Liverpool has more to offer than Beatles tribute acts and Stevie G – here’s part one of my adventures in Scouseland…
Liverpool gets a bad rap. To a lot of people living south of Birmingham it’s a frigid post-apocalyptic wasteland peopled by a mix of fake-tan encrusted wannabe Take Me Out contestants tottering around in their curlers while feral gangs of tracksuit-clad teenagers brutally mug innocent passers by.
Obviously this is bollocks. Well, except for the curlers bit, you’ll definitely see that on a Saturday afternoon. In reality though, Liverpool is a deeply gorgeous city – all majestic old industrial buildings and Northern swagger, but with a genuinely friendly atmosphere. Sure, all the Beatles cash-ins are a bit icky, and no-one has ever satisfactorily explained what the Superlambanana thing is all about, but it’s one of those places you instantly warm to. From the eye-wateringly gorgeous Sefton Park to uber-cool Lark Lane, it’s got more going for it than my recent three-night visit could possibly cover.
I was lucky enough to visit for a couple of all-too-brief days this weekend, but even in that short period I had time to discover a couple of scouse food and drink gems – including Maray. It’s a bit middle eastern and a bit French, plus there’s a smidge of Italian in there and maybe even some Japanese. Oh, and Scandinavian probably. Whatever – it’s mad, it’s messy and it’s bloody great.
One of their signature dishes is a roasted half cauliflower. It might sound like the sort of thing you find in cookbooks by posh girls who want you to feel bad about your tea or gurning fitness gurus trying to convince you food is just fuel for burpees, but it’s an actual, proper treat. All middle eastern vibes – smoky harissa, nutty tahini and little blasts of sweet/sour pomegranate.
Don’t worry though, there’s plenty for carnivores – my favourite being the aggressively meaty ox cheek with sweetcorn and coffee. Judging by the texture, Maray whacked it in the slowcooker sometime during the first half of 1974. It’s as smooth as a Morgan Freeman voiceover, with the fat rendered down completely resulting in a creamy, beefy plate of loveliness. Paired with the sweetcorn puree which tastes uncannily like a semi-savoury custard, the overall effect is something like a beef milkshake – which I promise you is significantly more appetising than it sounds.
Proper close-your-eyes-and-forget-where-you-are food. Ditto for the pig’s cheek special which I also managed to nab a little of too – best described as pork turned up to 11.
For those who feel a bit funny about eating something’s face, there’s the scallops with smoked garlic cream in a pancetta crumb, which taste like they’re made exclusively out of butter, bacon and happiness, and a fantastically marshmallowy burrata with pea veloute and honeycomb. The latter should be too sweet, but it juuuust about stays the right side of being dessert for mains thanks to an onion-y, herby smack of lovage (ten points for obscure herb usage).
When it’s time for actual dessert, you can do a lot worse than the Pumpkin PBJ – a mini-sundae pairing a peanut butter and pumpkin mousse with blueberries reduced almost to the point of jam, all served on top of a ginger biscuit base. Cleverly, it’s the blueberries rather than the peanut butter that provides texture, offering a hint of chewiness. Well worth saving a bit of room for.
All of the above and more plus a bottle of house red came to under a ton and was more than enough to feed four people. Well bloody played Liverpool…