The GPO, Metquarter, 35 Whitechapel, Liverpool L1 6DA. Book online at the-gpo.co.uk. All dishes across the menus £4-£16. Wines from £18
The app wants to be reassuring. 是的, of course I can have half a fried chicken with hot sauce on a thick slice of bread with pickles. As long as I am in Sheffield. I’m not in Sheffield. I’m in Liverpool, in a booth within the polished redevelopment of what was once the city’s General Post Office building. It is baffling. The app is meant to be the best way to unlock the offering at this food hall with its many outlets and gracious table service. Now it has taken me all the way through the process before telling me I am 78 miles away from my order. This is a profound tragedy, albeit only within the narrow parameters set by a restaurant critic’s nightmarish entitlement.
这 GPO Food Hall in Liverpool is a great idea. 很遗憾, a great idea is not always the same as a great night out. At least not yet. There is the potential for one here; it just needs some fine tuning, and maybe one of those stern meetings at the app developers’ office to which no one brings Danish pastries because that would undermine the seriousness of the message.
Statement of the bleeding obvious: this model of eating out is not aimed at grey-bearded, artificially hipped old sods like me. It is for those younger people with tighter budgets and rising hormone levels, the ones who do not want to be constrained by a single menu; who wish to roam bits of China while one mate spanks the burger list and a third goes all Middle Eastern. You’ll find examples of it at Seven Dials Market in London’s Covent Garden and Escape to Freight Island in Manchester. They are dynamic and frothy and bloody noisy ventures. And now I sound like somebody’s cringy dad trying to pretend I’m well into the latest hot Vocaloid track. (You’ve never heard a Vocaloid? You lucky bastard.)
The GPO Food Hall offering has been put together by the Milestone Group, which cut its teeth with the Cutlery Works in its home town of Sheffield. In Liverpool, alongside Jailbird fried chicken, it currently includes the restlessly pan-Asian Konjö, the Middle Eastern MorMor, Patty B’s Burgers, Chit ’n’ Chaat (kind of) representing the Indian subcontinent, Torito Tacos 和 Ice Desserts, for those who never really liked their pancreas anyway. There are also a couple of bars and a coffee place.
The redevelopment that houses all this has tried to pay homage to the post office heritage of the building even though, awkwardly, GPO apparently now stands for Global Provisions Outlet rather than anything to do with failed next-day delivery. 仍然, it allows them to use versions of the original logo. There’s something close to wooden pigeonholes behind one of the bars for the liquor collection, and I very much like the ridged frosted glass that tops the backs of the leather booths. It’s all a step up from the refectory tables usually found in these places, though other seating has a touch of the airport Hilton about it. For all the careful design work, there is the unavoidable sense of eating in a shopping mall. Diners will just have to bring their own atmosphere.
You are encouraged to order everything through the web-based iBeLoyalty app. The food is then delivered to your table. Which is where it all goes tits up. They desperately need a gateway inviting you to choose your venue. Without one, you end up scrolling through dining options in Sheffield, Wakefield, Leeds and Castleford, searching for something relevant. Some restaurants are duplicated which, as I’ve already said, means that only at the end of the process will you discover the location you are in can’t serve you. Convene the damn app developers’ meeting immediately. Hold the Danish pastries.
But eventually we did get to order. For the most part this is flavour-bomb food, designed to slap you in the face and slap you again and again. None of it is subtle or carefully crafted. What we get are a set of sturdy, reasonably priced dishes, better versions of which can be found elsewhere, but not all in one place like this. Very few cost more than £10. From Konjö there is a workmanlike crispy chilli beef, full of crowd-pleasing crunch, fire and sugar. Their Korean cauliflower, first battered and deep-fried, then slathered in a sugary gochujang-based sauce is OK, 也. Come here very drunk, at that point where the sensation of your tongue clicking against the roof of your mouth is hilarious, and you’ll like these a lot. Curiously, a side dish of kimchi is very good indeed: punchy without being astringent.
Of the outlets we tried, the best by far was the Middle Eastern MorMor. Granted, you’ll not find harissa spice-dusted Padrón peppers anywhere on the road between Alexandria and Amman, but they were vibrant and punchy. Equally, chargrilled lamb kofta, piled on to blistered flatbread laid with hummus, crunchy salads, pickles and the like was a satisfying plateful for £10.
We got exactly what we deserved for ordering a chicken dosa pizza from Chit ’n’ Chaat. Instead of a lacy fermented rice-batter pancake, we got something with the thickness of a foam innersole, crusted with devastated pieces of chicken. It looked like an unfortunate pavement incident after closing time. Undeterred by the app, I walked over to the Jailbird stand to order. The nice chap told me apologetically they’d run out of everything apart from wings. Six of those, 请. Oh dear. They were greasy and, like me, slightly bitter. In the circumstances, the Nutella and Ferrero Rocher sundae ordered from Ice Desserts was less pudding than a cry for help. It is what it is: dairy fats, cheap chocolate and sugar in a glass. That’s not a criticism. I liked the crunchy, nutty, sugary bits at the bottom.
That may have been the cheap sauvignon blanc talking, because once we’d got the app working, service was swift and friendly. We could have ordered a £195 bottle of Dom Perignon. We didn’t, but we could have. It’s just proof that they’re trying to work all the angles. A special word for the unobtrusive playlist: Earth Wind and Fire, Prince, Barry White. It’s boisterous and fun, 哪一个, when it gets its act together, the GPO could be, 也.
Jay Rayner’s new book, Chewing The Fat: Tasting Notes From A Greedy Life, is out on 2 九月. To buy it for £4.99 visit guardianbookshop.com
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