September 11th, 2008



Location: The Racquet Club, Hargreaves Building, 5 Chapel Street, Liverpool

It's lunchtime on a weekday, and I'm sitting alone at a white linen-covered table in the high-ceilinged elegance of what was once an exclusive Victorian sports club, now a hotel with restaurant. Ziba is the restuarant and bar portion, with plenty of staff but not a lot of custom at this particular mealtime.

I've been compulsively ordering risotti lately, so I consciously resist it this time. I begin with a delicately earthy watercress and potato soup. Cooked watercress reminds me of cooked lettuce, no bad thing, but it loses its distinctiveness in the process. In theory, the smooth soup has truffle oil in it. If it does, it is exceedingly subtle. I can't detect it, but am entirely willing to believe there's mushroom in the stock.

Pan-fried hake, not quite caramelized by the heat, is perched on a friendly, substantial bed of feta-flecked mash. It comes with a wondeful pile of cooked cherry tomatoes. Sadly, I think, these are the best tomatoes I've had all year. That's not really saying a lot about this year's tomato standards in my life.

Dessert is my second sticky toffee pudding of the week, decent, but it doesn't hold a candle to the previous one. The cake itself is good, but the sauce tastes of sugar and not much else; no caramelly or toffee goodness suffuses it.

Ziba is a perfectly decent restaurant, competent, useful in its hours, with reasonably-priced multi-course offers and competent, reasonably-social service. Its portions are generous and the atmosphere pleasant; but for what it was aiming at, I felt it could have done better.*

* I think of this as the "Cornish restaurant problem". I planned last year's trip to Cornwall around hotels with restaurants listed in the The Good Food Guide. The hotels were all great; the restaurants all had the right pretensions, but none of them quite lived up to our hopes. None were as exciting as we expected.