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Restaurant review: Matou

It's on the waterfront, but is it a contender? Angie Sammons dives into the city's newest room with a view

Written by . Published on July 6th 2010.

Restaurant review: Matou

FOR what is essentially a Chinese above a bus shed, Matou scrubs up pretty well.

I'm using a bit of licence there. The Pier Head ferry terminal - last physical link between the Old and the New worlds, or Liverpool and Woodside, depending on your preferred level of hyperbole – does not deal in buses, Despite being owned by Merseytravel who do. Nor would Matou like to be thought of as a Chinese restaurant.

This could quickly become “the place to be”, looking every bit like Palm Sugar by the Sea,
but without bouncers

It is a Chinese restaurant that does Malaysian satay and Thai green curry – “pan-Asian”, which means it mostly comes out of a wok in the end.

Terribly sweeping, I know, but there aren't, there can't be many restaurants who manage to brush up the prized cuisines of cultures tens of thousands of years, and miles, apart and shovel them all into one menu with universal success. For pan Asian, or pan anything else for that matter, you might well read pot luck.

It's a difficult one. Maybe your average Indonesian chef isn't confident he'll be able to sustain a menu based on little-known dishes in a restaurant in the sticks, on these shores. But as we Brits travel ever further into the east, it is the canny restaurateur who will see further than the end of a chopstick, offer all things to all people and say Phucket.

That doesn't mean it always has to be hit and miss: Matou does more than scrub up well. It has all the promise of a polished show.

It has had £1.2 million spent on it and looks the part. Its views are surpassed only by those of the Panoramic and, following last year's popularity of Chaophraya, with its glassy, sophisticated interior, and high end oriental furnishings, will quickly become “the place to be”, looking every bit like Palm Sugar by the Sea, but without bouncers. For the coy, there are plenty of rich purple chairs in a VIP area where the local wagarati may rest their Cricketed butts.

Add to it a huge outdoor terrace, adorned with creamy-beige canopies, sofas and expensive wickerwear - plus the only aspect left, in Liverpool, of the Three Graces - and it's clear that fortune will soon be smiling on this investment. The chop suey rolls probably have the word “Destination” stamped through them like sticks of rock at Blackpool.

We ate on Tuesday last. “Dickie has visited six times already,” announced my friend. This was not, as I feared, some sort of reckless euphemism, but a reference to her colleague who hasn't been able to keep away from the place in the four weeks since it opened.

He's not the only one. Matou is getting popular. Owned by ex-detective Billy Riley, builder and designer Dan Boon and restaurateur Jacky Kwong who has stakes in the Mei Mei and Shangri-la, they gained the tender from Merseytravel when it could have gone to a well known Indian restaurateur in the area or, story has it, to a nightclub and cafe bar owner not a million miles away.

The food was for the most part good on our visit and the service was efficient and courteous, although our waitress coped best when dealing in numbers called from the menu. I qualify this with “on our visit”, which was perfectly pleasant, because we have since heard tales of it all going pear-shaped last weekend when the place was apparently besieged.

But let's be optimistic. With the view and the décor on wow scale, it going to be hard to keep Matou quiet in the early, bedding-in days, which is what they undoubtedly would have liked. Sorry and all that.

Malaysian satay is simple skewers of spiced lamb pieces: bite size, charred, but nonetheless tender. It is accompanied by a scattering of cucumber and onion and a very big bowl of pleasant, creamy peanut sauce. It's all tasty enough, though at £6.95, you start to realise there is no such thing as a free view as the sun sets over the Mersey.

From the land of the rising sun, vegetable tempura (£5.95) is battered florets of broccoli and other greenery. The batter is very acceptable if you have never done the real Japanese deal which is light and pale as gossamer. This is golden and just slightly oily from sitting around on the plate. This dish should be fed piece by piece straight from the fryer to the diner sitting two feet away and consumed immediately. But this is not a Japanese tempura bar, it is pan Asian.

The mains are excellent, seared fillets of seabass over a bed of verdant pak choi (£14.95); shallots, garlic and chilli in soy are as guilt free as they are appetising and succulent.

Malaysian chicken curry (£8.95) is a Bounty Bar lover's paradise, minus the sugar. Rich in coconut and savoury spices, it is cooked with potatoes and served in a deep steaming bowl that releases heady aromatics. More broccoli, wok fried this time, in sesame oil with sesame seeds (£3.50), comes from a choice of a dozen sides that yield few surprises - various fragrant rices along with wasabi mashed potato, sweet potato wedges and that old/new crowd pleaser, chunky chips.

Mango cheesecake is a good idea to finish: light and sharp and not overly sweet, but this one needed to hold together better; a crème brulee was perfectly ok but a promised twist of east, aside from some ginger biscuits, was lacking.

My friend does not drink, and I do not drink cocktails, so we both went home in a bit of a light way after it was suggested that we jointly forgo this policy in favour of something pink and very alcoholic.

We obviously didn't catch the bus home, they have long gone, as has the Chinese restaurant that held sway on this bit of waterfront for so long, and the Beefeater before it. Both had awful reputations, housed in an awful building.

If you are the wistful sort, you might say that at least then the ordinary city dweller did commute and commune with the Pier Head on a daily basis. Ironically, with its attractive canal, Beatles museum and sound-tracked ferries that run for the tourist and a photo op, there isn't much motivation for the natives to make regular visits.

Maybe restaurants with destination stamped through them are a good thing for this reason alone.

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. Critics dine unannounced and the company picks up their bills - never the restaurant, never a PR company.

Breakdown:7/10 food
3/5 service
4/5 ambience
Mersey Ferry Terminal,
Pier Head,
Liverpool 1.
0151 236 2928

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. 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 Outstanding


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