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Restaurant review: New kid on the dock

It may have only just been built, but AA Grill finds out if the Liverpool Malmaison really is demolishing the opposition on the food front

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: New kid on the dock

THE taxi driver had a lot to say. “Why do you want to go all the way into town? Is it somewhere special? Me and the wife stayed at a hotel in London, well not London exactly. There was a Chinese and an Indian down the road but the missus wanted to eat at this French restaurant in the hotel."

“Any good?” As if we didn’t know.

“Thing is, in Liverpool, we like a good scoff. This was all drizzles of this and drizzles of that.” He grimaced. Shook his head.

We were bound for the Malmaison Brasserie, which sounds French but isn’t. The newest, and the new best, restaurant in Liverpool. Scoff fit for a toff. Scran with élan, indeed.

Liverpool’s branch of the “restaurant-with-rooms” group, at Princes Dock, is the first to be purpose-built. Constructed in the high tech style of Paris’s Pompidou Centre, it is not to everybody’s taste but kinder to the eye than its neighbours: on one side the blandly functional Crowne Plaza Hotel, on the other a multi-storey car park.

There’s a saying this city uses against itself, when something mad happens that wouldn’t happen anywhere else: "Only in Liverpool". Only in Liverpool would they achieve World Heritage status for their waterfront, putting it in the same club as the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids, then go and build a multi-storey car park on it.

The dock wall is listed and you can’t put a hole in it, which means you need to be pretty determined to get to the Malmaison on foot, all round the houses. That doesn’t stop it being regularly booked solid Fridays and Saturdays.

The Mal’s interior has plainly been styled to please Scousers by someone from Saskatchewan who thinks we’ll cold turkey if we don’t see the Beatles staring down from the walls, and hear them piped into our consciousness. In a further attempt to patronise the patrons, there are Liverpool and Everton-themed suites and furniture; red and blue chairs sneer at each other from opposite sides of the table.

But there is much to cheer. The industrial design, exposed brickwork, tall ceilings, lots of monochrome photography. The utilitarian effect could be cold but warm colours lend intimacy.

You can’t say they haven’t tried with the wine list – pages and pages of the old and the new. A Laroche red vin de pays d’Oc, at £29.95, tasted like something you would get for £7 in Tesco’s, which isn’t a bad thing, but isn’t great either.

Starters included Iberian jabu gran reserve, a top-of-the-range free range ham which we passed up, reluctantly, in favour of a fresh and pleasing salad of crab and mango with leeks and wild rocket, and fabulous seared scallops, meaty and sweet, to which a confit of baby fennel, gently barbed like late Bill Murray, provided the perfect foil. An inspired pomegranate vinaigrette gave the dish colour and an extra dimension.

Mains provided an object lesson in how well-sourced produce, precisely cooked, will always get results. Trout is line-caught in Scotland, pork loin from Lake District saddlebacks. I had a superior 250g Scottish sirloin steak (£18.50) – naturally reared, grass fed and dry aged on the bone.

Highlight of the night was the Barnsley chop (£14.50), which could be a south Yorkshire variant on the Glasgow kiss but, in this case, is the meat trade’s name for a strapping, butterflied lamb chop taken right across the loin. A double-lamby.

The meat, from a rare breed Kendal Rough Fell, was tender and full-flavoured, encased in strips of fat, about three feet thick, which should have carried a government health warning and tasted like nothing on earth. The chop came with devilled kidneys, while both dishes included garlic butter and cooked marrow, served in the bone, which the waiter urged us to splurge on the meat. With them some uncomplicated veg: mellow, melting spring greens and gorgeous new season carrots with chervil (£2.95 each). Carrots are undercooked as often as they are overcooked; this dishful of honeyed lovelies was 18-carrot gold.

Apparently, when Mancunian head chef Mark Bennett was asked, shortly after the Malmaison opening, which was Liverpool's best restaurant, he did not hesitate: “This one.” Chefs don’t do modesty. But he’s right, especially now his sous chef is a local talent called Andy Wright who was at Heathcote’s – the only place that came close – until the Mal poached him. Mr Heathcote would probably like to boil him in oil.

The chips (£3.25 with dips) evidently had been boiled in oil; limp and greasy, they were handcut but uniformly so like you get in McDonald's, which slightly misses the point and, it pains me to say, McDonald's does them better.

But the spuds represented the only dip in form, and the puds – mango and cardamom cheesecake and chocolate torte with clotted cream (£5.95 each) – kept the plates spinning to the end.

In a private dining area, there is a plasma screen which beams the sights and sounds of your meal being cooked. With a Manc and a Scouser teamed in the kitchen, chances are the expletives will be more Gordon Ramsay than Gordon Bennett.

Time for a taxi home, I pondered our cab-driving food critic and the thought that if the man from Manchester is writing the menu, we should perhaps expect a light drizzle to accompany every dish. Long may he rain.

Overall rating 17/20 (Food 8.5/10; Service 4.5/5; Ambience 4/5)

Malmaison, William Jessop Way, Princes Dock, Liverpool, L3 1QW. Tel: 0151 229 5000.

AA Grill

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helenApril 19th 2007.

My House!!

HeyTripperApril 19th 2007.

ok, It's about the Malmaison not the bleeding car park. it's there, get over it, a bit like the sodding Beatles. In the meantime, AA Grill has got this spot on, best food for a long time. Looking forward to the reds kicking ass.

robroyfingerheadApril 19th 2007.

Doesn't Malmaison mean 'bad house?'

ClevaTrevaApril 19th 2007.

I'm not from Liverpool, so perhaps it's none of my business, but that multi-storey car park should have the planning department hanging their heads in shame. I'm sorry, but I blame the people of Liverpool for letting them get away with it. Don't you care that your city is being ruined and all for a fast buck.

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