What's at Sixty-Two: restaurant review

Jonathan Schofield wonders what this grand banking hall on Castle Street has done to deserve gumbo and pulled pork

Written by  Ruth Allan | Follow @ | Friday, 4 July 2014 06:57

APTNESS is good. 

When things match up there's a balance achieved that makes things more comfortable. Call it harmony, call it aptness.

So what type of food and drink is apt for one of those slightly insane 19th century converted banking halls with plaster curlicues skipping across the ceiling and whiskery gentlemen peering down from column tops with the air of someone who knows all your dirty secrets?

"What have you been up to?"

I reckon for such an elaborate interior you need equal amounts of extravagance. High French cuisine would work with exquisitely cooked rare meats, choice sweetbreads, succulent gewgaws of truffled refinement.

Not, maybe, burgers, onion rings, barbecued ribs and pulled beef brisket - the latter sounding like one of those dirty secrets the whiskery gentlemen know all about.  

Columned and pillared and ready to pull hard on your beef brisket


Columned and pillared and ready to pull hard on your beef brisket

Yet if the food is wrong for the surroundings at least What's at Sixty Two Castle Street matches the excess with a completely over-the-top menu.

So fried chicken, ham, bacon and Swiss cheese is called '3 little pigs and the big bad chicken', a burger with blue cheese is called 'The Blues Stack' and what I presume is a prawn cocktail, is titled senselessly 'Billy Ocean'.

It's all FUN in capital letters, in the same way as being slapped by Ken Dodd's tickling stick is FUN.

To counteract all this I thought I'd start simple, so I had five oysters (or Oysters Rock No.1 on ice) for £12. I lose all judgement with oysters. I just pant and say, "More please". I adore the indecently gorgeous, almost pornographic rawness of them. So despite these arriving with a chipotle sauce mignonette that was frankly strange, I went for them as naked as nature intended. They were a little flabby but immensely rewarding nonetheless.

Oysters surrounding a crater of magma

Oysters surrounding a crater of magma

The jumbo shrimp for £9 (prawns on this side of the Atlantic) comes on rocket with a bloody Mary sauce that was again ignored. Seafood might gain from a squeeze of lemon but it hardly needs anything else. The prawns were fine. 

Jumbo shrimp...or even prawn

Jumbo shrimp...or even prawn

A jambalaya for £13 wasn't. It was miserly in scale and and looked like a bad Chinese takeaway. There was chicken, sausage and bits of green but it was too loose and, worse, lacked all flavour. I prefer jambalayas (although there are a million ways to make one) with more colour but always and absolutely with seafood. This lacked seafood and I couldn't understand why.

The lack of flavour continued with a big lump of cornbread that was gruesome mush. 

Dark it is down in the pot

Dark it is down in the jambalaya pot

The best dish was the blackened catfish, a really zingy, sizzling, tastebud tickler. The hot crust over the flesh giving this food great depth of flavour and richness. That's the one 'special effect' to try at What's at 62 Castle Street. 

Catfish wins the day

Catfish wins the day

We had the French Elvis (£6) for afters. The friendly staff explained how, apparently, this dessert was the one that helped fatten up the hip-swayer to such an extent his rhinestone encrusted trousers kept expanding right up until 1977 when Elvis left the building forever. 

What you get with the French Elvis is a brioche sandwich stuffed or surrounded with peanut butter, jam and ice cream. There's chocolate sauce too just in case that lot isn't sweet enough. It's a grim thing, piled on sweetness, cramped by the overwhelming sweaty sock horror of peanut butter.  

Elvis murdering pudding


Elvis murdering pudding

What's at Sixty Two confuses me. I don't get it.

The menu's all over the place, trying to please everyone. It's as though the rise and rise of Dixie States food has reached its limits and now there's a desperate attempt to shoehorn other traditions onto the already creaking menu. What's at Sixty Two is not alone in this.

If southern Americana food has reached its limits I won't mourn, I'm getting sick of the stuff. It's everywhere.

Fundamentally, despite the excess of the menu, What's at Sixty Two is an awkward fit. It doesn't achieve aptness.

It's not just that the food style feels faintly ridiculous in the 1868 grandeur of Lucy and Littler's Alliance Bank, but that the execution of the dishes is so poor.

Room Restaurant and Merchants have both tried to turn this magnificent but seemingly jinxed room into something that sticks around. I'm not sure What's at Sixty Two will survive the curse.  

All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the restaurant or a PR company. Critics dine unannounced.

What's at Sixty Two
56 - 62 Castle Street,
Liverpool,  L2 7LQ
0151 236 2232

 Website Twitter @whatsatsixtytwo

Inside 62 What's At 62 Castle Street
Rating:      12/20
Food:         5.5/10
Service:      3.5/5
Ambience:  3/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, bars against other bars etc. 

Following on from this the scores represent:

1-5: Straight in the dog bowl
6-9: Get to the chippy 
10-11: In an emergency
12-13: If you happen to be passing
14-15: Worth a trip out 
16-17: Very good to exceptional 
18-20: As good as it gets