Fine dining in Liverpool: A fine mess?
Liverpool has many excellent food outlets these days, but what of fine dining in the city? Sid Miller takes a look at the upper end of the scale - and is not impressed
I recently had a meal at Fraiche Restaurant, Merseyside’s only Michelin-starred establishment run by Marc Wilkinson in Oxton. Fraiche is highly commended by many restaurant guides and was recently placed in the top 50 restaurants in the UK in a Sunday Times list.
My meal was excellent; everything from the ambiance, service, wine list and, most importantly, the food was very very good. Marc’s cooking is modern and inventive – and produces dishes that excited through taste, texture, temperature and appearance. As a result it’s a required stop for any Liverpool food lover.
This article isn’t about Fraiche, however. People far more qualified than I have passed judgement on what it has to offer.
This article is about the fine-dining failures of Liverpool; those restaurants that like to consider themselves the best in Liverpool; those that charge comparable prices to Fraiche’s and, in theory, are direct competitors.
A decade ago Liverpool had a poor reputation for gastronomy; ten years on the city has a thriving restaurant scene, from bustling cafes and bistros to a number of restaurants that charge big prices for expensive food that should be high in quality.
I wanted to weigh up those supposed alternatives and assess what they have to offer. How they compared in price and quality to Fraiche, which has to be the high watermark for fine dining on Merseyside.
Using the websites of four other restaurants that could reasonably be compared to Fraiche in terms of cost and menu, I calculated the average price of a three-course meal, along with the highest possible price and lowest possible price of a meal.
|Fraiche||60 Hope Street||Carriage Works||Blakes||Panoramic|
I’ve weighed up these four other restaurants I’ve eaten at, collected together some restaurant guides reviews, and compared them to get an idea of the quality of food served.
As a comparison Fraiche has one Michelin star (from a possible, almost certainly unattainable by all but the best in the world, three); three AA rosettes (out of a possible five, which are only awarded to the best restaurants in the world); a Hardens score of one for food (out of five – one being the best possible); and a Good Food Guide Score of seven (out of a possible 10; a score of one in the Good Food Guide still indicates a high quality, despite being the lowest possible).
Any restaurant charging similar prices should be getting close to this standards. What follows is my assessment of Liverpool’s fine dining establishments, along with the ratings given by various food guides.
This long-lived restaurant has a good reputation, yet my last meal there left a lot to be desired. The Good Food Guide gives 60 Hope Street a cooking score of one out of 10 and suggests it’s living on past glories.
It has a single AA rosette, a short mention in Michelin Guide and its food score in restaurant guide Hardens is four; the second lowest possible.
60′s most expensive a la carte meal is £53.40 and the average is £42.99. These prices, to me, should offer far better food.
The upmarket Hope Street Hotel should have an equally good restaurant to accompany it, but my last meal at the London Carriage Works included stale bread and two dishes that had to be sent back.
This is another restaurant with a Hardens score of four, but it holds two AA rosettes and boasts a host of award on its website.
It would appear to be a better option than 60; its prices are slightly lower and cooking better in my experience, but this is still food that is too expensive for what it is.
This is by far the most expensive restaurant I’ve looked at, including Fraiche, with an average three-course meal of £48.05 but with a tasting menu of £80 per head – £12 more than Fraiche’s most expensive menu.
The Panoramic is not referenced in the Good Food Guide or AA guides, while Hardens provides a food score of four. My one and only meal there included fish that tasted off, missing elements from plates and poorly conceived dishes – I felt no desire to return.
Yes, it has arguably the best view of any restaurant in the country, but these prices are almost embarrassing for the food on offer.
Nestling in the corner of the Hard Days Night Hotel, this restaurant was apparently the Good Food Guide’s best city centre restaurant for 2010; though it doesn’t make it into the 2012 edition.
I failed to find a single review in any of the aforementioned guides – perhaps a recognition that this is a relative newcomer.
My last meal there was nice and interesting, I thought the savoury cooking was good but the desserts didn’t reach the same standard.
What we have here are four restaurants that charge prices approaching that of Fraiche, or more in some cases, but the food is not at the same level.
They do offer early-evening menus and certain offers through the week, but a standard three-course meal is little less than Oxton’s finest.
Liverpool still lacks a genuine top quality restaurant, so the competition for this upper end of the market is rather lazy and uncompetitive; the prices charged are beyond the quality of the food they serve.
In the current economic climate a meal at a restaurant that charges around £50 a head is hard to justify; in the cases of the four restaurants above – and Liverpool’s fine dining in general – I don’t believe that offers good value for money.
If you want a top quality fine-dining meal in Liverpool take a trip over the water to Fraiche, it’s worth every penny.
If you want a meal that matches the price you pay, Liverpool has many great restaurants to offer, but I believe the upper end of Liverpool’s gastronomic scene should either improve its food or drop its prices.
As it is they occupy a middle ground that benefits them and not the city or its customers.
Main image taken from the Panoramic, by marcusjroberts on Flickr
Blakes image by feelinglistless, Flickr