'The disappointing mains seemed like unfortunate slip-ups'. By Damon Fairclough

Liverpool’s Cotton Exchange is an interesting brute of a building. Built in 1906, it isn’t elegant or grand (put that down to the destruction of its original Edwardian façade in favour of 1960s concrete and glass). But its bulk is impressive, and its business-minded, sober-suited lack of pretension hints at the city’s money-making glory days. I have it on good authority that there are bunkers and ballrooms in the basement; the kind of subterranean business district world in which waistcoat-wearing ghosts still walk.

But back to that 1960s extension. This is the stretch that faces Old Hall Street and, though I suspect many people regret the loss of the original frontage, I find its open-eyed architectural optimism oddly appealing. Smashing down the neoclassical towers and porticos may have been civic vandalism, but I honestly can’t help admiring that shameless 1960s bravado.

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One Fine Day: coolly comfortable and pleasingly put together

In any case, if the original frontage was still in place, where would One Fine Day reside? Located in a corner unit that houses a low-slung, sun-splashed café bar along with a huge and impressive events space, the venue is the most recent addition to the Leaf empire. 

Since their first opening in 2007, the group now includes two Leafs (Leaves?) in Liverpool and Manchester, as well as The Garden Café in FACT, Oh Me Oh My on Water Street, and this venture with its coffees, snacks, cocktails and meals.

Like its sister venues, One Fine Day is coolly comfortable and pleasingly put together. Design features don’t shout for attention, but careful thought has clearly gone into both the details and the overall effect. Pop in during peak hours and its generous spaces still carry an air of calm. Catch it during the late afternoon lull, as we did, and the sense of easy comfort is almost intoxicating.

The menu of sandwiches, large plates and sides seems designed with informal eating in mind and, with no starters listed, we chose a couple of options from the snacks section to kick things off.

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Muhammara dip needed more tingle
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Pork scratchings were moreish and well-seasoned

The muhammara dip with crudités (£3.50) was creamy and smoky, though its chilli flavours were sweet rather than punchy. A little more tingle would have been welcome, though the smooth pulped peppers and crunchy walnut chunks worked well. Topped with a green tangle and accompanied by freshly sliced carrot, celery and radish, this was good palate-pricking stuff.

Pork scratchings (£3.50) were no doubt intended more as a beer snack than a starter but, as I was drinking Beavertown’s excellent Gamma Ray pale ale (£4.85), I gave them the context they deserved. And though they lacked the hairs and hard bits that scratching aficionados crave, the golden curls were moreish and well-seasoned, easily matching the hoppy ale’s hefty citrus bite. 

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Eastern Med bowl - good looking, but where's the other ingredients?
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Steak (£14) was unchewable

From the large plates menu, the Eastern Med bowl (£8.50) was a simple but beautiful dish consisting of good grilled halloumi, pickles, bulgur wheat, a knot of bitter leaves and a side of knobbled, chunky sweet potato fries. Though was it tasty enough to forgive them for omitting at least five items listed on the menu, including the pomegranate molasses and hazelnut dukkah that would have livened it up? Possibly not.

Similarly, the steak (£14) looked superb, served as two saggy medium-rare hunks of meat alongside a stack of mini chips and crisp pickled onion rings. There were dusty pink sprinkles and a spiky peppercorn dollop, and the kind of complex dribblings and daubings you might find on an art school floor. A pretty plateful then but, though I was looking forward to eating it, I didn’t want every mouthful to last me a lifetime: like Run DMC’s fourth album, it was tougher than leather. At the very least I require steak to be chewable, and in that basic task it failed. 

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Treacle tart was a satisfactory pud

There were no desserts on the menu, just a picked-over cake selection on the counter including a single sea-salt brownie and a couple of pale cookies. The only other option was a lone slice of treacle tart, potentially too chewy considering the steak-induced ache that had set my jaws throbbing, but it was actually soft, a little crumbly, a little nutty, with notes of cocoa and brown sugar. If the selection was underwhelming, the tart itself was a satisfactory pud.

There’s so much evident attention to detail at One Fine Day that the disappointing mains seemed like unfortunate slip-ups rather than signs of anything worse. Although if a lack of pomegranate molasses is hardly a devastating blow, an uneatable £14 steak remains a problem. 

Because when you spend money on a meal, you want a reasonable choice. You don’t want to be… wait for it… forced to chews.

One Fine Day, Cotton Exchange, Old Hall Street, Liverpool, L3 9BS

The scores:

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.

  • Food 6.5/10

    Muhammara 7, pork scratchings 7, Eastern Med bowl 6.5, steak 4, treacle tart 7

  • Service 3/5

    A fine day’s work

  • Ambience 4/5

    A leaf by any other name