ALMOST from the start, 60 Hope Street became the self-proclaimed king of the Liverpool restaurant trade.
It toasted its coronation with Carnation, the condensed milk, pouring it liberally over its signature dish, the Deep Fried Jam Sandwich, which it robbed from the poor and gave to the posh.
That was seven years ago (2000) when I was last there, and I have heard not one bad anecdote about the place in all that time (although the Sun snapper who once got in the way of tired and tearful diner Paul Gascoigne might be a good starting point).
Like many venues in the world city, 60 Hope Street is closed on a Sunday, the night we intended to go. A shame, since the thoroughfare from which it takes its name is very much open to passing trade on the Sabbath, flanked at either end by a cathedral. Hookers, the street’s other passing trade, were moved out in the spirit of gentrification some time ago.
Happily, come Monday, 60 Hope Street is back in business. And business is the watchword here, the thread running through the whole dining experience, from the efficient, seen-and-not heard-staff to the plates which arrive on a meticulous schedule that would make an Arriva manager weep with joy.
Even the cooking is businesslike: a few simple ingredients make up each dish in imaginative ways that maximise efficiency in the kitchen. No convoluted casseroles or cocotted concoctions here. Fresh and locally sourced are the X-Factors in this business plan. After all, time is money.
Prices are accordingly on the lofty side, though no worse than other city centre restaurants with similar pretensions. Seared scallops at £3.50 per mollusc however, were rather taking the poisson.
Nevertheless, the three fat meaty creatures, each atop a creamed sweetcorn and balsamic affair, were taste and texture perfection (£10.95).
And while sweetcorn is not something one likes to dwell on, it was probably the right choice from a starters of ten list, especially when accompanied by a very bring-it-on Muscadet Sur Lie (£4.95 a glass).
Game terrine (£6.95) looked fabulous, pieces of meat, carrot and leek, loosely bound with savoy cabbage.
It was mighty fine, but even with a plum chutney for company it stopped short of achieving ecstasy in my friend, a fussy bugger anyway, and in a bad mood because he had wanted the same main course as me.
“Have the f****ing duck, then!”, he had chivalrously muttered as the waiter and co-owner marched across to put my napkin in its place on my knee, and to enquire if “Sir and Madam” had finally, finally, made up their minds.
Plentiful, pink slices of Goosnargh fowl (£17.95) were as meaty as you would expect from a bird that is supposed to have been around the block more than once. However, its partner, duck and apple black pudding (pickled red cabbage, duck fat potatoes and a dash of Calvados made up the rest) was the real star.
Partridge (£17.50) came with “traditional accompaniments”. Which presumably meant veg. “Turned root vegetables, Sir,” actually. Which presumably meant they were cooked on both sides.
This kind of tosh extended to the wine. “A unique sense of freshness and wellness mix intimately” one wine list blurb burbled, while Mr Owner came over all Jancis Robinson when we ordered a straightforward bottle of Malbec (£13.95): “Oooh, yes. It’s chocolate, it’s leather, it's jammy red fruits . . .”
The partridge was excellent, gamey and well-cooked, but its sweet song was muted by a chorus of clapshot – in this case a hash of mash and that pickled red cabbage again – and a pile of potato latkes. Spuds? You like?
Our corner table provided a good vantage point from which to see across the modern dining room and out of a tall, handsome Georgian sash window, the only blemish being the faded clues on the wall that wine had been abundantly splattered at some stage.
We speculated that the carnage had come from a wrestling match between an independent patron and our wine-bearing host who was ever keen to do the pouring for us.
We ended (how could we not?) with the famous jam butty pudding (£5.95), surely locally sourced from Ken Dodd‘s very own mine? At one time a light and squishy offering of thinly sliced bread, strawberries and temptation, today this signature has been forged into a far bigger proposition, with two massive brioche baps challenging you to sink your teeth into them (that’s enough, Ed). A new in-Carnation, you might say.
We concluded that while it must have given the business some pleasure to part us from £100 at the start of the week, it had nonetheless been a pleasure doing business with 60 Hope Street.
And as for passion, what did we want? Jam on it?