While on a recent press trip in Griffintown, Marie-Eve and I stepped away from the organised tour to eat dinner at Liverpool House, a restaurant owned and operated by the infamous Montreal chef David McMillan (alongside Frederick Morin and Allison Cunningham). The same gang behind Joe Beef, their second neighbours up Notre-Dame street.
It’s my first visit to the Liverpool House and all I have red or heard about the place included the adjectives “Montreal-famous”, “ambience savamment étudiée” and “everything about our visit left such an exceptional impression on us that it seemed almost illogical to spend our time or money anywhere else”.
Well there you go.
The First thing I noticed as I walked in the Liverpool House is the atmosphere. An environment that speaks to connoisseurs and gastronomes. The place knows exactly whom it’s dealing with; customers looking for a different kind of atmosphere than that of a bistro and impersonal high-end restaurants. There’s an emotion to this one. One that doesn’t quite belong to the maritimes, but close enough to make you think you’re far out in small-town eastern Canada.
Billy Joel, Huey Lewis and the News and Bruce Springsteen were all part of the meal’s soundtrack. That and high-pitched laughter of drunken patrons to my right and unsatisfied customers to my left. It was hard to entertain a conversation. I recommend you pick the counter side of the restaurant for a more quiet and romantic evening. The two six-seating banquettes section can get pretty loud.
The House is known for its seafood. Halibut served with parsley and peas was easily Marie-Eve’s choice. But, I hesitated before ordering. I found it difficult to make up my mind. Everything on the menu sounded so very appetizing. And well with the chef’s reputation, I did not expect anything less than perfection on my plate. High hopes I had.
I picked the ribs. I love ribs. Ribs are one of the two dishes I use to gauge a restaurant’s general creative effort. Ribs and fish tartare. I find trout, salmon and most house-smoked fish to be great markers. But, any fish usually works. Either ingredient needs to be fresh, treated with respect and given enough attention to bring out both natural flavours and aromates. Too much smoke kills taste, salt overwhelms -except for preservation or gravlax- and sweetness is an easy way out. Both ribs and fish need a cook to give attention to detail and creative thinking. If the tartare in a restaurant sucks, the rest of the menu will usually suck too. It’s my method of “gauging effort” and it has never deceived me thus far.
When my plate of ribs was placed in front of me, I could tell the meat was dry and overcooked. The first bite confirmed what I expected; the meat was so hard to tear off the bone, I had to use a knife. Not at all what I expected from my choice. After managing to chew three more bites, I focussed on the pasta-make that the mountain of pasta! The trenette were al dente, served in a light and sweet tomato sauce. Peas for a little fun en bouche and basil as decoration. Considering the quality of the meat on my plate, this dish was definitely not worth 27$.
The meal was beautifully paired with a glass of Beaujolais, Clos de la Roilette, cuvée tardive. Subtle flavours of oak with straight fruit and a little mineral touch. A private importation of this bottle goes for 27$. One glass of this wine at Liverpool House is 16$.
When the waiter asked me how my meal was, I said: “the meat was dry and overcooked.” He didn’t offer to change my plate, and I didn’t ask to have it changed either, because I was too hungry. One hour had passed since we first sat down at our table. And after waiting 5 1/2 minutes for him to walk by to grab his attention, I decided to let go and continue with the pasta.
Service then became expeditious.
The waiter suggested we have dessert to finish off our meal. I honestly though it was to compensate for the overcooked, dry meat. I honestly thought someone realized the waiter was giving a lousy service, because from the comments of the people sitting right next to us, we were not alone.
Un Forêt noir svp.
Another deception. The cake was crumbling dry on the plate with sour cherries so sour; this cake was old. Prunous cerasus extra SOUR in a forêt noir? Not fermented sour, no! Someone had to cut the cake, someone must have seen it crumbling. The cake stayed on the plate. Plus 11$.
Thank god Patrice Pâtissier is right across the street.
The total bill came out to 200$ including tip. My meal was definitely not worth that amount of money. Considering only the waiter’s attitude and food that evening at Liverpool House, I am disappointed. Even with all the effort in the world with decor and ambience, service and food will always be what’s most important. Let’s say for a second the meat would have been perfect, the service was …crap. It’s no excuse.
As for my gauging a restaurant’s creativity with its ribs, I’ll have to rethink this one. Marie-Eve fish was perfect while my ribs were not. I guess it’ll take a second venture to «feel» things right.