Eating at the Adelphi: Sausages, silverskins and spiders
Robin Brown spent a week at the Adelphi hotel; this is what he made of the food.
The current incarnation of the Adelphi will be 100 years old in 2014. With the centenary approaching we wondered how this grand old Liverpool hotel is faring in the face of Liverpool’s rediscovered role as an international tourist destination and an explosion of new hotels in the city.
So we spent a week in the venerable old place, sampling the venue, its hospitality, rooms, food, drink and ambiance – a reflection of the a Monday-Friday deals that various travel companies from around the country offer at startlingly reasonable prices.
Over the next three days you can read what we made of our stay and our impressions of this fascinating building, but we kick off today with the various delights of the Adelphi’s catering, including the two free meals a day that are part of the ‘four-day deal’ we aped.
Be warned: Value sausages, silverskin onions and an extraordinary surprise ingredient make appearances.
It’s hot, that’s the main thing you notice. An enormous table is laden with steaming, boiling trays of food like a school dinner canteen, only this table has a reclining buddha on it.
Three times a day the Adelphi prepares hundreds of meals for guests and other punters here and in one of its several dining rooms.
Breakfast is a typically hearty affair – all protein and cholesterol with the usual continental (corn flakes and yoghurt) options. You can have as much as you want and with that sort of proposition you can probably stuff yourself and go all the way through to the evening meal – via Liverpool Museum and Anfield and the Albert Dock – should you wish.
The evening meal, which we’re currently negotiating, is very much a meat and two veg affair. Quite literally, unless you fancy five meats and three veg.
You can have either for around £15 a head, which is good value or absurdly expensive, depending on whether you priotise volume or quality when it comes to food. If you’re here on a deal it’s built into the price, which typically ranges between £150-£200 for four nights with two meals a day and a free bar during the night-time.
Head in for the main meal in Jenny’s Restaurant in the evening and there’s a choice of starters. On the first evening it’s egg salad or scotch broth. The egg salad amuses me, because while there is a whole boiled egg on the plate, doused in mayo and paprika, the salad consists of a segment of tomato, a slice of cucumber and a ribbon of iceberg lettuce. It’s something straight out of a ’60s wedding meal. On another night there’s a choice between pate – no bread – or a thin vegetable soup, all diced carrots and individual peas. It is, and this seems rather charitable, hospital food.
Mains consist of a carvery, with a new joint every night of the week. On the days we ate there it was a choice between overcooked beef or tender but fairly tasteless pork.
“Do you want fried mushrooms?” asks the carver, pointing to some deep fried mushrooms that accompany the beef. We do and receive two small slices. This peculiar austerity is bizarre because the appeal of the evening dinner is that you eat as much as you want. It’s the sort of offering that appeals to certain people, perhaps people for whom as much meat and fish as you can eat was not always a given in life.
The carver is drenched in sweat at the roasting hot plate. From time to time he disappears to get another tray of spuds or veg, looking flustered. “I’ve only just started working here – I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” he confesses. It looks, to us, like the most miserable job in the world.
We move on to a long table of trays, bubbling with unlikely delights. Chicken in white wine sauce, meatballs in gravy, ribbons of beef, gammon and pineapple, cod in breadcrumbs. We sampled a little of most. The chicken dish, bizarrely was filled with silverskin onions.
The veg are a very sorry sight, colours and crispness boiled out of them. The roast potatoes on the other hand were quite excellent – go figure. Quite a few people go back again and again – plates piled high in a mass of meat, veg and gravy. Sometimes less is more – particularly when gout looks a likely destination on the horizon – but most of the diners look happy.
If you’ve room for dessert there’s plenty on offer. Bought-in individual muffins, cheesecakes, meringues… most of them are decorated with physalis. There’s quite a selection but they’re wholly forgettable.
The overwhelming impression is of school dinners, even down to the fact that you can see a gymnasium nearby. Sit in the right, or the wrong, spot and you can actually watch people working out, which must be disconcerting when you’re shovelling your fifth helping of blueberry muffin down your gullet.
If you’re seeking more sophisticated fare there’s always Crompton’s restaurant next door, promising fine dining. Indeed, the menu looks impressive in a very 1970s idiom. Prawn cocktail, melon boats and chateaubriand all feature on the menu and serve to painfully date the cuisine.
It’s hard to imagine who on Earth would go to Crompton’s for an evening meal but, then again, the place always seemed reasonably busy and there’s probably nowhere else in Liverpool you can get such a timewarp meal as this.
After the meal I head to the lounge area, which is quiet and regal and there’s also an American Bar that I never saw open during my week there, though I have been there before and paid a crippling amount for a whisky.
There’s also a pub we seek out that’s probably the worst thing about the modern Adelphi. It’s shabby, noisy, dirty and constantly warm.
But it’s better than sitting downstairs in a vast, drab, windowless, rectangular hall where all the ‘four-night-deal’ gang are directed to stand in line for their free booze and play bingo or a pub quiz (sample question to a room of 200 60-year-olds: who sang ‘Rock Around the Clock’?).
This is where most of the hotel’s residents seem to be and they look fairly glum. I would too if I went to the Capital of Culture and ended up in a room that might as well be back in Hartlepool, Rotherham, Bedford or Slough. But if they want their free booze, this is where they must stay, half a mile away from the baroque splendour of the front of the hotel.
At one point, while a queue of people wait for their drinks, one of the barmen throws an empty bottle forcefully into a plastic bottle receptacle, as seems to be rule in bars these days, where it smashes noisily against other bottles. All the people in the queue – pensioners all – start in shock and I feel sorry for them and saddened by the whole experience.
We head back to the pub upstairs, away from the depressing enormo-hall, and sit down for some drinks – lager, mild, cider or Guinness on tap. This is a horrible pub, but at least it’s a pub.
A companion, who’s sat with us, points at something in the other side of our gin and tonic. We turn the glass around to see what the commotion’s about and discover a large, dead spider squashed against the side of the glass by the wedge of lemon. We’ve been drinking it for some time.
I’m so astounded by this development I laugh and carry it over for a replacement somewhat dazed. The lady behind the bar frowns at the spider’n'tonic, shrugs and replaces it. No apology, no embarrassment, not even any surprise – it’s a mark of how low standards appear to have fallen in the pub that a dead spider in a guest’s drink doesn’t even warrant a raised eyebrow.
I know people who would have had to be restrained from calling the management, police or the X-Files in a situation like this, but I ruminated on the spider incident and lack of response from the bar staff for some time.
Britannia, who own and run the Adelphi, has identified a niche that works at the Adelphi – and that niche is to bus in people who are looking for value for money above all.
And offer value for money they do. One of these Monday-Friday tours can be booked for little more than a hundred quid off-season. Four nights, eight ‘all you can eat’ meals, a free bar every night, travel to and from wherever you live and two day trips is a common package.
And at those rates overcooked meat, shabby bars and arachnids in your beverage are, while hardly to be expected or welcomed, part and parcel of the ‘value first’ way of hotelling.
If you pay buttons and expect a lot in return for your city break then you can expect value sausages for breakfast, silverskin onions bulking out the main course in your evening meal and watery gin, because margins have gotta be razor thin.
Those margins only work with volume, so you’re sharing your hotel experience with hundreds of others and that means a reception overrun at check-out and check-in, troughs of food bubbling with bland, cheap ingredients and being shunted into the nearest aircraft hangar at the end of the day to gawp at a LIPA student belting out Yesterday.
It’s an outfit that has built a business on cheap food and cheap booze. Sadly it appears ‘cheap’ is a word that has come to define the modern Adelphi.