A steep view, a steep bill - and competitive napkin folding. By Gerry Corner
THE view’s the USP at Panoramic 34. The clue in the name.
It’s what they come for: the wedding party who shared our ascent to 100 metres above Irish Sea level; the two Teesside lasses drinking in the natural high along with their cocktail chasers.
I take slight issue with “breathtaking” – it’s not the bloody Grand Canyon – but, with floor to ceiling windows affording a vista across five counties and two countries, it’s not half bad.
Pommes pont neufs (£4) – or, as they are known in non-fine dining circles, chips – are greaseless and floury and satisfying despite, as Helen notes, their 'twatty name'
On a good day, the summits of Blackpool Tower and, beyond, Snowdon. Then there’s the drone’s eye view of Liverpool systematically demolishing its World Heritage Site status.
People ascend 34 floors too, I suppose, for the fuss that accompanies “fine dining”. Here, that primarily involves the waiting staff obsessively folding napkins and donning a single white glove to achieve everything from wiping the base of a wine bottle to polishing Madam’s dessert spoon.
Perhaps in an attempt to justify its utter pointlessness, the napkin folding seems to have taken on a competitive edge among staff. The moment backs are turned, they are in like a shot, folding for all they are worth. On one occasion, my friend Helen reported, while I was briefly away from the table, my napkin was folded twice, once each by two different servers, within seconds of one another.
Then there’s the food, and I can certainly see the appeal of slouching in the cocktail lounge and ordering a drop of something cold and white to go with the passing ships and the fish and chips courtesy of the bar menu.
Eating a la carte is a different kettle of Cornish brill fillet. Our journey through the card had its ups and downs and it never quite manages to reach the altitude of the venue. And while Liverpool’s highest restaurant stretches for the stars, the bill is pretty astronomical too.
At a few pence short of a hundred and fifty quid for two, that’s not a million miles from Claridge’s prices though, admittedly, it includes a £1 donation to charity and the tip they decided to award themselves. Nevertheless, in the grim north west £149.61 ought to buy the sort of memories you pass down to your offspring’s offspring.
My memories were being created before we even got there as I endeavoured to secure a table. It can be reserved, I am informed, on condition that we surrender our credit card details, are willing to pay a £20 per person penalty should one of us to fall ill enough to force us to cancel within 24 hours of the designated time, will not take more than two hours over eating because they’ll be needing the table for somebody else, and are prepared to risk being refused entry if “considered unsuitably dressed”.
As somebody who has spent much of his adult life being considered unsuitably dressed (though not by me) this last one could have proved tricky. As it happens, the staff were a lot less demanding than the booking process. Indeed, when not required to follow the training manual, they were friendly and helpful and largely efficient.
They bring us toast, the thin and crispy, curly-edged stuff restaurants call melba toast, with herb butter in need of salt. A rather underwhelming way to kick off proceedings, it was more the sort of thing you give the kids to keep them going until their tea’s ready.
Scottish langoustine (£13.50) never quite convinces, on the palate or on the eye. The two crustaceans, served out of the shell with a gossamer-thin film of lardo, are good, if short-lived. They come with a bisque, smoked enoki mushrooms, which go better with my friend’s starter, a small heap of baby leaves and a pile of langoustine crumb, which altogether have the look of a carefully constructed mess. A bit like one of those people who, however smartly they try to dress, still end up looking untidy.
Duck liver parfait (£10.50) is “smooth and perfectly acceptable”. In among it, “strange chewy orange squares”, which turn out to be cured egg, and more crumb, deconstructed then reconstructed from onion. Both are neat tricks but neither does much for the parfait.
Cornish fillet of brill (£22) is just fine, but it’s not brill. Ditto brown butter sauce. Pureed sweet potato and a properly cooked chunk of octopus add flavour and texture.
Two sizeable slabs of aged Cumbrian beef loin (£28.50) are excellent, brown and red in the right places and a decent flavour, served with a crack of sea salt, on a bed of braised beef cheek, which is like five-star corned beef hash. Carrot, turnip and savoy cabbage are flawless, flavoursome, but nothing special really.
Pommes pont neufs (£4) – or, as they are known in non-fine dining circles, chips – are greaseless and floury and satisfying despite, as Helen notes, their "twatty name”. A simple dish of peas and broad beans (£4) in a minty buttery sauce is a standout.
Desserts of strawberry sherbet meringue (£8.50) and chocolate souffle (£9.50) are perfectly well made but they come with glasses containing, respectively, a sort of strawberry coulis and a chocolate mikshake, for pouring purposes, both of which are thin on flavour and disappointing.
Luckily, we had glasses of San Emilio Pedro Ximinez Solera Reserva Emilio Lustau NV, a beautiful dessert wine, which ensured we finished our visit to the 34th floor on a high.
All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the venue or a PR outfit. Critics dine unannounced and their opinions are completely independent of any commercial relationships.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind in the area: fine dining v the best fine dining, charcoal barbecue houses against the best you know what etc.
On this basis, the scores represent...
1-5: Save it for the dog; 6-9: Netflix and chill; 10-11: In an emergency; 12-13: If you happen to be passing; 14-15: Worth a trip out; 16-17: Very good to exceptional; 18-20: As good as it gets
Langoustine 5/10, parfait 6/10, brill 6/10, beef 8/10, chips 7/10, peas and bean 8/10, meringue 6/10, souffle 6/10.
You can see for miles and miles
Serviettes with a smile