOWN THE NICKi LOVED GOING AT LEAST ONCE A MONTH TO A FINE DINING EXPERIENCE - i WENT BAOUT THREE WEEKS AGO AND THE NEW MENU WAS IN EVIDENCE - IT WAS AWFUL - THE CHOISE WAS LIMITED AND IT TASTED ORDINARY!!! THE SERVICE WAS AWFUL ONLY TWO WAITRESSES AND WE WERE NEVER OFFERED A WINE LIST EVEN THOUGH WE ASKED FOR IT. IT WAS OVER £100 FOR THREE PEOPLE WITH NO WINE AND TOOK THREE HOURS TO SERVE - i WILL NEVER GO BACK AGAIN - I DID WRITE TO COMPLAIN BUT NEVER HAD A REPLY. WITH CAPITAL OF CULTURE UPTON US WE HAVE NO FIVE STAR RESTUARANTS IN LIVERPOOL - HOW SAD...

B.M.October 26th 2007.

My wife and I have been for lunch on two occasions. Our first impression was a distinct lack of atmosphere.The place is not inviting. The glass shards looked a potential hazard.My beef was very tough. We felt that the food overall was not memorable. A few evenings before, we had a meal at Ego. Service excellent. A little noisy, but they were fully booked. The food could not be faulted. Nice relaxed atmosphere. Sorry to say, but LCW is overrated.

AnonymousOctober 26th 2007.

Chef - perhaps not - but the food tasted divine - it was a lovely place to go dressed up - not many places allow you to do that. Last time I was here - every single person in there haddenim on except me and my two friends...

AnonymousOctober 26th 2007.

This is my point exactly - the Fine Dining Experience has gone - along with the delicious food. The Michelin star is definitely out of reach now.Paul Askew - please note these comments and get back to what you are best at......

Deano78October 26th 2007.

I first dined at TLCW 18 months ago and left very satisfied and more than willing to recommend the place to all my friends! This was when there was a clear distinction between the restaurant and the brasserie. I returned a few weeks ago and found that the excellent food/service/ambience which initially impressed me had vanished!! The room was nearly as cold as the food and the waiting staff seemed very amateur and disorganised! I will not return especially as there are so much better quality meals to be had elsewhere. Very disappointing.

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