Olivia Potts fine dines in high places at Panoramic 34
We are not parochial websites so it's clear that certain reviews have to be shared between two leading UK cities a mere 35 miles apart. Here Olivia Potts writes about landmark (literally) Panoramic 34 restaurant in Liverpool and we've put it on Manchester Confidential as well, after all on a clear day you can see the skyscrapers of Manchester from Panoramic. The North West is astonishingly lucky to have two such fine cities so close together. It's good to use them both.
Panoramic 34 bills itself as Liverpool’s ‘highest fine dining restaurant’ on the 34th floor of the West Tower; it gives diners a wrap-around view of the city, taking in the Liver building, Radio City tower, the cathedral and the Mersey. And man alive, what a view. It is a genuinely breathtaking way to experience Liverpool.
I really wanted to love Panoramic, and I just liked it
Today, a weekday lunchtime, is busy and buzzy, but relaxed. Eating alone, I decide to go for the tasting menu. Tasting menus have their detractors, but I actually quite like them: I like someone telling me who they are – or who they want to be. They tend to let a chef play around a bit more, show off their personality. The menu is £99 for nine courses including a bit of amuse bouch-ey preamble, or £154 with six matched wines. For the restaurant’s premium position, it has the potential to be pretty good value.
I start off foxed. Faced with a trio of canapés, I deduce from some reverse-engineering of the cutlery laid out, that these are designed to be picked up by hand. The pommes anna is great – neat as a pin, with a little blob of black garlic purée on top, the sort of light crisp bite that should start a meal. But the pulled pork (which has a strange almost grainy texture to it) has dissolved the pork skin cracker it sits on, and lost all structural integrity. The cured sea trout with celeriac remoulade falls all over the bloody place as I eat it, but the wasabi cracker has fared better than the pork, and the trout is plump and generous. The tortellini amuse bouche that comes next is a miss: the pasta is thick and chewy, and the langoustine filling mealy and lacking in flavour.
The first ‘proper’ dish to arrive is promising: fat stalks of grilled asparagus sitting on a bed of homemade, herbed ricotta, with girolle mushrooms, all finished with a wild garlic oil and a dusting of mushroom powder. The whole dish is a rhapsody in green, and the herbs in the cheese are both fresh and earthy, and the sweet pickled mushrooms, gorgeous. But the ricotta needs seasoning, and while nobody wants a flaccid stalk, the asparagus seems almost untouched by the grill. Beautifully prepared, but almost completely raw.
I am, by this point, feeling a little deflated. Luckily, bread and therefore butter has appeared: alongside a crisp little bread bun is a small dome of kimchi butter. Oh, that kimchi butter: briney and funky with just a hum of chilli. I put aside all decorum and spread it tandsmør-thick on my bread.
Next are absolutely perfect Scottish king scallops: heavily seared on one side until sweet and caramelised, and just kissed by the heat on the other. The smoked butter sauce they sit in is well-judged, the emulsion broken prettily by a swirl of grassy herb oil. The razor clams, which are picked out on the menu, appear in tiny, chewy nuggets in the sauce. They add nothing to the dish, in fact they detract from it.
The hake that follows, with a chorizo and hazelnut crumb, is perfectly cooked, falling into large, firm flakes at the slightest provocation. It’s well seasoned and the asparagus that accompanies it is, this time, spot on.
But the sirloin, which should be the jewel in the crown of the tasting menu, is a real disappointment. The meat itself is lacklustre, and underseasoned. The jus that accompanies it looks gorgeous, with a colour and sheen like it’s been French polished, but it’s over-reduced, and really salty as a consequence. The broccoli that comes with it is boring, and the broccoli purée – perfectly smooth and leprechaun green – is completely and utterly without flavour. It would feel thoughtless were it not for the little pie on the side, made of very slowly braised featherblade, with piped potato on top: the seasoning is punchier, and the meat is sticky and gelatinous in the best way possible.
The first of two puddings is a palate cleanser, with blackcurrant purée, a berry granola, and a cream cheese gelato which my server unpretentiously introduces to me as ‘Philadelphia ice cream.’ The blackcurrant is delightful but the ice cream is even better. I’ve had ricotta ice cream, milk ice cream, crème fraiche ice cream, none as good as this, none as fresh and rich, as smooth and soft. God, I loved it.
The second pudding is less impressive: a ‘namelaka cheesecake’. ‘Namelaka’ is a Japanese term which means ‘extremely creamy,’ which to be fair, the cheesecake mixture is. The seed praline is actually very delicious, once you break it up, but as thick as glass, so almost impossible to incorporate into the actual pudding. And – a brief rant – why is there a fad for drowning puddings in some kind of tea? Watery in texture and taste, it immediately splits any dairy element, sogs up biscuits and cakes, and makes the whole thing difficult to eat. This one tasted disconcertingly of Oasis summer fruits. Anyway, the individual elements of this dish were fine, but it just didn’t feel coherent.
The matched wines are a highlight: an almond-heavy Oloroso to start, with a late harvest Sticky Mickey to finish that tastes of blossom and brioche, a fantastically buttery Albarino, and a Malbec so punchy that I could smell its drunken berries and vanilla from across the table, are all smart, delicious pairings.
I really wanted to love Panoramic, and I just liked it. The service is great, the views really are spectacular, and there were enough good moments of cooking to keep my attention. I loved the kimchi butter, some of the fish cookery was exemplary, and I’ll be thinking about that Philadelphia ice cream for weeks. But overall, it’s a bit hit and miss, too uneven. I had high hopes for Panoramic 34, and in the end, it just didn’t quite live up to its towering promise.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type, so tea rooms are measured against other tea rooms, casual dining against other casual dining, fine dining against other fine dining.
1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Canapés (6) Bread and butter (8) Langoustine tortellini (4) Asparagus (5) King Scallop (8) Hake fillet (8) Sirloin of beef (4) Blackcurrant mousse (8) Namalaka cheesecake (6)
Engaged and friendly.
It is, I think, physically impossible to be disappointed by the views.