Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Malmaison Brasserie, Liverpool
At the risk of repeating myself, if there's one thing Liverpool restaurants need to get sorted if they want to be taken seriously, it's service. Our experience at the sharp end of the incompetence of Malmaison's staff began a few days before our meal when we called to book. We had specifically asked if the Local Produce menu was available on the night we had in mind, and were reassured it was. However, on sitting down in the pleasant 'New York-y' (ie. very dark) dining room on Saturday evening we were presented not with a local produce menu but a 'Valentine's Special'. The waiter seemed unconcerned; they didn't have the local produce menu but we could choose from the normal menu or the incredibly unexciting Valentine's Ripoff option. Then he disappeared for half an hour.
I can't be too harsh on the Mal, perhaps. It is a new restaurant with what I'm sure is a very strong management team behind it having to put up with less than experienced new serving staff. In sharp contrast to his colleagues, the sommelier was the picture of professionalism and knowledge and throughout the evening appeared to be getting as frustrated with the failings of the rest of the staff as we were. And the food, when it finally arrived, was actually rather good, one almost unforgivable error aside.
My starter was 'Crispy pig trotter, fried quail's egg, bitter leaves and winter truffle'. For £6.95. Winter truffle at £6.95? Alarm bells were ringing but I thought I'd give them the benefit of the doubt, and asked the waitress if that really was fresh black truffle for such a bargain basement price. Apparently it was. I ordered and allowed my eyebrows to lower. When the dish arrived, it had none of the scent of truffle at all, so I immediately thought that this was how they were able to make the figures work - they just used such a miniscule amount you could never notice it. And then as I bit into some of the bitter leaves, the mystery was revealed in the form of a horrible solid lump of preserved black truffle, with all the flavour of cardboard and the texture of solidified snot. The inclusion of this offensive item was a disaster, of course, but what frustrated me was that it could so easily have been avoided. Malmaison Brasserie, you have two options: either leave out the ingredient altogether, in which case it's a perfectly nice starter anyway, or include proper truffle and bump up the price a bit. Even truffle oil would have worked, I just don't understand who ever thought dropping in a lump of Tesco's preserved truffle would be a good idea.
I am pleased to say that my main course was almost good enough to make me forget about nasty little bits of hard old fungus - superbly cooked lamb rump served with mushrooms and diced potatoes. Not the most haute cuisine of dishes and the presentation left a lot to be desired, but really who cares when it tastes nice? I don't. But it appears I just struck lucky with this dish as the standard around our table varied hugely. Steak was good, burger not so good ("Better than the one next door", the menu said, and it was right - the Crowne Plaza serves the worst food this side of Helsinki - but this is hardly something to boast about), and confit of duck flabby and uninteresting. Still, the prices weren't astronomical and the building impressive from inside and out, so in many ways the Malmaison is a worthwhile place to spend an evening if you're willing to play the Menu Lottery.
So that's Malmaison and London Carriage Works ticked off the 'places to try' list in Liverpool, with Ziba and 60 Hope Street to go. Perhaps the best is yet to come; never let it be said I am not an incurable optimist as well as a masochist. Wish me luck.