A bit of fun for this review. I'll send a bottle of champagne (or non-alcoholic equivalent, if you prefer), anywhere in the world, to someone who correctly identifies every song below recorded by the Fab Four. Submissions, please, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Of those who get it right, one name will be drawn randomly from a hat after 12 April. If you need it, ask for a little help from your friends. Good luck!
Five boys and a girl, we've come together in Liverpool for the weekend. Flying, of course, would have bypassed the long and winding road. But I didn't take a plane or drive my car: I had a ticket to ride on the train. Heading north, I met another day-tripper. 'Do you want to know a secret?' he asked. I made no reply. He continued: 'I've been searchin' this town for the best place to eat, from Penny Lane to Strawberry Fields, forever, it seemed. And now, I want to tell you where you should go: The London Carriage Works. I simply dig it; the place leaves me glad all over.'
'I've got a feeling he might be right,' said G, who lives in this town. 'Yes, it is good,' offered R. 'Well, if I needed someone to recommend a restaurant, I'd go to Michelin,' huffed S. Me, I simply thought, 'Carriage Works, don't let me down.'
Oh darling, what a fuss they've made on the place! If you travelled right across the universe, you wouldn't find a more pretentious restaurant. Every little thing it does seems calculated to irritate: there are weird glass shapes hanging from the ceiling (but no glass onion, thankfully), and a bare hardwood floor on which the heels of the waitress - Sexy Sadie, someone christened her - clop loudly. The former carriage-maker's has undergone a revolution, when they should have let it be. The menu's a helter skelter across France, Italy and Britain, although I like the way it suggests a different wine for each dish. Three cool cats next door are having a birthday party, and their night is a long way from the end.
A questionnaire at my place informs me that this is a 'modern contemporary restaurant'. True enough, there are plenty of seasonal ingredients, and no Savoy truffle. But no matter how much the taxman's taking, £27.50 seems a lot for a small piece of sirloin. For some, a beginning to the meal is venison carpaccio: slices of nondescript meat, enjoyable for no one. Pan-fried halloumi is better, but I can scarcely find words of love for some salty cheese and what the menu calls 'wilted' tomatoes. Spinach soup is a purée of grass cuttings and rain: underblended, flecked with chlorophyll strings. Using the tip of my tongue, I taste a little linguine with tomato and chicken. It's awful. The sauce is a claggy, limp paste, reminiscent of a world without love. You know what to do with this? Put it in the bin.
After a wait, two of us are served matchbox-sized pieces of overcooked halibut. (Don't ask me why it comes on that ridiculous slate tile.) Deep-fried haddock is battered weirdly with cayenne, and looks like an old brown shoe. An excellent duck breast, though, has a taste of honey, and comes with a hot, fragrant sauce of pink peppercorns. I could eat this dish any time at all. But just when I think things are getting better, help! A little child could dream up a better vegetarian dish than grilled mushrooms with butternut squash. It too comes with spinach - 'Not a second time!' says R, who had it in her starter. 'Run for your life!' says G, but we'll have something else before we go.
There's a selection of 16 cheeses, and though I just don't understand why there isn't a trolley, they turn out to be in excellent condition. We order them all, including Kidderton Ash - a fine, grassy goat's. Piggies that we are, we finish the lot. 'I'll be on my way,' I say to the waitress, and I speak for everyone. It's time to get back into town. Good night.
Although I've got a feeling the London Carriage Works will outlive the recession, much of this long, long, long meal was sheer misery. It wasn't all bad, but a lot of it, I'm afraid, was junk. You won't see me coming back, anyway, not a second time. I think, perhaps, the best way to treat the place might be to say, 'Hello, goodbye.'
The London Carriage Works, 40 Hope Street, Liverpool L1
Tel.: +44 (0)151 705 2222
See on the TFYS Map
Dinner for six, including drinks and service, costs £288