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.


60 Hope Street on Urbanspoon


Hollow Legs said...

I said it the first time I saw that dish - is that seriously a main course? It looks on the wee side.

I've been to Liverpool a few times, since the ex was a Scouser. Unfortunately I was only ever taken to Concert Square, though I was told how nice the Albert Docks were.

Sharmila said...

I had a very nice meal at 60 Hope Street a couple of years ago, and I'm glad to see it is still maintaining a relatively high standard. I hope this is part of a wider rise in quality of dining options in Liverpool over the next few years.

(My meal at The Monro last year was still one of the most calamitous I have had in recent years, though).

Unknown said...

I think the 80s are making a come back - have spotted prawn cocktails and baked alaska on a few menus recently (although prawn cocktails sometimes disguised in menu description as a "seafood cocktail/salad"

Helen said...

Crikey lad, it's a bit cheaper up Norf! I had a baked alaska at le petit blanc in Cheltenham recently - a 'flaming' one.The waitress made a right hash of lighting it. I do love a proper one though and the same goes for a prawn cocktail - although not like that one I had in Lisbon!

I've only been to Liverpool once for a conference and I have to say my experience of dining out there was dire. Mostly due to poor research. The hotel receptionist sent us to the most horrendous restaurant and when I asked another member of staff where the best place to eat breakfast was she replied, "there's a McDonald's round the corner"

I really should stay in more classy establishments. Or ask your advice next time!

Chris Pople said...

Lizzie: I can see what you mean, but I didn't feel shortchanged at the time. Venison is filling.

Sharmila: Sorry you didn't enjoy the Monro - I've only been a couple of times but really enjoyed it. Those bloody Liverpool service issues again I'll bet.

GC: Nothing wrong with a prawn cocktail! Certainly not this one, which was delicious.

meemalee said...

In Liverpool and no Beatles reference? Heavens above :)

Eva Lai said...

Wow, I knew nothing about Liverpool really, until now.
I need to return to the oysters and lobsters of my childhood.....

goodshoeday said...

You are right that Liverpool was a bit down on its heel in the 80s. There were some good places to eat though even then, though they were mostly cafes. There was the Everyman, the Bluecoat and somewhere I can't recall the name of near cavern walks before it was sanitised.
Its a shame the regeneration didn't get their before some landmarks like the really old wooden floating landing stage were lost forever.

Alastair Bathgate said...

One of the better places to dine in Liverpool for sure.
As for Oysters, I ate at the newly opened Rosso in Manchester recently. I can't bring myself to review it having ordered oysters and received them perpendicularly upended in a bowl of ice - not only the brine drained, but also ice stuck to the flesh! Avoid until bedded in...despite the involvement of footie foodie, Rio Ferdinand.

Helen T said...

Love the baked alaska! I'm thinking there could be some great 80s throwbacks still to come, although black and white dinner parties could probably be missed!

Jenny said...

Even in the 5 years since I first visited Liverpool, it's changed so much. I've not eaten out much there, but I have had some pretty good meals so far. Will remember 60 Hope Street for the next visit.

Anonymous said...

Just eaten at 60, Hooe Street - very disappointed. Rushed, indifferent service, and the waitress got our main courses mixed up! Bill was identical to a far superior meal in London yesterday. Liverpool has to do better than this 

Anonymous said...

Just read the comment by Anonymous. Surprised at the poor review of 60 Hope Street as it has been consistently good for 10 years. Even more surprised though to have read the exact same review (word for word) on a different website and dated August 2009. Some mistake surely.