Review by Fiona Duncan, published 5th August 2007.
Malmaison, the chain of boldly designed, thirtysomething-friendly, city hotels with affordable room rates has a clever theme: it takes previous-use buildings - prisons, hospitals, churches, factories - and transforms them into slick urban hotels. I've always appreciated their quirkiness mixed with modern comfort. Until now, that is.
Malmaison Oxford is an ex-prison where bedrooms have been fashioned from cells. It still feels like a prison - one in which I'm happy to do time. Malmaison Liverpool, the group's first purpose-built hotel, is meant to feel edgy, New York/Gotham City style. Actually it feels like a prison, one from which I can't wait to escape. The harsh grey building stands in Liverpool's docklands, surrounded by rival chain hotels as well as car parks, water and windy walkways.
Once inside, you find the well-worn pseudo-industrial look, with a weird looking black iron fireplace on a plinth (how I wish it had been alight), a steel staircase and that old decorative cliché, a pile of battered antique suitcases.
I walk along dark purple corridors to my room and enter a black box: black walls, black furniture, black power shower, black curtains edged in orange, plus grey gauze nets that drain the exterior world of colour and make Liverpool look ill.
There's bright sunshine out there, but you'd never know it. At least I have a view of the twin Liver Birds on top of their towers. One is scanning the sea for ships, so Liverpudlians say, while the other looks down on the city to see if the pubs are open yet. It's the locals' humour and kindness that saves me from topping myself in my dismal black box.
What special features does the hotel possess? There's the gym, so anonymous and small and stuffed with instruments of torture that I hasten away. There's the bar, so purple and dimly lit that, like my room, it feels like a black cloud, and I hasten away.
"And have you seen our recreation of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine?" asks the charming young deputy manager, with affecting enthusiasm. I speed up to the second floor where, in front of the lifts, there's a small fish tank (that's the ocean deep) and suspended from the ceiling, a model yellow submarine. Good grief.
Dinner is an improvement. The Scouse restaurant manageress and the Polish sommelier are lovely, the latter passionate about wine. His list is long and interesting; what a shame, then, that it's there to accompany a short, ordinary menu consisting mainly of pizzas and steaks.
The steak comes on a board and the accompanying sauce, in a little jug, comes with a thick skin from its time in the microwave. An array of mustards arrives on a special trolley, yet they don't include English, which is brought to me, after a long wait, in a crusted old pot of Colman's.
There's a pretentious Chef's Table where diners can eavesdrop on the staff in the glass-walled kitchen as they grill the steaks and warm up the sauces, as if this were some top-flight restaurant (the head chef has a "kill button" for when the language gets a little too blue).
This is Liverpool's first luxury hotel. You may say I'm simply too old for Malmaison, but I think the city deserves better.
William Jessop Way, Princes Dock, Liverpool (0151 229 5000; www.malmaison.com). Double rooms from £145 per night, excluding breakfast.