AA Grill finds himself eating at the Adelphi - and it ain't good

ELEANOR Roosevelt once said: “There are only two deluxe hotels outside north America worth speaking of – the Hotel Georges V in Paris and the Liverpool Adelphi.”

These days, critiques of the hotel, by its guests, are inclined to be less reverential. “Stay away”, “read and weep”, and the disconcerting “no credit to Liverpool” are among recent contributions to travel websites.

From its status as the stopover point for first-class passengers of the great ocean liners to TripAdvisor’s July 7 posting, “disgusting, old and smelly”, the road has mostly been downhill and, along the way, concealed the occasional high explosive device.

Take the 2006 story revealing that so many burglaries were being committed in the hotel that it was skewing the city’s overall crime figures. Then there was the famous BBC series of 1997, Hotel, which gave the impression of a shambolic, Fawltyesque comedy of complaining customers and rowing staff, presided over by the fiery Eileen Downey, and chiefly remembered for the instruction to the head chef from then operations manager Brian Birchall to “just cook, will yer!”.

A drinker from the bar buttonholed me, anxious to locate the toilets. I discovered why when the unmistakeable sound of retching reached me from his cubicle moments later

Judging by a recent visit, the intervening decade or so has seen little change. Eileen is still at the wheel, Brian has been promoted, and I experienced my very own “just cook” moment.

From the foyer, you have to cross Jenny’s Bar to reach Crompton’s Restaurant, a logistical detail that gave rise to a couple of interesting moments during trips to the gents.

On the first occasion, a drinker from the bar buttonholed me, anxious to locate the toilets. I discovered why when the unmistakeable sound of retching reached me from his cubicle moments later. It could have spoiled my appetite but luckily the tap I used to wash my hands made a noise like the dying screams of a torture victim and drowned out the remainder of his vomitory activity.

Shortly after 11pm, I went again only to find the doors of the bar firmly shut. No amount of pushing or pulling by myself and a mild-mannered Scottish woman heading the same way could budge them.

Suddenly, a voice boomed at us from across the room. “Just open it!” The words “will yer!” hung in the air like a spectre. We tried again. “JUST OPEN IT!” demanded the barmaid, with some irritation. As we continued to fumble, we heard the sound of feet pounding carpet. Moments before she reached us we flung open the door and made good our escape. My acquaintance from north of the border was so rattled by this time that she pleaded with me not to return without her.

The food proved equally entertaining, in the same if-you-didn’t-laugh-you’d-be-livid kind of way. Crompton’s is described as “the finest French cuisine in beautiful elegant surroundings” which, by any standards, is some claim.

To be fair, they have made some effort, from the starched white linen, to the smart new, if rather pinkly garish, carpet, to drawings of English stately homes which have as much to do with the finest French cuisine as, it transpires, the food.

I should make it clear at this point that the opinions expressed below belong only to myself and the good Mrs Grill. You might love Crompton’s food, and the fact that this would surprise me more than if God appeared to me at my local newsagent’s tomorrow morning is neither here nor there. It may, therefore, be judicious if, after each observation relating to the food, readers mentally insert the words “or so WE thought”. E.G. “The veg was crap – or so WE thought”. This will save me having to repeat myself.

The restaurant’s attempts at taste and refinement were a little undermined by the abundance of grubby finger marks on the walls and the sound of Liverpool FC chants coming from somewhere above our heads. “WE LOVE YOU LIVERPOOL, WE DO,” they called as we perused the wine list. “WE ALL LIVE IN A RED AND WHITE KOP,” they added amiably. “Coachload of Reds’ fans in the bar tonight, is there?” we wondered of the waiter. “No”, he replied. “That’s the CD.”

When we arrived, at 8.45pm on Saturday night, we were the only diners in the place. Nothing had changed when we left two and a half hours later. We would have suspected the veracity of the waiter’s claim that 32 people had only just that minute left had he not been such a thoroughly decent and dutiful fellow.

We began with a glass of dry house white, the first sip of which provoked an outburst from the beautifully elegant Mrs G.

“Fuck me!” she said, and not in a good way. The wine was so awful I was forced to empty my glass into the only available receptacle – the ice bucket for a bottle of Sancerre, which, thankfully, proved a big improvement.

The menu is written in French (“Les Preludes”) with English translation (“starters”) below. Snails and chateaubriand are on offer along with “coupe de crevettes” – prawn cocktail to you and me – and “supreme de volaille tropical” – Hawaiian chicken by any other name.

A game terrine (£4.50), processed into squishy blandness, flopped between two puddles of underpowered, over-sweet Cumberland sauce with a few sad leaves and slices of under-ripe tomato. Salade “Adelphi” (£4.50), sliced mushrooms, bacon and ham topped with croutons and a handful of those leaves, was uninspired for a signature dish but at least one of the less offensive offerings of the night.

The roast rack of lamb (£11.50) wasn’t a rack of lamb, but the crumb-covered cutlets that came instead were cooked something like the requested pink and tasted of lamb. A Madeira wine sauce had the viscosity of engine oil and appeared to have been thickened with a big spoonful of cornflour. Poached monkfish tail (£12.50) was like no monkfish I have had.

In fact, it didn’t taste of fish at all and appeared to have been broken down into its constituent proteins before being remixed into something suitable for hospital patients with a gastrointestinal complaint. An accompanying beurre blanc would have been bad enough if it had only separated and formed a skin but it was also repellent. Frankly, I would rather eat my own bile and as I surveyed the unpleasant yellow substance, every taste of which made me feel increasingly unwell, I may as well have been doing.

A “bouquetaire” (word of advice: don’t use pretentious French culinary terms if you can’t spell them) of vegetables (£2.75) made a mockery of the description “freshly cooked”. Perhaps they were fresh but if so then it takes a special kind of skill to produce, for instance, carrots that tasted like they had been cooked for several hours, some time last month, then zapped mercilessly in a microwave in a futile attempt to jolt their limp corpses into life.

Dauphinois potatoes were, by a distance, the best thing all night: soft and flavoursome with an aura of the recently cooked about them. Unlike the roast potatoes which reminded Mrs Grill of the miniature boulders she used to find in the oven as a teenager when six hours late home for her Sunday dinner after a day misspent with friends.

In circumstances like these, I usually manage to shovel enough down me to avoid an awkward scene with the waiter, with me mumbling something about not being very hungry. This time I ate so little, and was so appalled by the level of awfulness displayed that when the inevitable question was asked I felt compelled to tell the truth. “It was”, I admitted, “pretty terrible, really”.

It was one of the many times in my life when I have been made to deeply regret being honest. Utterly mortified, he declared he would inform the chef immediately. No, no, we insisted. He offered to knock something off the bill. It’s okay, we said, it’s not your fault, you’ve been great. It’s NOT okay, he said. This is my restaurant. Oh, no, I thought. This man really cares. A light in the darkness.

He apologised again. It didn’t get any better. A slice of low grade lemon tart (£2.95) was garnished with a handful of strawberry pieces which might have been nice had they ripened for long enough to acquire a flavour.

The “assortment of fine cheeses” (£2.95) comprised four or five predictable selections, one barely distinguishable from another – other than an acceptably ripe Stilton – served with pieces of celery which were like chewing balsa wood infested with dry rot, and what appeared to be the entire contents of a family cheese biscuit selection emptied out on top of it.

All in all, it was the most fun we’d had in a restaurant in ages. Unfortunately for the Adelphi, we were laughing at it, not with it.

Rating: 7/20
Breakdown: 2/10 Food
4/5 Service
1/5 Ambience
Address: Crompton's French Restaurant
Britannia Adelphi Hotel
Ranelagh Place
L3 5UL
0151 709 7200