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
Average price £48.00 £42.99 £35.58 £35.04 £48.05
Highest price £48.00 £53.40 £51.50 £50.20 £56.50
Lowest price £48.00 £35.40 £22.95 £24.20 £37.00

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.

60 Hope Street

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.

London Carriage Works

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.

Panoramic

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.

Blakes

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

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  • nettykins

    I totally agree with this posting!! I find it a real struggle to think of somewhere ‘great’ to eat! There are lots and lots of restaurants seving food that, frankly, just isn’t good enough.

    My husband and I watch cookery programmes and see all the restaurants in other parts of the country offering a wide range of fine dining and would love to have a ‘fine dining’ experience in our fair city without having to travel for it.

    There must be someone, somewhere with the expertise and the finances to give us ‘foodies’ this one place we so desire!!

  • LiverpoolRR

    I woiuld like to think that at least one top quality restaurant would work in Liverpool, I think it could really compliment what we already have. As for Manchester, i think they have similar issues, however I’ve eaten both at Harvey Nick restaurant and the Lowrey Hotel, both of which both had better food then any of the aforementioned restaurants, so I think they are a bit closer to the mark.

  • LiverpoolRR

    I haven’t been to Panormaic for a while, I think it was late 2009, we left with a ‘once was enough’ feel about the meal. I knew when thinking about this article that just my own experiences wouldn’t be sufficant, thus why I review the well know restaurant guides. Panoramic gets a brief mention in the Michelin guide and that’s is all, which worries me for the prices they charge. I’m not really insulting the food, I’m sure its nice or good, but I don’t just want good food for £50 per head. The tasting menu they offer at £80 is very expensive and for that I would expect Michel star standard food for that money. It charges those prices because it can get away with it, would it be able to charge that in London with much great competition? I don’t think it could.

  • PeterMichaelJohnHunter

    Pushka is lovely

  • Laura-Jane Hall

    If you use Fraiche as a benchmark you will struggle to find anything to match it in Liverpool, it’s absolutely outstanding.

  • Peter Michael John Hunter

    Pushka is lovely food

  • nettykins

    @PeterMichaelJohnHunter yes – agree pushka is anice place! but you think there are too many of ‘that type’ and not enough fine dining?

  • LiverpoolRR

    @nettykins@PeterMichaelJohnHunter That’s my point really, there are plenty of great restaurants that have good food at a good prices. When it comes to fine dining we have nothing that is really any good. I would say however, that my last meal at Puschka wasn’t the best, I think it has ups and downs.

  • terrymcshane

    @ahwalmsley @7streets if I was too cook for 20 people I’d be be the best restaurant out there too,

  • terrymcshane

    @ahwalmsley @7streets you should of included what special deals these restaurants have on offer too !! you may be surprised

  • 7streets

    @terrymcshane bet you wouldn’t

  • LiverpoolRR

    @terrymcshane That wasn’t really the point of the article, we wanted to look at the average price of a standard meal.

  • LiverpoolRR

    @terrymcshane Thats irrelevant, if you charge high prices you can’t use the argument that you have to cook for 50 covers as an excuse.

  • anagoge

    The reason there is no real fine dining experience in Liverpool is that there is little demand for it. I think most people are content (note: not happy, content) with chain restaurants are smaller family-run businesses. They may not offer exceptional food, but they do it at a decent price and the food is good (again note: good, not amazing).

    Your review suggests that price should equal quality. That’s never been the way with anything. Price is equal to whatever people are willing to pay. Find enough people to pay it and you have a profitable business, regardless of whether the food is good or not.

  • LiverpoolRR

    @anagoge Of course I want price to equal quality, that is a given right of every consumer in the country and just becuase some places can get away with over charging doesn’t mean that its right.

    I would agree with you about plenty of restaurants offering good food at a good price, I think we have plenty to choose from, but that is not what the article is about. It’s about the places that charge too much, places that, I believe, people shouldn’t be going to with the current pricing structure they have.

    As for demand, that is up for debate, I think the city could sustain a top quality fine dinning restaurant, but others I’ve talked to don’t think it can, I’m not sure anyone can really say for real.

  • Sousy

    I understand that you’ve enjoyed flexing your critical muscles on here, but what actually qualifies you to assess the food in any of these restaurants? Are you a chef? Do you run a restaurant? Or are you just another armchair critic who has no idea of what goes on behind the scenes? Just asking…

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David

    That’s a strange comment. It supposes that, as paying consumers in restaurants, our opinions aren’t worth hearing. We’re of the opinion that they’re the most valuable opinions of all. Imagine a world reviewed exclusively by ‘experts’. Qualifications or official authorisation aren’t a prerequisite for having an opinion, and sharing it honestly. Unless, of course, you’re posting from North Korea. In which case, we apologise. If not, that’s the SevenStreets way, so if it’s not to your taste, try other publications which only write nice reviews, for fear of upsetting the PR agencies and advertisers. There’s plenty of them out there for you.

  • LiverpoolRR

    What qualifies me to judge these restaurants?

    I’m a paying customer.

  • nettykins

    @LiverpoolRR great and correct reply! w he paying customers hve every right to comment also without us paying customers there is no chefrestaurant

  • Sousy

    @LiverpoolRR But then so is everyone else. This just smacks of the Trip Advisor culture where everyone can sit at home criticising without actually creating anything themselves. I haven’t worked in any of these restaurants, but I’ve worked in plenty more, and I’ve eaten in them all – normally using the deals which offer much lower prices than you quote. Last time I ate at Panoramic it was with the lunch deal at less than £20. I’ve never seen that offered at Fraiche, and nor would I expect to, because they have such a long waiting list they don’t need to. But the fact behind it all is that – as far as I can see – you’re not a chef and you’re not a proper restaurant critic. So I repeat, what makes you and more qualified than any of these restaurants’ many happy customers to judge them?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com/ Robin Brown

    @LiverpoolRR Sousy – not running a restaurant does not preclude anyone from expressing an opinion in a review; and no qualifications are required to do so. The idea that one must run a restaurant or be a ‘proper restaurant critic’ to voice thoughts on the quality of food one pays for is just absurd – a notion that would pretty much put any critic out of work overnight.

    Baseless, unfair, unauthoritative criticism (or useless, favourable PR guff) is one thing. An article that sets out its objectives and frames of reference; researches and presents professional opinions as support for that thesis; and presents conclusions that are never presented as anything other than an opinion are completely different.

    What goes on behind the scenes, and what the reasons are for inferior food and whether there are cheaper deals are all completely irrelevant here. This is written by a paying customer, for a paying customer. And on those terms that’s plenty qualification.

  • LiverpoolRR

    @Sousy all i can do is echo what Robin has written above, along with that fact that paid for the meal so I get to judge or comment as I would expect anyone else to do.

    As for me I’m a food lover, who eats our very regularly, I cook all the time and consider it one of my hobbies. However, that is irellavent, isany other restaurant critic any more well qualified than me? My points were well researched and accurate, it’s very clear that the standard three courses in the mentioned venues are over priced. The food was judged by me but also by the AA guide, Michelin guide, the good food guide and hardens and they all agree with me so I’m not sure what issue you can have with the points I make?

  • koenhendrix

    I’ve only been to 60 and the CW. And I’m not a cook. But here’s my £0.02.

    The comparison in this article seems slightly unfair: it only takes into account food quality and money. Those are surely important, but places on Hope Street or other city-centre locations have the benefit of being close to venues like the Philharmonic Hall or the waterfront. They pay more for their prime locations, and we customers pay more for that convenience or for the stunning view. Don’t ignore that by just comparing food quality with price.

    If you really need to focus on just food and monies, the trip over the water would raise my cab fares with at least £10. Why isn’t that taken into account?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com/ Robin Brown

    @koenhendrix If you go to Liverpool from Birkenhead or the Wirral it costs exactly the same amount of money. Once you start trying to factor in anything beyond food and price it falls down.

  • LiverpoolRR

    @koenhendrix I’m not really sure how looking only at value for money and food quality can be seen as a weakness in an article, they are the two most important aspect of any restaurant.

    I would also say that i didn’t include side dishes in any of the comparison prices, this would be another additional cost that 60, LCW or Panoramic would include. There are many other variables that we could include, but that would be almost impossible, thus I focused on the two important ones.

  • geeski

    LiverpoolRR….it does ALL sound very ‘Trip Advisor’..are you advertising on behalf of the Wirral ??

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com/ Robin Brown

    @geeski I have my own thoughts on what you’re advertising.

  • http://liverpoolrestaurants.wordpress.com Sid

    As additional info for this article, I just found this, its an info-graphic of the lunch prices for all the Michelin starred restaurants in the country.

    http://content.thetrainline.com/buytickets/news/michelin-star-resturants-final.jpg

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