Remember when I said in my review of vegetarian junk food at Down the Hatch and in my post about the various dietary swaps I’ve been doing of late that there would be days when dairy-dodging, gluten-ditching and sugar-shunning would be a no go? Well Sunday was one of those days; Sunday was a prime example of when I will treat a menu like an access all areas pass at Coachella and that’s okay. Hell, it’s more than okay!
So why the reckless abandon, you ask… Well my friends, all in honour of road-testing the expertly curated menu at Marco Pierre White‘s new Liverpool restaurant, Wheeler’s of St. James’s of course. (Yes that double S apostrophe situation gives the grammar goon in me no chill either but it’s what it says on the tin so we’re sticking with it). Keep on scrolling to find out if my opinions of squid have warmed any since my last attempt and reveal my honest thoughts about Pierre White’s infamous Wally Ladd…
Before I delve into the edibles though, let me first set the scene for you. Myself and my partner in dine for the day made our way into the city, battling the nose-to-tail traffic that was backing up on account of the Liverpool Rock N Roll 10k Marathon. Having done some preliminary sniffing about on the internet and carried out the mandatory pre-visit social media stalk, I had garnered that Wheeler’s is a classy establishment. This is not the kind of place where you can rock up in your Vans Old Skools and use your grubby mitts to shovel some hipster halloumi effort straight into your mush.
Branding itself as an Oyster Bar & Grill Room and taking residency in one of the city’s most upmarket hotels, The Pullman, Wheeler’s called for my old faithful party boots. A pair of red suede, zip-up ankle boots with just enough of a heel to make certain that my damaged ligaments are still indeed damaged. Traffic still unrelenting, we wedged ourselves into what must have been one of three parking spaces left in the whole of Liverpool at this point and embarked on the 2.5km walk (hike) to the King’s Dock where our table for two lay patiently waiting.
Skip forward fifteen or twenty minutes and picture me, at the beautiful, glassy facade of the restaurant, grimacing like I’d just crawled the 10k myself on my bare hands and knees. Forget marathon running and athletic training, try frog marching one and a half miles in bloody party boots with a gammy ankle and a rumbling stomach in 24 degree heat. You just try it. The restaurant just happened to be right next door to the finishing line so I valiantly limped my way through the sea of lycra-clad marathon runners, windswept bob and smeared lipstick to boot, collapsing into my window seat at our table for two like the enduring and deserving champion I am.
[Pause for dramatic irony]
Breath caught, boots unzipped and a very warm welcome from our lovely host for the afternoon, boy was I glad to see my G&T placed down in front of me. A Sipsmith Sloe Gin and low calorie tonic to be precise. When I’d asked what gins were available behind the bar, our host had replied: I knew you were going to ask me that. I must have that look about me, of some poncey Gen Y blogger who would dedicate a whole article to pontificating about their favourite distills………….. (yep, the link is right here)
He returned to our table with a list as long as his arm, some recommendations from the bar staff and a sense of warmth and hospitality that made my sloe gin even sweeter. My partner in dine went for a glass of chilled white Sauvignon which was modestly picked from an extensive wine list covering everything from a Malbec to a Montrachet. While there are some more affordable options on the menu, you can tell this wine list is an edit of somebody who knows their good grapes from their bad seeds. For those enamoured with fine wines, this list is something to behold.
The very first Wheeler’s restaurant dates back to 1856 and is credited with being the world’s oldest and finest fish brand. Marry that with Liverpool’s rich maritime history which is homaged throughout the stylish, modern decor and the picturesque riverside location and you’ve got yourself a match made in seafood heaven. Signature dishes include oysters and Lobster Macaroni as well as Marco’s Mango & Coriander Fish Curry, making fruits de mer the main component of the Wheeler’s of St. James’s menu.
For those of you who, like me, just can’t seem to fall in love with seafood, fear not. Although the dishes are designed to celebrate classic fish recipes, there is plenty on the Mainboards and Buccleuch Beef menus for devoted carnivores and vegetarians alike. There isn’t a great deal on the Hors D’Oeuvres list for those prefer to eat from land over sea so while my partner in dine went for the Wheeler’s Crispy Calamari with tartare sauce (£7.95) to start, I dampened my ravenous appetite with some Warm Baked Sourdough (£3.95). Despite yet another attempt to coerce my tastebuds into liking calamari, I just don’t enjoy the taste nor the texture of squid, no matter how perfectly seasoned it is.
The battered squid rings came served with a fresh lemon wrapped in muslin to protect the pips from escaping and my warm, fresh bread was accompanied by a ramekin of softened butter ready for spreading with a sprinkle of sea salt on top. This kind of attention to detail and this calibre of finishing touches were enough to get us very, very excited about the courses still to come.
For mains we settled on the signature Mango & Coriander Fish Curry (£17.95) and the Roast Free Range Chicken with Wild Mushrooms (£15.95) after much salivating and deliberation. Mine was the latter and came served on the bone, crispy, well seasoned chicken skin still in tact. Also on the immaculately presented plate was some buttered spinach, a buttery tower of Boulangere potatoes, the wild mushrooms as promised and drizzle of Madeira roasting juices.
I might have liked to have seen more of the juices on the plate but other than that petty little quibble, my dish was ultimately flawless. I selected some Creamed Cabbage & Bacon (£4) from the side orders which again, was utterly delicious and provided me with an extra pour-over for added moisture and depth of flavour. I highly recommend my culinary combo of choice.
The fish curry traditionally comes served as a trio of poached salmon, cod and shrimps but my partner in dine dared to break the holy trinity and requested his come with no shrimps. In an eatery where the food is prepared off site and merely heated up in the kitchen this would have proved problematic but his tweak on tradition was fulfilled without hesitation here. Freshly prepared in the restaurant’s open kitchen, the bespoke curry was mild but rich and complimented by a simple but satisfying portion of plain, buttered rice. This plate was definitely smaller in size than my generous helping so if you’re feeling super hungry, I’d recommend something from the side orders to alongside.
With the ingredients being so light and the portions not overbearing, we decided with a mutual, knowing look when asked by our host that we most definitely had some spare room left for pudding. I had originally had my hungry eyes on the Traditional Apple Crumble (£6) or the Banana & Caramel Mess (£6) after fond memories of the Bananas & Custard Cheesecake at The Courtyard Bar & Kitchen were roused on reading the Wheeler’s dessert menu but opted for something differently entirely in the end.
We succumbed to sharing a Hot Chocolate Brownie with Milk Ice Cream (£6) and the ‘Trifle Wally Ladd‘ (£6) one, because we were so intrigued by its cryptic title and two, because our host gushed that it was his favourite dessert on list. How could we possibly resist? The brownie was warm, gooey and indulgent with the understated but undeniably milky ice cream the perfect accompaniment. The Trifle Wally Ladd however was our star of the show. Curiosity might have killed the cat but it certainly led us to making one sterling dessert choice.
It transpired that Marco Pierre White’s take on the good old fashioned sherry trifle actually gets its name from a former chef who worked in famous Mayfair eatery, The Connaught many moons ago. It consists of 18 discs of 5mm thick sponge, vanilla custard, boozy black cherry jam and a sweet cream layer over the top, embellished with roasted almonds and chopped pistachios. It was nothing short of divine. With lavish measures of sherry and sizeable proportions, this one is definitely perfect for two spoons but light enough to snaffle all to yourself too.
We ate from the Wheeler’s of St. James’s menu because, well, that’s why we were there but our host did also provide us with the Express Lunch Menu to mull over too. The Express Lunch options are part of the standard hotel menu and not the Marco Pierre White dishes but are cooked in the same kitchens by the same chefs so I have no doubt that the quality is equally high. The Express Lunch deal is an absolute steal too if you’re ever looking for places to eat in the Liverpool Albert Dock.
You can enjoy one course and a soft drink for just £9.95 with some of the most tempting plates including a Homemade Beer Batter Fish Finger Sandwich, Minute Steak Sandwich with a Fried Hens Egg and Mushroom & Spinach Spaghetti with Basil Pesto. The prices on the Marco Pierre White Wheeler’s menu are a bit more expensive, with some dishes priced higher than your average. However you are served excellent food in stunning surroundings by a team of waiting staff who look smart, understand both food and drink menus and are just the right amount of attentive.
I’m looking forward to making a return trip to Wheeler’s to try out the legendary steak and to see how the Chateaubriand measures up to the one I had at 59 at The Hollies, and finally sink my teeth into that Apple Crumble.
I was very kindly invited to review Wheeler’s of St. James’s but all words, photographs, opinions, teeth, hair, boobs and nails are my very own.