It has been a year that will never be forgotten. There have been some joyful, memorable moments, and there has been heartbreak. Our lives are not the same: altered conditions, yet we hold onto pretty much the same values with more attitude.
WORDS: Jean Hill
As a food critic, it has been a bit challenging, which is as nothing to the challenges hospitality and entertainment have had to face. Most of all we want to wish, hope and believe in a better outcome in 2021.
Firstly and most importantly we owe a debt of gratitude to the NHS and all front-line workers. The refuse-collectors turn up over a weekend. Bus and train drivers carry on regardless. Care workers are every-day, sometimes not fully appreciated heroes. Construction workers and maintenance workers contend with so many hazards, including the weather. Talking to check-out staff in supermarkets will be the only conversation for some that day. We appreciate those staff who stack the shelves, those who chat at the check-out and are courteous no matter what the conditions.
What we have appreciated in 2020, amongst anxious moments, and what we wish for in 2021 are one in the same. We want to get our lives back and we want the people we love and care about to be safe. This makes me remember some of those awesome times in a year full of turbulence and fearful symmetry.
Casa Italia, Regent Street Liverpool
I can’t believe this was a year ago, when we celebrated Vegan January 2020. I wish I had words to properly express our appreciation for the hospitality. We met Bettina Campolucci Bordi at lunch, and she was kind enough to give us a copy of her ‘7 Day Vegan Challenge’ cook-book. I have tried some of these recipes, and have loved the results.
We were placed on a long table, that reminded me of Italian family meals, filled with lively chatter and laughter. We began with antipasti: pizza bread with pesto, red onion, cherry tomato with rocket and olives. It was sharp and zingy. It is the freshness and quality of the vegetables, pasta and pizza dough that deliver the authentic taste of Italy. You can order for collection or home delivery.
We thought we might take a whistle-stop tour of our favourite restaurants that we managed to visit in 2020. That would be in between lock-downs, alarms and not nearly enough excursions.
Gusto Italian at the Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool
For me, celebrations are usually associated with restaurants, eateries, events and theatre. The go to place for a birthday bash has always been Gusto on the Royal Albert Dock. What’s not to love. It is a truly beautiful space; very grand in a sociable kind of a way and the food is fabulous with that Italian flair. Our favourite table gives us a view of the Dock, with all those sparkly lights winking and blinking at the water’s edge. I usually choose sea bass (pure crispy flavour with a lemon tang), and the pizza has true pizazz.
El Gato Negro Liverpool
El Gato Negro is a class act. The menu combines modern and traditional Spanish flavours and techniques. We found seasonally-influenced dishes on the new spring menu, based on quality Spanish and locally-sourced food.
We chose a selection of small plates. First came the Catalan bread: delicate and delicious. Then we were served ‘cauliflower shabu shabu’: (name is derived from a Japanese hotpot dish of vegetables served with dipping sauces). ‘Shabu shabu’ mimics the sound when the ingredients are stirred in the cooking pot. The satay dressing and fried chick peas suffused the cauliflower with creaminess. Picos blue cheese with caramelised walnuts had the wow factor, and turned out to be a star dish. This spicy, rich and creamy blue cheese (much acclaimed) is usually hand-made in the mountains of Picos de Europa in northern Spain.
A taste of sunshine on a bitingly chill, rainy day. Until able to re-open, there is always the on-line shop.
Magic Spices, New Brighton
We chose Magic Spices in New Brighton, for a spring family outing. They do great Indian dishes that include: Tandoori chicken on the bone with lemon and lime. My own favourite is lamb Shashi passanda, that combines yoghurt, coconut, almonds and cream. Deliveries and collection are usually available. Check out their website, or call for more details.
Tel. 0151 6911919
The Olive Tree, New Brighton
This is a family owned restaurant that is close to our hearts. The food is consistently good: Jayne welcomes guests, whilst her partner excels in the kitchen. Their Sunday roasts never disappoint: the meat is always succulent; the gravy has a rich, satisfying depth of flavour and their Yorkshire puddings are something to boast about. We ate outside, and we had some lovely conversations, including chatting to Daniel Davies, who with his brilliant team, has transformed New Brighton.
This was our first outing when lock-down restrictions lifted. We ate outside: we chatted to friendly staff and the odd passer-by. The food is just what you want from an all-day bistro. It has that made from scratch freshness. The breakfast menu is a delight. My Manhattan special included smoked salmon, was light and we had so much fun. Cannot wait for it to open again.
Justino’s Italian Ristorante
This is an Italian family business, and that shines through. Everything is concentrated to make for fine dining. We ate outside. I have to say that the King Prawn Gamberoni with lemon, white wine, and zucchini is my favourite. And the Crème Brulée is simply gorgeous, silky smooth with that divine crackling.
Order online and through Deliveroo.
Delifonseca Dockside is where we enjoyed a glorious meal: best Persian stew I have ever eaten. This was described as a dry stew: in reality the richness and moisture were all contained within the seared meat. You can visit the Food Hall, for great meat, pasta, vegetables (and more) and you can order on-line.
Lunyalita Royal Albert Dock and Lunya, Liverpool ONE
Lunyalita Royal Albert Dock and Lunya, Liverpool ONE are family favourites. The views of the Dock are spectacular and the tapas is as good as anything you can find when visiting the Basque Country. You can access the Lunya shop on-line.
Kasbah Café Bazaar, Liverpool
Kasbah Café Bazaar is where I met some friends from out of town. We ate beautiful Moroccan food (outside again), and we visited an exhibition, and wandered the city. Such a fun day. Check for collection details.
Habibi, New Brighton
Habibi (again outside) is where we celebrated a family birthday. Fun food, and great burgers and chips. Check for details on collection.
Here’s to great days; hopefully in the summer when we can all enjoy eating out again.
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