We love the Museum of Liverpool. We say so here. But in our eager exploration of its nooks and corners, we somehow overlooked its best exhibition. The museum’s ‘How We Used to Eat’ gallery, on the ground floor is a revelation. So complete and pitch-perfect is its evocation of motorway service stations, circa 1978, that we were blown away with the art of the curator. Wait….this is the museum’s cafe? Really? £72 million pounds – and this takes up an entire gallery’s worth of space?
Here’s the deal. The Museum’s a strident, 21st century confirmation of our cultural might – of our place at the top table of the world’s cities. And its cafe? A sad reminder that, when it comes to catering for those who take the time to pay a visit – we’re still held back at primary school, queuing up with our trays, for frozen veg, soggy chips and pre-packed sandwiches.
Can you smell a disconnect? We can.
SevenStreets gave the Waterfront Cafe a few weeks to bed in. We hate visiting a place when it’s still getting into gear. But, alas, it’s going to take a complete overhaul, we fear, to get this joint back on track.
The cafe – bustling, let’s not deny it – serves up a limited range of hot specials. Scouse, pieces of ‘spiced chicken’ entropying under the hot lights, plaice and chips in a greasy cardboard box. Alongside, there are cast-iron pots of veg. Cauliflower mainly.
Cauliflower. You know, that seasonal winter veg. In August? This is a cafe that’s out of time on so many levels.
Then you’re presented with a line-up of pre-packed sandwiches. ‘Just ham’, ‘Just cheese’, ‘Just go to Starbucks’.
Apparently, they’re made ‘on the premises’. Which begs the question, why package them at all? Why not have them made, fresh, in front of you? Like they do at FACT? Why reverse-engineer something that’s home-made to look like it’s come from a central distribution depot? And why not use nicer bread? Would a bloomer go amiss?
I stare at the sandwich and wonder all this – and much more – while my plaice and chips slowly cools. I count the chips. 15. Which is a nice numerological coincidence, as that’s how many minutes it takes me to get served.
They have two tills here. Why can’t they have one for hot (or, by this time, lukewarm) lunches, and one express till for the Just Cheese brigade? The people at NML are at pains, also, to point out that this is a ‘cafe’, not a ‘restaurant’. If only it felt like cafes feel, in the real world, these days. No, this place is a canteen. There is simply no ambition here. And no love.
I eat my cold fish and chips. The plaice is fine. It’s flat, and not particularly meaty. But I know that’s more evolution’s fault than NML’s. The chips, well, they didn’t hang around long enough for me to form an impression.
In short, I parted with the best part of a tenner for fish and chips and a cup of coffee. And I won’t be back.
Mind you, as I looked around, it was obvious that most people at the Cafe won’t be back either. They’re mostly tourists. Mostly weekend trippers who’ve chosen our city, out of all the world’s cities, to come and spend their free time, and their disposable cash in. They sit and eat with resignation. Over at the Albert Dock, there’s no shortage of quick, colourful lunches to choose from, to brighten up an otherwise windswept afternoon.
It’s, surely, the job of the Museum of Liverpool to speak for us, to represent us? Someone needs to tell their head of catering, and fast, that they’re selling us short. It’s places like this – more than the fabric of our buildings – that do the real damage to our World Heritage Site.
For modern art, and modern catering, go to the Tate. For history, the Museum of Liverpool wins every time.