There’s something gluttonous about writing a long, ponderous review about tapas. The whole concept is about speed – about adding a few solids to a liquid lunch. But we’re a long way from that concept, and Salthouse Tapas, Liverpool’s latest expression of its Iberian love-in, is a long way from Seville.
But, fortunately, if you dig deep into Salthouse Tapas’ DNA, you can trace back its family tree to the backstreets of Andalusia. As Spanish imports go, this no Easyjet daytrip tourist. This is your genuine Spanish timeshare. Although, on last night’s evidence, one that’s set to stand a lot longer than a duplex in Fuengirola.
Great tapas restaurants are all about the art of conversation – about sharing, dipping, gossiping and drinking. They’re really about everything bar the food.
Only, in Spain, everything is about the food. So, even in the dingiest bars, in the dustiest Pueblos Blancos villages of Andalusia it’s a given that the five or six varieties of meats, olives, breads and cheeses will be fiercely good. So good they simply don’t get in the way of the fun.
So good that you don’t need a poncey food reviewer to spew out 1,000 words on the subtle interconnections between Moorish spices, the acorn-strewn woodlands of the Dehesa, and the salty tang of the Mediterranean, delivered in saucerfuls of secrets, passed down through the generations.
Not many UK Tapas restaurants get this. Sure, they’ll manage one or the other. They’ll have the best ingredients, Ortiz canned tuna in olive oil, Monte Nevado Jamon Serrano, and Artisan Manchego. But they’ll be as animated as the streets of Madrid during the World Cup.
Or they’ll be as hysterical as the denouement in an Almodovar film, all waiters on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and wailing Madres, and the food will be el Meh.
And, lest you not be aware, there are examples of both these versions of Tapas restaurant within walking distance of Paradise Street.
At Salthouse Tapas, you get the lot. A split-level venue, Salthouse is open, bustling and informal. Service is brisk (although there’s something about a Tapas restaurant that adds a dash of amnesia to the proceedings. We’ve never been to one without a dish here or there getting lost along the way. Salthouse continues that tradition nicely) the menu is simple, and the sherry keeps flowing.
There’s a smallish open kitchen – to match, we guess, the smallish, open plates (there are no racións – Tapas to share – here), a carving station, and a bar where, at lunchtime, we’re guessing a glass of Estrella and a plate of olives would hit the spot perfectly.
We enjoyed about a quarter of the menu. And can tell you, without hesitation, that Salthouse Tapas is one long, passionate love letter to the pig.
Yes, the Monte Enebro goat’s cheese with honey (£4.90) is squeakily perfect, the Tortilla (£3.90) is eggily stodgy and the house salads (from £3.50) salty and summery, but trust us, it’s all about the pig.
If you’re after Chorizo, plump for the, ahem, plump Grilled baby chirizos drizzled with honey (£4.10), sweet, spicy, gooey and decidedly Moorish, they were the dish of the evening. The Charcuteria’s wooden paddle laden with Serrano ham, loin, chorizo and salchichon (£9.50) a bravura show of porcine versatility, and the Seared scallops with Serrano ham (£8.95) a cheeky display of scene stealing, the pig snouting its way into a perfectly decent seafood number.
The Morchilla black pudding with sherry and roasted red peppers (£5.25) was as soft and smooth as Foie gras, but earthy, nutty and spicy too. We’d ditch the roasted peppers though. This is a dish that needs no supporting cast.
Churros doughnuts – long, sticky fingers of choclately dough, with a chocolate dipping sauce (£4.55) and the Vanilla, peaches and cream meringue (£4.50) show that Salthouse is equally as adept at sweet as it is savoury. But you do get the feeling that they’re working on piggy pudding…
Starters, six plates, four drinks and deserts for around £60 for two. Which, considering SevenStreets spent £30 more on a whole lot less in Sakura last week, is another reason why, despite our recent spats, this city’s love affair with Spain is set to continue well into the next season.
Salt House, Hanover Street, Liverpool
Tel: 0151 706 0092