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Restaurant review: The Place to Eat

AA Grill finds plenty to savour behind the barbecues dept in John Lewis

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: The Place to Eat

I HAVE seen the light, and felt the light. It pours through whopping great windows, into the third floor restaurant of John Lewis's Liverpool One store, enough to generate a smile on the saddest critic.

"I need a crepe,”
said The Elegant
Mrs Grill, with
the mere seed
of a smirk

The Place To Eat is the place to eat if you want a little light light-therapy with your lunch. You can stock up on all the right sort of neurotransmitters – stacks of serotonin, oodles of endorphins and a big load of dopamine.

The windows, and the cityscape beyond, are all you notice to start with, such is their scale. Even with my mood freshly enhanced, however, I had to question the restaurant's claim to “fantastic” waterfront views.

But don't let it be said I dissed a vista that encompasses the Unity Building, the West Tower, the top of India Buildings, the Mersey Tunnel ventilation shaft, the Queen Elizabeth courts, the gold dome of the Municipal Buildings – spot the landmark was our new favourite game.

Once your eyes move inside, they take in an unflinchingly modern eating area, another world and another century from the silver service restaurant of the former George Henry Lee's, and no bad thing for that. A big, bright space, filled with neutral colours and chairs, which manage to be functional, fashionable and comfortable all at the same time, and softened by carpets that look like they came straight from home furnishings. The toilets – they're great, too – are a hop and a skip through men's sportswear and garden furniture.

Other than a scattering of mothers and daughters, a bobble of babies, and us, every other customer on this busy Tuesday lunchtime appeared to have ambled past 70. We half expected a game of bingo to break out, although this crowd was more Saga than Mecca.

The Place To Eat has what they call assisted service, and not just for Zimmer operators. You go to one of the many counters and choose, and if it's ready you take it with you, and if it's not they bring it to you.

There is LOTS to choose from: a whole counter devoted to crepes, made while you watch, sweet and savoury, like minced chilli beef and sour cream, and good old lemon and sugar, the pancakes of my childhood. A cold table features salads and sandwiches (free range egg and cress, roasted vegetable and hummus); then there's a pasta bar; a good looking, well-priced, organic children's menu; a griddle with hot meals, an earthy sausage and mash, an exotic red Thai chicken curry.

And as the restaurant moves seamlessly into an espresso bar, an island of tropical cakes and pastries, the flash of a stainless steel coffee machine and a man who asks if you want water with your espresso, a welcome enquiry and one I have never received this side of the English Channel.

From the "Chef's Place", we had pea and mint risotto (£7.50) and the fish of the day (£9.50). Fillet of salmon was properly seared and cooked, came with some faintly greasy sauteed new potatoes, and was topped with a shocking carrot and coriander puree, the shock supplied by its stone-cold state. I don't know if this was intended but I hope not. Hot or cold, it would have needed the zing of fresh coriander to work with the fish. As it was, it possessed little more than an oddly synthetic flavour.

The risotto was better: tender, comforting and creamy and made with proper fresh peas offering the compliments of the season.

For afters, we fancied a change of scenery and moved through to the espresso bar for cakes and coffee (you can stay put, if you prefer).

”I need a crepe,” said The Elegant Mrs Grill, with the mere seed of a smirk. A substantial, if slightly heavy going pancake, smothered in banana slices, toffee sauce and excellent butterscotch ice cream (£4.95), rendered her immobile.

By contrast, Victoria sponge (£2.25), one for the pensioners and, as it happened, me, was suitably light and had not suffered unduly while waiting around on the counter.

Two large espressos (£1.65 each) were full-flavoured and strong with an ever-so-slightly bitter note in the finish, but it wouldn't stop me having another.

Those who can't let go of Lee's may find it all a little utilitarian; others will take to the informality, the windows and the diverse array of food. There is no starch but there is polish, not least in the form of a discreetly screened workstation staffed by a squad of ceaseless clearers, wipers and washers, all ensuring that your table is never knowingly under mould.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: Fine dining against the best fine dining, cafés against the best cafés etc... Following on from this, the scores represent: 1-5: Saw off your leg and eat that; 6-9: Get a DVD; 10-11: Only in an emergency; 12-13: If you’re passing; 14-15 Worth a trip; 16-17 Exceptional; 18-19: Verging on greatness; 20: Does it get any better? No.

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

G. PlanneJuly 13th 2009.

It's "dezoyners" gone mad I tell you! No curtains or soft furnishings to dampen the noise, and the tables are put in draughty, bleak exposed areas thronging with walking shoppers because it happens to look good on a model. It's awful for the people who have to eat off them.

WC but..July 13th 2009.

The answer is simple - have the lavvies down stairs and charge 50p per admission. That would keep the loose bowelled stooges away from genuiine gourmets enjoying fine fare at this marvellous new eaterie.

WC but......July 13th 2009.

Heathcotes do not operate public toilets, Malmaison do not operate public toilets, and none of the 5* restaurants in Paris offer toilet facilities near diners.The reason for this is simple - when you are enjoying tasty food at this store you dont want smelly babies and mums with diarrhoea drifting around you.It is a dining experience not a toilet.IF you want to eat in a toilet - go to the Everyman Bistro (or whatever its called)

tabblerJuly 13th 2009.

At last, in Liverpool a true continental dining experience.First rate service, wholesome food the whole family will devour and a view that rivals the Statue of Liberty in New York.Liverpool council should immediately give the inspired designer an award.Tell all your friends. Liverpool has arrived on the culinary map of the world.

Account holder.July 13th 2009.

Ate here shortly after it opened. The noise was so loud. Clattering and Chattering of everything possible. It must be that the design of the place lends itself to gathering noise. Hot food not much to write home about. Tried again another time. Just as uninviting.Will never return.The Place to Eat? I don't think so.Plenty of eateries in Liverpool 1 where the food and choice knocks spots off John Lewis.

tabblerJuly 13th 2009.

At last, in Liverpool a true continental dining experience.First rate service, wholesome food the whole family will devour and a view that rivals the Statue of Liberty in New York.Liverpool council should immediately give the inspired designer an award.Tell all your friends. Liverpool has arrived on the culinary map of the world.

Egon TozstJuly 13th 2009.

Bah! The place has all the charm of a busy corridor with people brushing past all the time. There is nowhere to put bags, hats, umbrellas, etc. It is less of a restaurant than a modish, brightly-lit catwalk for the impressionable suburban mountebank. It is not comfortable but it is expensive and the crêpes we were served were as tough and rubbery as old innertubes. We haven't been back since.

WCJuly 13th 2009.

I will admit the food is good & generously portioned & I enjoyed the views but there are other issues. I went on a Saturday & we were bizarrely stopped from going in by a teenage waitress who informed us that we would have to wait at least 20 mins for a table so we may aswell not bother. Although it was busy, by the time we'd ordered several tables had become available, so good job we ignored her. What a welcome!Then when I needed a quick trip to the ladies, I was informed by another teenage and somewhat more surly member of staff (annoyed I had disturbed her from inadequately wiping a table) that the cafe had no toilets & i had to use the general shop one, which had a v long queue I was stuck in for ages. By the time I got back to the cafe, through the throng of shoppers, my fellow diners had practically finished!Not including toilets is a big turn off & staff trying to turn you away because they're a bit busy is not a good sign!

Ron VivantJuly 13th 2009.

New York? Oh THAT "continental dining experience"...Ho hum.

W.C. BoggsJuly 13th 2009.

I'm amazed anyone can find anything in the new John Lewis Shop, let alone lavatories . The signs are small and inadequate and sightlines are deliberately obstructed by full-height displays. It's hard enough just finding the tills in this place!What would genuine gourmets be doing in a department store cafe?

WC but butJuly 13th 2009.

They don't have to put the toilet right next to diners, but everyone knows John Lewis toilets are a free for all & are used by people who aren't even shopping there. so on a saturday, you're in a queue with all the smelly babies & whiffs of diarrhoea, for 5 mins or more. Seperate toilets for diners only would do the trick- they don't have to be near the tables! Have dined in Mal, Heathcotes & several top establishments in Paris (but are we really comparing the John Lewis gaff to them?) & have never had to join a long line of randoms to have a quick wee.

GH DeesJuly 13th 2009.

I like it actually.

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