GARY MANNING set out to breathe fire into Liverpool?s damp and dreary culinary reputation when he opened 60 Hope Street on St George?s Day a decade ago.

A few dragons have been slain since then, some of them in the form of London-based critics, as the city has progressed from being an eating out backwater to an attractive gastronomic destination.

Ten years ago, up-market dining was a bit thin on the ground, with Becher?s Brook and Ziba flying the flag. In those days, the idea of a London food critic even visiting town was unheard of.

Not so these days, although Manning still smarts over a visit from The Guardian?s reviewer, who felt he had to mention in his report being propositioned by a working girl.

He said: ?If he had gone to a restaurant in Soho and had a similar experience, do you think it would have been mentioned? I doubt it.

?Still, the city has a very different dynamic to the place it was when we opened 10 years ago. I had been scouting around for the right sort of location and felt that it was the right place to be with the theatres, the Philharmonic Hall and cathedrals.

?For those reasons, I think Hope Street offers something a bit different to other parts of the city.?

In fact, the proud Liverpudlian is adamant that the street?s atmosphere and reputation must be maintained.

And he put his money where his mouth is last year when he battled with a pizza chain over some premises that became vacant across from 60.

Now the building is HoSt, a venue offering pan-Asian food and a further addition to the trio of eateries that includes The Quarter nearby.

Manning does feel that there is still something missing from the general offer, and that?s the idea that some kind of street cafe culture was going to be developed.

The fact that the council is now considering increasing car parking charges times to 8pm is another hindrance.

Manning says: ?Ideally, at somewhere like The Quarter, it would be great to have a pavement-style area where people can relax in the summer.

?Unfortunately, the council is unlikely to remove parking bays so we can?t move forward.

?Unless the will is there at the council, things like that are not going to happen.?

He feels there has been progress in other areas, and has been pleased by the success of the Arena and Convention Centre, as well as the development of Liverpool 1 and its plethora of new dining experiences.

?I think these developments have had a positive effect. I see people who have parked up here, been shopping and stop here to eat.

?The Arena and Convention Centre has also brought new people to the city, and I think that?s good news for everyone.

?2008 was a great year and I don?t think there is a Capital of Culture hangover. Business has held up and I know of many who have said bookings are up, so the suggestion that all is doom and gloom is wide of the mark.

?In challenging times, you will find that well-run businesses offering good value will still thrive.?

Neither is Manning resting on his laurels. He is constantly mulling over new ideas and concepts, and says he is constantly on the look-out for new opportunities within the Hope Street area.

One thing hasn?t changed, though. The famous jam butty dessert is still very much on the menu.