When it comes to food, we love a new independent voice to add to the chorus of enticing local eateries that you can find around the city centre. Sure, the impending arrival of Byron Burgers might warm the cockles of those who like the comfort of a chain restaurant but our attention is elsewhere – Bold Street, to be precise.
Once seemingly doomed to have fallen foul against a Liverpool One retail behemoth, Bold Street has gained a well-deserved reputation as the hub of successful independents and the newest addition to the neighbourhood is NoLIta Cantina. Priding themselves on the use of locally sourced high quality food and aiming to replicate the eclectic menus spanning Jewish-Italian recipes to southern state street food you’d find in the deli–style dive bars of Manhattan, it’s a venture born out of the mutual passion of two chefs – Jen Roberts and Grace Makin.
Having finished putting the final touches to their low key but relaxed interior, they’re opening their doors to the public this week and we caught up with them for a quick chat about massive sandwiches, what drew them to Bold Street and who their dream dinner dates are (spoiler: each other, awww!).
First thing’s first, how did the two of you meet?
We met in August 2011 working together in Neighbourhood Restaurant, where Jen was the Head Chef and I (Grace) was meant to just be working over the summer period to cover an absent chef. We became friends pretty much straight away and I ended up staying there for over a year. We spent the following months planning our escape and thinking of ways to continue working together somewhere else as we got on so well, in and out of work.
And what inspired you to set up NoLIta Cantina?
We have both been to New York and loved the various delis, namely Katz’s Delicatessen, and just wished that somewhere in Liverpool made massive sandwiches and burgers that were actually nice. We went to a few similar style restaurants when we got home hoping to find our fix but everywhere seemed to favour style over substance, or just felt too much like a chain, which just wasn’t right for us. We knew we couldn’t be alone in this so we decided to do something about it, and the result was NoLIta Cantina.
And the name obviously pays homage to New York too…
We sat down with a map of Manhattan and studied the different boroughs for name ideas. ‘NoLIta’, meaning North of Little Italy, stood out because it sounded cool. Our menu is influenced, much like the restaurants in New York are, from all over the world. The word ‘Cantina’ was easy for us and we always wanted it as its translations are boss; in Italian it roughly translates ‘salami saloon’ and in Spanish it simply refers to a bar where food is also sold and these two meanings pretty much sum us up!
That’s the basics covered, now onto the more important topics. FOOD. What is your favourite dish off the menu?
Grace: I’m a massive pie so I’d always pick the Big Boy burger which is a stack of three burgers, layered with Swiss & Monterey Jack cheese, topped with beer battered onion rings, sweet-cured streaky bacon, pickles and our burger sauce. I’d also throw a load of frickles – deep fried pickles – in there as well.
Jen: I’d probably go for the pulled pork on potato latkes, but if I fancied something a bit lighter then I probably get one of the pastrami dishes as for me, there is just nowhere that offers hand carved hearty portions of pastrami, it’s always those flimsy pre packaged, pre sliced efforts that don’t even taste like pastrami.
So, putting the fruitless search for enormous butties aside, where do you like to go in Liverpool to eat?
We both love Lucha Libre on Wood Street for relaxed eating and drinking as well as Sahara on Arrad Street, which is a Lebanese restaurant where you can take your own booze. The food is amazing and the staff are just hilarious. The deli section at Lunya is our perfect hangover cure – the Catalonian black pudding and Spanish omelette sandwiches are gorgeous, and you don’t feel dirty after eating them. If we had to go somewhere a bit more serious and ‘datey’ then Salt House Tapas is pretty phenomenal and if we’re allowed to leave Liverpool, then it’s got to be Almost Famous in Manchester.
Bold Street is going from strength to strength at the moment, what was it that drew you to the location?
When we first embarked on this whole thing, we didn’t have anywhere in mind, but we were walking up Bold Street one day and noticed our building for the first time and it was love at first sight. We know that you shouldn’t ever settle on the first place you see, but it was just perfect – from the old shop front to the crumbly sky light!
It took a hell of a lot more work than if we’d gone for a modern building but we just couldn’t bear the thought of anybody else taking our place. We love the community feel of the street, with local businesses and neighbours constantly offering to help us with anything we need.
And finally… who would your dream dinner date guest be?
Definitely just each other. We don’t want to go to dinner with famous people we don’t know!
81a Bold Street, Liverpool, L1 4HF
0151 708 5061