ABOARD the listing Titanic in April 1912, affluent New Yorker Benjamin Guggenheim was heard to declare: “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”
Famous last words and, a century later, how surprised might the playboy have been to find them taking on an entirely different meaning for an entirely different league of, er, gentlemen.
For in the bowels of Albion House, former HQ of the White Star Line and the very conception-place of the tragic luxury liner, there lurks a dormitory.
This dorm does not follow the norm. For a start it boasts a bar and can accommodate lots of chums. For those who enjoy a night out staying in and partying hard, in every sense, there is a 40 ft spa pool and two jacuzzis. To enable one to further release the inner swimmer, there are 10 ample beds to take the strain. From there, the horizontal guest is rewarded by the sight of a ceiling mural depicting a disrobed Adam and Eve in discussion with a substantial snake.
Whatever floats your boat, Mr Guggenheim might have remarked.
The £1,700-a-night room is called Morgan’s Vault in honour of JP Morgan, US banking magnate and one time owner of the James Street building.
And it’s easy to be sniffy and trot out the money-can’t-buy you-class card. Truth is, the vast White Star building was deserted for a lamentably long time. Yet, in a matter of a few months last year, Lawrence Kenwright, he of Signature Living, blew it back out of the notional water in a reported £7m deal backed by South East Asian investors.
You wait 103 years for a Titanic Hotel and two come along at once. This one and the multi-million pound Northern Ireland-backed effort in Jesse Hartley’s Stanley Dock. The latter bagged the name Titanic Hotel and opened at the same time.
Meanwhile, back up the dock road and after much umming and ahhing over the name, Kenwright and Co cracked the virtual magnum of champagne on the side of the Albion House and declared “30 James Street - Home of The Titanic” open for business.
The Carpathia Restaurant takes up the top deck of the seventh floor with oceanic-style outdoor balconies on both sides. As a venue for a cocktail stop (an Unsinkable Molly Brown is quite sinkable) it is without peer.
Views to the south are romantic - the spinning silver web of the big wheel peeps from behind the floodlit chocolate boxes of Albert Dock.
Directly across The Strand lies the incredible hulk of the Cunard Building, built in 1914 by the then chief shipping rival to White Star.
If not for the Great War, it would have reached the height of the Liver Building next door. Nevertheless, even at half mast its arrival effectively put a stop to White Star’s beleaguered boss, Bruce Ismay, observing his own fleet sailing into the Mersey from his boardroom.
Was this deliberate mischief? Two chatty sisters at the next table - Marcia and Cynthia - wonder. Their uncle was Kenneth Bradshaw who worked as a scout for White Star from 1925 until it merged with Cunard in 1934. It is their first trip to the building since the 1960s when Cynthia operated the switchboard of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company in the turrets. Today both daughters of Albion are loving Kenwright’s work.
It is less easy to love the work of the kitchen, which would maybe pass muster if this was an episode of Come Dine With Me in a suburban semi.
The name Titanic, however, carries global clout and you don’t need me to tell you that it simply isn’t good enough to send out hard potatoes, uncooked cauliflower cheese in a pool of insipid jaundiced liquid and soggy greens to an expectant worldwide clientele or, for that matter, to any paying punter.
The above illustrates some of the low points that immediately spring to mind. Other things were better, like the pink and sweet lamb rump, cutlet and belly served over a galette of well seasoned potatoes, dubbed “scouse boulangere” (£17.50), allegedly with beetroot and red cabbage.
Then there was the not unimaginative starter of smoked halibut with crab, avocado cream and fennel wafers (£8). Very Icelandic - unlike the bread which was just very Iceland.
To be fair, there was an attempt to bring a flourish to the home-bake baguettes. But apart from sounding like the name of a porn star, the chilled pats of “rocket butter” added little jazz, though they did keep on coming.
In contrast, warm goats cheese (£6.50) with a slick of tangy verjus was stylish, but the promised heirloom tomatoes were nowhere and two kinds of melon were abundantly everywhere.
And why, when we could have ordered roast suckling pig, corn-fed chicken or even good old ribeye and chips (for £23) did we allow ourselves to be lured down the whole Torbay sole (£17) route?
Because it sounded English, simple, sophisticated, nostalgic. Like something that would be served, from under a silver cloche, to the Astors and the Vanderbilts in the first class dining room of a 1912 transatlantic liner.
How do you like your eggs? Left intact, in this case: the entire fat, brown roe of the spawning fish, or, to give Torbay sole its more common name, witch flounder.
It seems they really did mean whole fish and on the whole it was pretty terrible. The tiny nugget of “brown shrimp nut butter” and feeble garnish of Southport samphire could not compensate for the anorexic amount of flesh on the bitty, gritty frame of Nemo’s mum.
A better advert were the serving staff - young, friendly, as helpful as they could be - and it is to be hoped they are compensated well for providing some much needed ballast.
From the “Desert” menu, we eschewed the delights of Coffee and Walnut "Sunday” for an innocuous Raspberry Slice (£6) and “Selection of Three Cheeses” (£8) whose description on the menu was as economical as the serving: “Chutney, Celery, Biscuits.”
In the event, a bunch of grapes stood in for the celery, unceremoniously dumped onto the plate with five crackers, something hard, something Brie and something blue.
They say worse things happen at sea. Not always.
Angie Sammons on Twitter @twangeee
Carpathia Champagne Bar and Restaurant, 30 James St, Home Of The Titanic, Liverpool L2 7PS. website.
All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the restaurant or a PR outfit. Critics dine unannounced.
against the best takeaways, fine dining against the best fine dining, etc.
Following on from this the scores represent:
6-9: Raid the freezer
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