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Exclusive: Gagging for it

Food critic Matthew Norman disses Liverpool as a “restaurant black hole” and drags out tried 'n' tested joke again

Published on May 10th 2008.

Exclusive: Gagging for it

TWO top Liverpool restaurants and a food tourism expert have hit back after the city was described as “a restaurant black hole zone” in a damning national newspaper review.

Guardian food critic Matthew Norman made the remark in a report on the recently opened Panoramic restaurant.

“For all the impressive regeneration of its city centre and docks,” he wrote, “regardless of the Beatles-inspired exponential growth in tourism, and even despite its current status as European Capital of Culture, Liverpool remains the restaurant black hole zone it has always been.”

His review of the Panoramic, which is on the 34th Floor of Beetham West Tower, scored just 5/10 (“2.5 points for the view”) and also went on to point out perceived shortcomings in levels of food, service and décor in Liverpool restaurants.

"I've never experienced anything like this in Liverpool," enthused my friend, by now almost in a state of shock. "Fancy napery, terrific food, a level of professionalism from the staff..."

Mr Norman has caused a bit of a furore with his latest comments, and city restaurateurs say that the London based critic is way off the mark.

The way he tells 'em:

Over at 60 Hope Street, co-owner Colin Manning, said: “Matthew Norman is clearly talking through his own black hole. There are lots of people in this city who are creating and serving great food.”

Meanwhile, Paul Askew, chef patron of the London Carriage Works, told Liverpool Confidential: "This is southern, lazy journalism and irresponsible. The reviewer clearly hasn't done his homework on what Liverpool now has got to offer in the way of food.

“This is now a much more grown up city than it has been for years. There are pockets of people who keep chipping away and are determined to make it better.

He added: “Liverpool might not be the finished article yet, in terms of restaurants, but it can still hold its head up alongside Manchester, Leeds or any other northern provincial city.

“I would love Matthew Norman to come and eat in here.”

And the invitations for the esteemed food writer to return didn't stop there, despite the fact that Mr Norman could be accused of adding insult to injury with his telling of an old joke in his piece. At first, we couldn't be bothered reproducing it, until we realised that Mr Norman has been doing just that: dragging out the same gag in reviews on successive visits to the city (see the panels).

Anne Benson, writer and food tourism consultant for The Mersey Partnership, said: "I was disappointed that, yet again, a reviewer has taken the lazy option of stereotyping Liverpool - despite saying he wasn't going to tell a car joke he then went ahead and did so.”

The way he tells 'em:

She went on: "The Liverpool region has a lot of good, thriving restaurants, producing quality and tasty food. The food offering has improved a lot over recent years and there is something for everyone in the city. I hope Matthew Norman will come back and I'd be happy to take him out."

While we do not want to dwell on Mr Norman's edifying account of his experience at the Panoramic, we tried to contact him yesterday about the other stuff to see if he had anything further to add to the pot. But to no avail, as yet... Perhaps he was hiding with the rottweiler in the back of the Merc.

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

Stanley StreetMay 8th 2008.

I'm never likely to eat at that 'Panoramic'. For a start I'd have to descend 34 storeys after for a post-prandial gasper to aid the digestion. Also the promotional photographs I've seen showed a clientèle consisting mainly of scruffy, unshaven chumps.

TourmanMay 8th 2008.

Why would we take anything written in The Guardian seriously, a paper peopled by cycling veggies. Mr Norman probably wrote his review on the train here tosave time and keep his Editor happy, say something nice about Liverpool, no chance.

catch_22May 8th 2008.

Sorry to be pedantic Lenin but the london metropolitan area has a pop of about 12-14 million so between 19 - 23% of the UK popn. However this won't take into account the total number that work in the city mon-fri estimates vary but go up to 21 mil. Not that I don't agree with the grip that the UK is too London centric it is and it fuels the North South divide. But thats hardly likely to change as all our politicians live their regardless of where they have to slum it on Fridays and supposedly represent. My only concern is that in the North we improve our lot without looking like we have a chip on our shoulder, which doesn't mean not pointing out the injustice, but not resorting to name calling or stereotypes.

St. John S. MarketMay 8th 2008.

I once saw Alexei Sayle eating in the old 'Renaissance' vegetarian café on Dale Street opposite the Municipal Buildings. What a mess!

AnonymousMay 8th 2008.

I never hear much about room it used to be great.

Tony JonesMay 8th 2008.

I don't agree with Mathew Norman assessment that Liverpool offers a bad dining experience - and I'm a Guardian reader.Liverpool offers, as does everywhere else, including London, a range of experiences. I've had excellent meals in many restaurants but also indifferent meals with poor service. It is no different from many other places. But that is a big improvement over the years as the quality of eating out was generally poor or mediocre some time ago. So things are better now than before, there are some excellent places to eat (no prizes to the Pub in the Park last night though which told us it would be 2-hours before we could be served - pathetic service) and it's getting better all the time.

V. I. Lenin AirportMay 8th 2008.

catch_22 says.."My only concern is that in the North we improve our lot without looking like we have a chip on our shoulder, which doesn't mean not pointing out the injustice, but not resorting to name calling or stereotypes." ”________ And cracking forty year-old, unfunny, offensive jokes about car theft/vandalism in Liverpool isn't name-calling or stereotyping?

V. I. Lenin AirportMay 8th 2008.

Hear hear! 90% of the British population lives outside London and its environs. It is about time our supposedly 'national' media reflected this!

London RoadMay 8th 2008.

Well said and completely accurate. But unfortunately too many people in this city have never been anywhere or done anything to know any better, and that includes most of the people who open restaurants.

TV KellyMay 8th 2008.

There's a vicious rumour going around that Matthew Norman's Scouse mate at the Panoramic was Alexei Sayle. I cannot vouch for this other than the fact that I know it to be true.

Biff WelliingtonMay 8th 2008.

Rubbish, Heironymous! My comment was even-handed! You appear to be saying that we in "the provinces" ought to lap up negative comments from Londoners simply because we ought to be thrilled to be noticed by them, whereas a similar comment going the other way is "provincialism". Despite what The BBC and The Guardian etc. would have you believe, London is NOT the centre of the Universe! The average American (whose culture is increasingly being imposed upon us by London) couldn’t find it on a map.

scrittipolittiMay 8th 2008.

It is true that Matthew Norman seems to come over all nauseous as he moves North of the M25.However, Liverpool restaurants are overrated by the Love it or P*ss off portion of the population which does nothing to help itself become European, never mind Capital of Culture. Anyone who has ever travelled knows that Liverpool lags behind most European metropolitan areas for food-- (though not middle england where there's plenty of crap overpriced restaurants). This is the city which barely had a coffee bar in the city centre until 2000 and now scallies happily pay £3 for a hot coffee that looks like a milkshake.The real problem is that Liverpool has a few high end restaurants (mentioned before) which are good for a special occassion, a few decent cheap ones but very little that's any good in between. In fact, there is very little correlation between price and quality of food at all. Some of the best food can be found for a fiver at places like The Egg, Keith's, The Green Fish, Kimo's, Eureka albeit unevenly. Otherwise, the money seems to be invested in a few shiny surfaces which tarnish with the service, and food quality within a year....bit like the unimaginative building going on. Now there's something I disagree with Norman about. Could he see anything out of that 34th floor window?

AngieMay 8th 2008.


Biff WellingtonMay 8th 2008.

Why are the bar staff and waiting staff in these self-consciously trendy and "kewl" restaurants so damned familiar and casual? It's bad enough that they are dressed in some species of black vest in lieu of a proper uniform, but they also lollop, mumble out of the corner of their mouths, address the diners as “guys” and chat familiarly with customers whether the customers like it or not! It might be the approach to win the loyalty of the spivs and barrowboys who run these places, but for normal people it is very unprofessional and a big turn-off.On the other hand, London-types know little of the real world because they have their ‘metropolitan élite’ heads rammed up their ‘metropolitan élite’ arses.

that'smrbollockstoyouMay 8th 2008.

I've just looked up Matthew Norman's full review on the website and actually thought it was quite amusing apart from the recycling of the old mind yer car mister joke (yawn). What does concern me though is a) Who is his Scouse mate? If he was in the know and he wanted to impress his cockney chum he wouldn't have chosen the Panoramic which, apart from the spectacular view it offers, has already been hammered for its service and the quality of its food in other organs. There are plenty of other better places to choose from as someone of the calibre of the excellent Mr Grill could have advised him to visit. and b)How could Norman use the label of black hole to describe the quality of of ALL this city's restaurants based on one bad experience? Unless, of course, he was a London based journalist on a very occasional visit up here falling into the stereotypical trap of making lazy generalisations that damn us all.

AnonymousMay 8th 2008.

I have tried the Panoramic and I thought the food and the service and actually the decor of the place was pretty awful.... there are however a few good restuarants in Liverpool... 60, Quarter, Side Door, Carriage works, Puscha are my faves... the Albert Dock fails to deliver really. I do believe that most places in Liverpool are extremely overpriced for what you get though... keep it real people!!

catch_22May 8th 2008.

I agree with gingermop that it does appear as if there does seem to be a bit of a plateau reached when it comes to restaurants in Liverpool which is worrying, that said there are certainly many more places to get a decent meal than there used to be and I'm no longer in fear of taking visitors out for a meal these days. Another thing couple of things that concern me though are the seeming obsession with new places that there is in the city which often means that places are always somewhere on the cycle of being the current best place ever and so are making an effort or are on the downward spiral of having been deserted for the new 'best place ever' and no longer really giving a 100% until they close and re-open as the new 'best place ever'. The other thing is the current fad of minor local celebrities owning restaurants and bars. Honestly people because they can kick a football, make an arse of themselves on celebrity shows, or sing reasonably with the help of software and a slick management company in no way means that they are worth fawning over or listening to when its comes to good food or nice places to drink, they are just slightly better dressed Alan Partridges!

Half Price SaleMay 8th 2008.

What? Him or it?

HeironymousMay 8th 2008.

Pity that Biff Wellington should spoil his case by a cheap and silly crack about 'London types'. Nothing makes Liverpool and its inhabitants look more pathetic than this kind of Royston Vasey provincialism. Grow up.

willowanMay 8th 2008.

Irrespective of lazy journalism, I think Norman has a point. Too many places seem to go for 'style' over substance ( see Upstairs at the Bluecoat and the woeful Bar and Grill )and the so called top draw places (60 Hope -' more champers for the drug dealers' and Carriage Works -' more salt with that, anyone ?' are just mediocre. C minus, must try harder.

FoodManChanMay 8th 2008.

Matthew Norman is correct up to a point - English/Western food standards are poor whatever the price range and service is generally ill informed or staff just plain ignorant. However the ethnic food scene is much better.

CliveMay 8th 2008.

In typical Grauniad style, the phone number for the Panoramic was also wrong. The dialling code for Liverpool appears to have changed to 0161...

Jay RaynerMay 8th 2008.

How come your rant, Angie Sammons, Editor, has got nice paragraph spacing and nobody else's ever has?

Sir Howard WayMay 8th 2008.

"better dressed Alan Partridges! ” REALLY? A blazer and tie combination would improve their appearances no end!

GingermopMay 8th 2008.

I'm a regular reader of Norman's restuarant reviews and he is frequently negative and condescending about non-London based restaurants (which he himself acknowledged in a review a few months ago), so maybe this is not surprising. I think Catch22 has a point about service; it's not so much bad service (ie rude) as unprofessional (overly chatty; poor knowledge of food and wine etc). I think service is a problem in many UK, or at least, English, establishments and we could learn a lot from our continental cousins.I moved to Liverpool 9 years ago when the restaurant scene was pretty limited. It has got much better but I get the feeling it has plateaued a bit of late. The Side Door generally delivers and my one meal at the Malmaison was excellent, but I wasn't overly inspired by the Restuarant Bar and Grill; the food was ok but it was on the pricey side for what it was and we felt a bit harried by waiting staff. I have yet to sample the Panoramic (table is booked and I confess to feeling a bit apprehensive but hopefully the view will make up for it) so judgement reserved.In all, you can get good food in Liverpool but not perhaps as good as some of the places like to pretend. I sometimes wonder what motivates the owners; I'm not sure it's always the quality of the food and more about being the 'in' place to be seen.

WirralMay 8th 2008.

Boris Johnson was right about whingeing scousers, the service in most eating establishments in merseyside is crap the staff are doing us a favour just turning up and the food is average at best!

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