Tuesday, 5 January 2010
60 Hope Street, Liverpool
Thanks to years of catastrophic civic mismanagement, the collapse of almost every industry the city was ever famous for, unemployment, riots, stereotypes and ridicule, Liverpool somehow, tragically, fell from what was something approaching the capital of the world in the late 19th century to a depressed and dangerous place by the 1980s. The central Liverpool of my childhood was windswept and forlorn, and lucky though I was to live in relative comfort in the outer suburbs and only occasionally venture in on the Merseyrail, braving gangs of marauding scallies and dark, unpoliced underground stations, I found very little to admire in the boarded-up offices on Castle Street or the graffitied abandoned pubs that outnumbered the inhabitants. There was no such thing as a rush hour in late 80s Liverpool - you could drive in and park wherever and whenever you pleased (if you were brave enough) and the trains, unreliable and squalid as they were, were never busy.
I only mention all this to throw into sharp relief what a transformation Liverpool has gone through in more recent years. You can mourn if you like the loss of the gritty alternative art scene which after all grew such talents as Echo and the Bunnymen and The La's, and you may even nurture fond memories of the majestic, crumbling pre-refurbed Albert Dock, but every time I go back up North now I find another ambitious new development; not the desperate "regeneration" projects of the 80s like the festival gardens, which slipped into misuse almost as soon as the paint dried, but real cultural achievements like the FACT cinema complex and the Novas gallery. And as the city's pride and appetite for cultural and architectural expression has grown, so has its appetite for good food. In previous years I've reviewed the superb Monro gastropub and the flashy London Carriage Works, and this Christmas I put an evening aside to visit 60 Hope Street, another contender for the city's top dining spot.
Firstly it should be noted that this not being London, the prices charged sit far more comfortably in the "attractive" as opposed to the "insulting" camp. £19.50 for three courses on the daily menu, and though I was in the end persuaded by the charms of the A La Carte (it doesn't take much), those who went for the budget option were equally impressed.
My starter was a plate of half a dozen rock oysters from Carlingford Lough in Northern Ireland. The shallot vinaigrette was very nice, although regarding the oysters themselves I think they could have done with more care during opening so as not to let the brine run out - some were quite low on moisture. I'm nitpicking though really. Other starters such as a very tasty prawn cocktail (perhaps Liverpool hasn't quite left the 80s behind after all) were equally well received.
Scottish wild venison, simply roasted and sliced onto a bed of lovely celeriac purée, was genuinely excellent. And though I'm not the world's biggest beetroot fan, combined into a rich, crispy tarte tatin it went down an absolute treat. This wasn't, if I'm honest, hugely ambitious cooking - you're not about to see any St. John inspired offal specialities up North just yet - but sometimes the simplest things done very, very well make for a far more satisfying experience than so many foams and swirls.
My dessert was another hilarious 80s throwback - Baked Alaska. It sat, looking like a freshly-landed meteorite, on a bed of really delicious raspberry purée, and it was all perfectly cooked, although the less said about the questionable seasonality of raspberries in December the better I suppose.
The most remarkable thing about 60 Hope Street was the service. Not that it was world-standard, but it was certainly competent and friendly, and in a city where until quite recently requests for service were often met with a baffled "yer wha'?" this is another very welcome development. Actually I'm probably being a bit unfair - only the Liverpool Malmaison has seriously disappointed on the service front in the last few years, and it was brand new at the time.
On the walk back from Hope Street, through the fashionable Ropewalks district, past the new Hilton (excellent bar by the way) and over to the Albert Dock where we were staying, it's easy to forget that this handsome and clean city was once, not so long ago, one of the most deprived spots in Europe. But then perhaps it is best forgotten - those dark times may have shaped the character of this city but the Liverpool of today won't be caught wallowing in the past. Welcome to the 2010s. Have a prawn cocktail.