At first glance, the only thing that is not local about The London Carriage Works is the name. And, right now, if they could get away with changing that, they might.
The food portions
have suddenly got bigger; if they never please the Michelin inspectors, they'll
have no trouble satisfying the
Realistically, that will never happen. “The London Carriage Works” has become synonymous with fine dining, at least in the lingo of those who claim to know about these things. It has also fostered an image as Liverpool's best restaurant, and Michelin inspectors have confounded its owners, its very knowledgeable chef/proprietor Paul Askew and those chattering, clattering classes with their failure to award it the city's first star.
In the past, I have never been convinced by any of this. I have eaten pleasant enough fare on the odd gourmet night there, but a birthday blow-out two years ago was memorable only for the sky high cost of the final bill. Taxis, tips and a babysitter conspired to leave us £200 down (down being the word) for just three hours out. It was a sober, sobering experience.
Even as recently as last year, its “three courses for £55” was something only matched by the multi-starred Claridges and Savoy Grill.
Nevertheless, people, Quentin Tarantino among them, travel hundreds, nay, thousands of miles to stay at the Hope Street Hotel, of which LCW is part. The food is not so jetlagged, however, and they do go the distance in an effort to slash the food miles.
Veg is from Ormskirk and Claremont, the meat is Bowland and Whitchurch, the fish from Liverpool Bay. The spuds for the chips are either Spuntas (Cypruses) or those flavourful Agatas (Italian/French) that you don't get here, but, for LCW's purposes, they are all grown up the road. Even the vegetable oil they are cooked in (two fries, no water blanching) has been the subject of much slick experimentation, and is direct from a farm up the A59.
I say that I wasn't overwhelmed in the past, but many things have changed at LCW recently. I ate there during the Food Lovers Festival in September, and sensed it was time to try again.
Out is the £55 menu. Out is the brasserie menu. Those Snow Queen shards of glass still separate the two dining areas, but really it's all just one big restaurant now, with one big menu too, sectioned into a la carte and “tlcw favourites” where you can get your fish-and-chip fix etc.
On some sudden weight loss kick (14 bastard pounds gone, and counting) and not wanting to bore anyone with more musings on seared scallops, I availed myself of a salad of Barkham blue cheese with toasted walnuts, chicory and apple (£5.50). In the middle, a beautiful crisp and leafy assemblage. The cheese hit the mark on temperature, texture and creamy taste, and its several partners were as perfectly matched as an arranged marriage in Utah.
My friend was beaming at the lobster (£13.50). Fresh as Irish Sea spray, it was expertly prepared and perched amid a pretty necklace of mango, buttered spinach potato crisps and lobster foam.Great flavours, imaginatively assembled.
What of the wine? There are recommendations with each dish, but not wanting cider, we grabbed trainee sommelier Michael Garth. He insisted on an Oz Barossa Vallet Craneford merlot (£22) to wash down the loin of pork and the calves liver. “But it's like no merlot you've ever had before,” he coaxed. He was right. This specimen gave merlot a good name indeed.
I love the waiting on staff in this place. They are mostly locally sourced too. They do their jobs superbly and are the best ambassadors I've come across for this or any other restaurant in the city. Give them some 08 badges immediately.
My calves liver and pancetta (£15) was a joy to have and to behold, resting upon a Simpsons cloud of Parmesan potato. Mash would be the wrong word. This was gossamer.
Around the perimeter, balsamic baby onions, that classic French favourite of peas and lettuce and a scattering of pancetta. Beneath that the intensely rich scrapings of the pan. The revelations kept coming.
But go there starving. The food portions have suddenly got bigger; if they never please the Michelin inspectors, they'll have no trouble satisfying the Michelin Man.
The friend, shouting by now for those chips (£3.50), which, incidentally, were stunning when they arrived, refuses to contemplate eating the flesh of a pig that has not had a good run around, gulps of fresh air and ownership of a Chopper bike.
He was therefore delighted by the duroc pork (£20), a rare Iron Age breed from the Rhug estate in North Wales. Like Elvis Presley, the beast had lived life to the full and had eaten well, we were assured, all coming through in the taste and texture of the meat. Carramelised apple, baby beets and leeks provided the excellent, logical accompaniments. The only thing that failed to impress him all night was the only thing not sourced locally. Ratte potatoes may be a favourite of French chefs but these tubers were deemed tasteless.
His hot chocolate fondant (£8) looked as good as the intense cocoa waft coming across the table. From a seriously interesting list of puds. I did some damage to a blackcurrant sorbet (£5) which was all you would expect by now: Intensely fruity, cold and marvellous.
The London Carriage Works has long fancied itself as Liverpool's best restaurant. The difference is that now it probably is.
|London Carriage Works,
Hope Street Hotel,
0151 705 2222
Liverpool Confidential dines unannounced and picks up all its own bills.