David Adamson delights in the dishes and décor at the former council HQ
I’m starting to grow tired of exposed brickwork and dangling pendant lights.
While we do seem to be devolving into a sort of cheap Hollywood reboot of Tsarist Russia, we don’t also have to eat in makeshift sheds and bunkers.
And ultimately, when it all costs you about the same, why not spend your magic beans in better surroundings?
It was spartan simplicity in a grand setting
The Municipal Hotel on Dale Street, once the HQ for Liverpool Council, definitely looks the part.
Past its grand Victorian façade (with polished brass signage, no less) and through the tasteful lobby you enter a place now transformed with understated opulence.
Palm trees in a central bar can sometimes seem a bit ‘colonial hangover’, but in the Palm Court bar they lead the eye up upwards to the architecture that’s been so carefully handled in turning this onetime bureaucratic labyrinth into something that could delight Kafka himself.
So in the name of all things fancy, I took a seat on one of the banquettes bordering the room and ordered a Dry Gin Martini (£10).
In my book a good gin martini should have that inviting oil slick sheen on the surface, but most importantly it should whack you straight between the eyes with surgical precision. Tanqueray can’t be topped, and with a glance of vermouth and a very lemony lemon twist this makes for an ideal aperitif. However, stone cold classics deserve the full regalia, namely a coupe or proper, V-shaped martini glass.
Close enough. Besides, a tenner at your average ‘down-at-heel chic’ restaurant wouldn’t get you close to a drink like this. It’s not how much, but how you spend it.
I then took my seat at a table for one in the Seaforth restaurant, feeling only faintly like some retired Major who comes down from his suite to dine alone for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I was greeted and served by Michael Douglas (not that one), who wore his knowledge of the menu and building with a lovely lightness and charm. Waiting staff are required to be affable by nature, but there was no rictus grin and rote restaurant speak - ‘So guys, why don’t we start you off with…’ etc et-bloody-cetera. The surroundings might scream Wall Street, but there was no ‘greed is good’ upselling to be seen here.
To start I ordered the seared scallops with black pudding fritters, apple and almond puree and rizla-thin slices of apple (£15). I don’t need to tell you that scallops go well with black pudding, but here they danced a tango. When you then add an apple puree with almondy undertones it brings it up to the level of a more-than-solid starter. The scallops were seared to the ideal hue but kept supple inside. Along with the black pudding, deep fried with a mosaic of batter rather than a dusting, the textures play just like they should.
Having had a wander along the waterfront earlier that day, I’d decided I was in the mood for fish, and so main course was the seabass aqua pazza with new potatoes, fennel, spring onion, red chilli, cherry tomato and black olive tapenade. Aqua pazza translates as ‘crazy water’ - a subtle but wonderfully flavourful broth that the seabass perches above, atop a rockpool of new potatoes (£23).
The fish was seared to a scientific degree, somehow having that golden crust without sacrificing the moisture of one of the meatier fishes. I wonder if the Seaforth has a dedicated ‘sear chef’ because between the scallops and the seabass someone in that kitchen has an internal clock like Geneva Station.
I think the best fish dishes are exquisitely simple, and here there was essentially two of them. A near-perfect piece of fish that could be enjoyed on its own merits, but also a complex and faintly floral broth that with a touch of salt is sumptuous. Any dish that lets you fancily slice apart a fish and afterwards pick up a big spoon is a winner for me.
There was only ever going to be one choice for dessert - crème brûlée (£9). Done right, there’s nothing better. In my view it should need the whack of Shackleton’s ice pick to break through the layer of caramelised sugar, and the crème be almost daffodil yellow. Tick and tick. The cream was also wonderfully floral, and there was just enough left to be mopped up with the buttery poppy seed shortbread biscuits.
My meal at the Seaforth progressed like all my favourite dining experiences do, an unrushed succession of simple dishes with ingredients singing from the same heavenly hymn sheet. It was spartan simplicity in a grand setting.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials 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.
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.
Scallops 8, Seabass 8, crème brûlée 8
Friendly, knowledgeable and easy-going service from Michael Douglas (not that one)
Gorgeous interiors coupled with a relaxed ambience. Was quiet when I attended but would no doubt have a real buzz when busy