ACTUALLY, you can skip 40 Shades of Grey, the most intriguing things in life are often bright yellow.
This website, for example. Oliver Reed's liver. And not forgetting the restaurant at the Hotel Indigo.
With its radiant buttercup décor, the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse, Bar and Grill is a joyful contradiction to the brooding, sullen image of the gifted bad boy of cheffery.
Indeed, a vast, battleship grey poster looms into view where'er you go in this golden splendour of a room. But White's eyes do not follow. Rather, they look down floorwards, to a fixed point we cannot see. It is a constant caption competition in between courses.
White lends his name and likeness to quite a few restaurants around the country, but his relationship with most is akin to that of absent father with weekend access: hands off on the day-to-day but around for treats.
Occasionally, there is drama - the latest occurring this summer. White got his fingers burned to the tune of £500,000 in legal costs at the High Court: a costly affair with the Yew Tree Inn, in Berkshire, leading to an acrimonious split with his business partners there.
By now, White could probably do with a laugh, and what better place to provide than his outpost in Liverpool? Home of the get-better spell.
A midweek visit to cheery Chapel St last week saw White relaxed and even chatty, with many copies of the commendable Great British Feast to sign for an eager procession of fans. Something to buck up the bank manager too.
We are seated with entertaining couple Ray King and Trudi who sound like a knife-throwing act but are, in fact, veterans of North West food critic circle.
Trudi and Ray King and Marco's
mate Francis CarrollThey are experiencing 24 hours in Liverpool for Cheshire Life and have been invited to Gusto in the Albert Dock, much later, for dinner. Did they ever make it or were they captured by a circus? We still do not know.
Then there is Philippa James, cookery writer and UKTV Food Hero who has just come from a gravy wrestling contest and young Ben Osu.
The region is currently teeming with big name chefs, providing plenty of fodder for the food features editor. Many are hoping to swap TV stardom for Michelin illumination in the satanic kitchens of Manchester: Aiden Byrne, James Martin and Simon Rogan over there. Simon Rimmer opening on Dale St over here.
Yet according to New York chef Anthony Bourdain, the professional kitchen is the last refuge of the misfit, and MPW would do things the other way.
He had three stars and handed them back - “I gave Michelin inspectors too much respect, and I belittled myself” (are you listening up the M62?). Instead the cameras of Hells Kitchen beckoned and White turned respect into endorsement of stock cubes.
Knorr's the pity, some might say.
General Manager of Hotel Indigo,
with Marco and the very
competent restaurant staffBut love, loathe or fear him, there are way over 200 takers wanting to bathe in White's light today. They are stumping up £40 for a three-course lunchtime sitting and a more sumptuous £70 this evening.
Is Marco in the kitchen? Hell no. Is he doing speeches? Hell no.
In that case, the food will have to do the talking.
Ox-cheek ravioli is the way to go on a starter board that also includes pumpkin soup and beetroot cured salmon gravadlax with pickled cucumber and mustard “frills”.
An exquisite single cushion of hand made pasta is bolstered by shredded, slow cooked beef. It is crowned by a glorious pancetta ribbon, and tarragon oil. A scattering of girolle fungi is the perfect bed fellow.
A meatless main dish - sweet potato, spinach, a soft poached egg and tomato concasse with spiced lentils – is either a thoughtful triumph or a vegetarian's entire repertoire on a plate. Sadly. there were none around for us to decide either way.
The influence today is one of classic French simplicity and parsley pommes mousseline and peas a la Francaise decorate, with honours, a gleaming hunk of pan fried cod.
Steak you will find, there must always be steak. On this Occasion, a peppery 10oz rump. From its perch it oozed machismo over crispy, seasonal kale, a stack of firm but fondant potato and a textbook Larousse Bourguignon sauce.
White once famously charged a punter £25 for a side order of chips (he cut and fried them himself). No. they aren't on the menu today – AS IF – but they are, incidentally, bloody good. Not £25 bloody good, obviously, but you would do well to seek them out another time. For example on the three-course lunch menu, which will set you back as little as £13. Split the rest on a cheeky bottle of Crusan Carignan Syrah (£23) from a big fat wine list. Just the thing to get you into trouble when you eventually go home/back to work.
An intense chocolate tart with an equally sharp raspberry sorbet, is faultless – and some Mrs Appleby's, Goosnargh and Kidderton Ash cheese turns the afternoon into something as mellow and yellow as the wheaten autumn sunlight outside.
For White, it could all have been so different. His own dad used to work as a chef at the Adelphi Hotel, back when it was any good.
“I’ve had a long love affair with Liverpool and its wonderful people ever since first hearing stories from my father, Frank," he says.
"Just kewk, will yer!" How White's fans would line up for that at the Indigo, or anywhere he lays his hat for that head tea towel thing.
Not to mention a table full of food reviewers.
After all, who wouldn't want to cast a critical eye over Marco's meat?
For your information
...this was a hosted visit, so we haven't scored any of the elements.
Any opinions expressed about the food, however, remain heartfelt.
Marco Pierre White Steakhouse, Bar & Grill,
10 Chapel St
Liverpool L3 9AG
0151 559 0555
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