David Adamson wishes this riverside restaurant would match the view

What is it about dining next to a body of water? 

It tends to bring to my mind one or two tableaux: either an afternoon's running battle with incoming winds and circling gulls, or a retired couple with winched grins on the deck of a Cunard cruise liner. 

Neither are necessarily my sort of thing, but when it's good, it's good. So when a restaurant gets its location right and manages to set up camp next to ever-changing tides you can't help but be curious to see if it will stay the course. 

Matou identifies itself as a 'Pan-Asian' restaurant, that all-too-familiar phrase that can be an opportunity to explore less well-known corners of vast, interlocking cuisines. However it often tramples across the continent in a sort of supermarket sweep and returns with a few spring rolls. 

But then what's in a name? Let's see.

2024 05 08 Matou Review Exterior
Outside Matou, above the Mersey Ferry Terminal Image: Confidentials
2024 05 08 Matou Review Entrance
Outside Matou, above the Mersey Ferry Terminal Image: Confidentials

Matou's setting is, in its own words, a "privileged position overlooking the vibrant dock waterfront area of Liverpool.'' Or in other words, the sort of spot restaurateurs would give their left Bev Nap for; panoramic, picturesque and smack-bang amongst the swathes of daily tourists. 

On appearance alone, it's an impressive restaurant. Floor to ceiling windows wrap the entire space, which circles around the bar and open kitchen. Few tables will be without a full view of either the Mersey's slow-moving, melancholy charm or the hulking majesty of the Liver building. This is what you came to see. 

The tables are spaced out, spacious and well assembled by chipper, smartly dressed staff - my server, Maria, was smiley from the start. And as the sun sets through the prism of your gin and tonic you can't help but admire the sight. Then the menu swerves into view and blocks all sunlight.

2024 05 08 Matou Review Interior 2
Inside Matou Image: Confidentials
2024 05 08 Matou Review River View
The view Image: Confidentials

Matou seems to have taken an approach to 'Pan-Asian' similar to that of Genghis Khan, carving through swathes of East and Southeast Asia, hog-tying a chow mien here and a satay there and arriving back in Pier Head with more food than could top twenty banquet tables. While it’s not a sentiment Genghis would agree with, I would say less is more.

I don't know if it was the lapping waters on the other side of the glass, but I was in the mood for the fishier end of things. Southeast Asian flavours do fantastic things for the likes of steak alongside the more obvious virtues of chicken and pork, but if you imbue a fish with the sorts of spice combinations that are the crowning glory of these types of cuisines, it can't be bettered in my book.  

I started, then, with Wonton Soup (£7.95) - king prawn and minced pork dumplings in a clear broth with pak choi and egg noodles. This was a solid broth but little more than that, lacking even a lick of spice or that boney, umami undertone. I like simplicity, but this was too straightforward. The dumplings were more of a positive, but could have done with more seasoning and didn't have any suggestion of much else outside of prawn and pork. I love an Asian soup as a starter, it sets the blood banging and gives a stern introduction to the types of flavours that are on their way. This, meanwhile, was a little sad. So so.

2024 05 08 Matou Review Wonton Soup
Wonton Soup Image: Confidentials

I'm usually not that taken with fishcakes, too often a slightly mulshy and vague mass of some form, but Thai fishcakes done well can be a delight. The combination of finely chopped fish, rough cut spring onions and the merry dance of lime and fish sauce, all of it firming up thanks to an egg and hot oil and able to take a few dunks in a sweet chilli dip, is a killer of a starter from this side of the world. 

These fishcakes, while firm, were woefully under-seasoned (a recurring theme) and generally very uninspiring, the sprinkle of peanuts doing little to lend the dish any much needed variation on texture and flavour. A shame, for something that should really be a bit of an open goal.

2024 05 08 Matou Review Fishcakes
Thai fishcakes Image: Confidentials

Looking towards the more main course sides of things, I decided against the likes of Duck Mandarin (tempting, £18) or T-Bone Steak with chunky chips and creamy mushroom sauce (baffling, £28.50), and wanted to see what the Spicy Seabass with holy basil (£21.50) had to offer. 

The answer is, not a lot really. It tasted of very little, from the seasoning of the seabass and the batter it was coated in to the sauce, the stir fried vegetables and the jasmine rice. I hoped the presence of Holy Basil would have lent the flatly sweet sauce something of a clovey, slightly aniseed tinge but it wasn't much more than window dressing. Disappointing. 

2024 05 08 Matou Review Spicy Seabass
Spicy Seabass Image: Confidentials

I accompanied this with a Papaya Salad (£13.50) which is the litmus test of any Southeast Asian or Thai offering, a fresh and invigorating combination of lime, fish sauce and chillies that smuggles a great deal of spice into something that looks mild at first glance. Here, Matou did not deliver. The fish sauce was, if present, so far down in the mix as to be non-existent, the papaya and carrot bereft of flavour and the chillies were seemingly still on the chopping board. The only thing about this salad that made my eyes water was the cost.

2024 05 08 Matou Review Papaya Salad
Papaya salad Image: Confidentials

No one goes to a restaurant in the hopes of being disappointed - no, not even when your job is to review them - and those that go in search of an evening of clanging misery across three courses are in the wrong profession.

I wanted to be impressed by Matou. I wanted it to be a place that did wonderful dishes but needed shouting about. For Christ's sake look at the location. What a gem of a setting. What a cuisine for your chefs to sink their teeth into. What a missed opportunity. 

This is a place with titanic potential, all at sea.

Matou, 2nd Floor Mersey Ferry Terminal, Pier Head, L3 1DP

2024 05 08 Matou Review Closer
Matou Image: Confidentials

The Scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by Confidentials.com and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.

If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request. Or maybe ask the restaurant.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their type. What we mean by this is a restaurant which aspires to be fine dining is measured against other fine dining restaurants, a mid-range restaurant against other mid-range restaurants, a pizzeria against other pizzerias, a teashop against other teashops, a KFC against the contents of your bin. You get the message.

Given the above, this is how we score: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: sigh and shake your head, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: nothing's that good is it?

  • Food 5/10

    Wonton soup 5, thai fish cake 5, spicy seabass 5, papaya salad 5

  • Service 3.5/5

    Friendly and inviting. A crash course in the vast menu could result in diners swerving disappointing dishes.

  • Ambience 3.5/5

    All there to be had. Could quite easily scale up to a 5 if it drops the Capital FM playlist and doesn't pull down the blinds on those beautiful windows.