Get it right, and small plates of food can make a big difference to a restaurant. All those seven quid squids and baby chorizos add up to a healthy (and usually pricier than you’d bargained for) bill. So it’s no wonder Tapas has spread from the bars of Seville to infest the culinary map of the world – with slider burgers, mezes and pizzettas offering a Smorgasbord (oh, yeah, don’t forget rollmop herrings) of international diddy-men dining.
Liverpool’s seen its fair share of sharing plates popping up over the past few years – but where are the best places to enjoy memorable mini mouthfulls?
Mowgli is phenomenal. Make it happen – go this weekend. Nisha’s little spice bombs of tamarind and coriander, yoghurt and chick peas make us count the hours before we go back. Try the (brilliantly named, and Clatterbridge-donating) Keema Therapy – an umami hit of minced lamb and pulses, the house Chicken curry, the fiery Himalayan Cheese Toast and the Yoghurt chat bombs. No, wait. Try it all. Bold Street keeps getting better and better (and do try the sharing platter at Bretta’s handsome Deli-bistro, just off it.)
Roja Pinchos, Berry Street, is about as assured and vibrant a Basque outpost you’re likely to find this side of Santander. Small, fresh, full-of-flavour morsels featuring a nice Liverpool-meets-Green Spain fusion of Iberico ham, Manchego cheese, cod croquettes and carb-tastic tortilla wedges.
Falafel is at the heart of things at Maray, but don’t leave without trying the Slow cooked lamb, nor the flakily delicious fish goujons.
One of the city’s most recent tapas-style eateries has fast become our favourite – the surefooted crew at Salt House Tapas’ Commercial District venture, Salt House Bacaro, is a real gem.
The 70’s aesthetic office block (pic r and above) is all industrial chic and statement lighting: showy, in a restrained and civilised manner. And the food is confident, authentic and chunky enough for everyone to have a bite (because that’s the right way, yeah?)
Bacaros are a Venetian take on tapas – with nods to the region’s best produce: from land and sea. Try the Roasted monkfish with bean & pancetta cassoulet, the meaty Nduja sausage, tomato & mozzarella Pizzettes and the Chargilled fillet of beef with chicken liver parfait, mushroom duxelle and red wine jus. Actually, try anything – few Bacaro dishes will let you down (oh, we have to add the not-particularly-authentic, but awesome Stornoway black pudding with sautéed chicken livers, caramelised onions & marsala wine.)
Same goes with the original Salt House Tapas – still the city’s best Spanish restaurant. The Baby chorizos with honey, Roasted Iberico pork and Roasted hake fillet with Serrano ham show a kitchen on top of its game. But the Charcuteria’s wooden paddle laden with Serrano ham, loin, chorizo and salchichon shows that, when the raw ingredients are this good, all you really need is a carving knife.
We have an on-off relationship with Lunya. Or maybe a left-hand, right-hand relationship. We really want to like it – and, if we enter to the left, and stick to the deli, we do. But the restaurant often lets us down. Too often, food is lukewarm, flavours fuzzy, and portions inconsistent. When it hits its stride it’s fab – but small plates demand precise execution. And a chilly Albondigas is unforgivable.
We’ve been more disappointed than pleased with Frederiks, too – the newish Hope Street hang out is a welcome addition to the top of town, but it really needs to look again at the plates of food it’s producing, especially as the burgers and down-home style Death Row Diner has just opened up downstairs. Fortunately, the arrival of an impressive-looking new pizza oven might well do the trick.
Frederiks offers a US-inspired take on small-plate dining: sticky ribs, mac and cheese, pretzel-fried chicken – that sort of schtick.
But too many of the plates are vague, curiously textured and – here’s the honest truth: a bit cheap tasting. The cinnamon-glazed babyback ribs are just weird: the marinade adds a rubbery, not-at-all-pleasant taste to a rack of tough and chewy ribs. The Merguez sausages just taste like Iceland ten-for-a-fiver chipolatas, but the Florentine Pizzetta is great.
Slims Pork Chop Express doesn’t give itself over, completely, to the whole sharing thing. But its platters of juicy, tender, slowly smoked meats, its Coach Bombay Fries (gravy, duck-juice, duck egg and meat) are sensational. As are Josper grilled prawns and the sticky dirtiness of the short ribs. Lipsmackingly good.
Quietly, and assuredly, Rodney Street’s Cafe Porto shows how it’s done. The city’s real ‘all-round-to-my-place’ dining room, Porto feels refreshingly home-spun: the sort of place you really would find down the vertiginous back streets of Porto. The menu’s not especially big – but what it lacks in choice it makes up for in quality.
Try the Bolinhos de Bacalhau (salted-cod fishcakes), the Sardines (of course) and the Medalhoes de porco (pork medallions), but whatever you do, save room for the majestic Pastel Nates (the rich and creamy Portuguese custard tarts) – every bit as good as those you’d find in the Lisbon bakeries that introduced the pud to the world.
Lucha Libre rarely puts a foot wrong – and we love the sound of its soon to be released Christmas menu: pan fried sea bass with black beans, paprika-stuffed turkey, clementine cheesecake with maple-roasted pecans and ginger crumble. Almost (not quite) makes us want to give up our potato and chorizo quesadillas.
At the Pier Head (tucked on the river side of Mann Island) the Brasco Lounge offers an uneven tapas experience (main pic). The pan fried Halloumi and peppers is stingy to say the least, but the Honey glazed shredded 5-spice pork has that reassuring umami/savoury smack. Still, if you do find yourself on the windblown, tumbleweed expanse of the Pier Head after dark, it’s good to know there’s an alternative to the truly horrific Matou to shelter in.
We’re a fan of Revolution – there, we’ve said it. Yeah, it’s a chain – but there’s real care gone into their new menu, and their Slider burgers and the Revolution platter (Fried chicken strips, fire pit beans, corn chips with Roquito peppers, chips, onion rings, slaw filled baby gem leaves) hit the mark, and are definitely towards the generous end of the tapas scale.
Head south of the city centre to Neon Jamon for really great plates of Iberico Bellota (cured, acorn-fed pork), Hamburguesa (Mini veal and beef hamburgers) and crunchy/gooey Croquettas. But count your plates – service is erratic.
Bold Street’s the place to try the heady spices and marinades of North Africa and the Middle East – with Kazbah’s great value lunch tapas specials offering wondrous dishes such as Chicken brochettes marinated in Moroccan spices, Merguez (marinated Moroccan Sausage), and Pan-fried marinated Salmon with saffron rice.
Hop over to the Lebanon at Bakchich – and it’s a hit and miss affair. Fair enough – plates come when they’re ready (fine), but sometimes we feel they could benefit from a little more attention to detail. The falafel isn’t great (which is, let’s face it, surprising), and some dishes veer towards bland, but other dishes are a revelation: Kibbeh Shamiya (minced lamb with pine nuts), Soujoc (homemade spicy Lebanese sausage with tomato) and Jawaneh Mechawi (charcoal grilled marinated chicken wings with garlic and harissa sauce) all have more than a whiff of the souk about them.