Following many visits to Matou, eating well-cooked food and staring across the River Mersey, I decided to take the latest visit as an excuse to assess with intent.
The location of Matou is undeniably an attractive one, sitting proud on the Pier Head where a Chinese Restaurant atop a ferry terminal building once stood. The plush and comfortable surroundings within Matou and along with an unadulterated view of the 3 graces from its balcony make an excellent place to await a table with a drink or two, with no mean competency in the cocktail department from the bar. Perhaps this behaviour is best reserved for better evenings when the Atlantic is forgiving and the sun is shining.
Dark wood, brushed steel, occasional mosaic tiled pillars and no small amount of glass to afford the estuarine vista are the order of the day in Matou; splashes of colour are here and there giving a strangely relaxing ambience to the restaurant.
The service was good, although having to squeeze onto a table not designed for our party was a little uncomfortable, with booking a table one should not really have to deal with a chair placed at the end almost as an afterthought; playing footsie is not really at the forefront of my mind whilst eating out.
The broad menu is daunting for those of an indecisive nature, courting the influences of China, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam; this can lead to some difficulty with less opinionated dining companions. Within the starters are a number of soups, platters and small plates; which provided our group with deep fried calamari, a warming coconut based seafood broth, chicken strips cooked in salt and pepper and Sui Mai. All were to all intents and purposes, cooked excellently with the calamari seasoned well, soft and no hint of rubber band with a clean snap from the tender and sweet squid. The chicken was tender and juicy within a crisp and grease-free batter. Alas there is no true blast of flair within any of the dishes in this area of the menu, no spark of innovation or push from the kitchen to hoist the menu beyond the above average.
The main courses indeed cover the usual Asian menu staples of curries, noodles, sweet and sour salads, steak and fish cooked in fragrant or pungent styles yet it all feels somehow undeniably safe. The presentation is excellent, although perhaps some of the faded logos on the plates are best consigned to retirement.
Speaking of the specific dishes, the steaks ordered within the party were cooked perfectly, Sirloin and Fillet cooked respectively in soy, chilli and coriander and a peppercorn sauce are strong dishes to compliment a menu with a little more adventure than could be advised here. The steaks were both succulent and smoky-sweet benefiting from the fresh Asiatic flavour combinations, a clean dipping sauce with the sirloin to cut through rich fat flavour. Other dishes were met with pleased hungry silence and a raised smile, none moreso than the Korean Duck cooked to a slight pink sweetness, alas there was no adulation.
The one true highlight of the menu was the Penang spiced Lambshank nestling between green shards of crisp pak choi and daring us to tease it from the bone; all nutty sweet sauce with just a buzz of chilli heat drizzled over the heavy and comforting tang of slow cooked lamb. A hint of umami creeps through the sauce in the form of a gentle pulse of fish sauce or shrimp paste.
Whilst an overall pleasant experience, it somehow feels like an opportunity has been missed, the location and setting lays out a scene for something potentially explosive. A solid standard of cooking and slightly elevated prices for similar dishes elsewhere leave the feeling of Matou falling somewhat short of a mark it has set itself through endeavours elsewhere.
Matou Pan-Asian Restaurant, 2nd Floor, Mersey Ferry Terminal Building, Georges Parade, Pier Head, Liverpool L3 1BY
Telephone: 0151 236 2928