It was fancy wallpaper guru William Morris, who, when asked why he spent so much time at the Eiffel Tower, said “Because it’s the only place in Paris I can’t see it from.”
He had a point. It’s a bastard of a building to try and slap up some anaglypta on. Still, over time, most Parisians came to take the Meccano monster to their hearts.
Whether the same will be said of our new Pier Head building is another matter. But there’s no doubt that, from its terrace, the view of our waterfront is lovely: and Morris would no doubt approve of the fact that, from here, the building’s awkward angles are blissfully blotted from the panorama.
Is that why Matou, the building’s restaurant in residence, is so popular? Somehow we doubt it. We doubt its current crop of clientele care little about its clumsy aesthetic, or its lack of taste. They can’t. They eat here.
After a shaky start, Matou is now – and there is no denying this – the place to be on a summer’s evening in town. Its terrace is awash with the Liverpool Lifestyle brigade: all diaphanous layers, Pirates of the Caribbean earrings and platform wedges.
SevenStreets simply had to go and check it out. After all, what could be worse than eating a spicily fresh Pan-Asian dinner on a summer’s evening, overlooking the shimmering corridor of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, and one-eyed monster of the new museum?
Alas, we’ll never know. For, sadly, the large terrace is a food no-go area from six thirty. Thus depriving the city of the best chance it had of a waterfront eating experience. For Matou is now more bar than restaurant – and it’s the diners who are paying the price.
Why can’t we get our waterfront right? Walking to the Pier Head one thing is immediately apparent: there’s far too much hard landscaping here. It’s a celebration of geometry. Of clashing concrete and granite, chrome hand rails and battoned-down benches. Ridged and rugged paving edges, and sudden eruptions of angular and angry intersections: the biggest and rudest of all is the Pier Head building itself.
And if you thought everything was hard and abrasive outside, wait until you get inside.
For Matou is a festival of steely surfaces – mosaic pillars, onyx bars, crude concrete and harsh tile. Throw in a gaggle of hard accents, acrylic nails and steroid stares and you’ve got just about the shrillest, noisiest and most painful acoustic experience this side of a Slipknot gig in Topps Tiles. All those hard surfaces just let the sound ricochet around like charged particles in the Large Hadron Collider. In short, it’s painful.
Now we know why the Newz bar has the good sense to drape its interior in those womb red swags. A good bit of soft texturing does wonders for dampening down the barking of Bootle girls on house Champers.
And so to the food.
We’re ushered to the canteen area, replete with sticky tables and stunning views over the scrap-metal graveyards of Wallasey docks. On a summer’s evening, we don’t know about you, but there’s nothing we like better than resting our bare forearms in the spilt detritus of a previous diner’s effluent. Really sets the tastebuds a-tingling.
We order a selection of starters. The tempura was great. The fishcakes? For all we know, they could have been otter shit (sorry, spraint – we’ve not sat through Springwatch for nothing, you know). They certainly smell fishy, but they’ve that reconstituted look. Brown, ovoid, squashy and mushed beyond recognition they’re quite repulsive and an omen of things to come – same for the curiously vague and toilet textured Pandanus chicken, which was less Pand and more, well you get the drift. For Matou, the interior might be as hard and resilient as Margi Clarke’s career, but the food is soft focused, lame and largely forgettable.
Our mains were pitiful. Nasi Goreng should be perky, spicy, freshly wok-fried and jauntily tossed onto the plate. Ours was sweaty, served in a curious ring mould, like some kid’s party jelly: and totally devoid of flavour. And what’s Malaysian food without flavour? Rice. Our Salmon teriyaki with egg noodles was an exercise in blandness. This is one salmon which didn’t leap up river, but floated to the surface and said ‘put me out of my misery and poach me, please’.
We ordered a stingingly expensive Sauvigon – assuming the acidity would be a perfect match for the spicy goodness that lay ahead. We needn’t have bothered – spices, obviously, were off that evening.
Of course, none of this matters all that much. For Matou, with its oversized windows, and overpriced menu, has turned its back on the city, and on the notion that it’s a restaurant at all.
That Matou is buzzing, that its toilet cubicles are busier than Lime Street at rush hour, that it’s a restaurant that’s forgotten about its food (and refuses to serve it to those who want to tuck in while enjoying a view of our beleaguered Three Graces) says all you need to know about a curious and inconvenient truth: we have a world class waterfront. And we haven’t got the first clue about how to enjoy it.
Here’s a serving suggestion from SevenStreets: give us somewhere good to eat, give us a view, and let us return to the river.
Matou, Pier Head