I had been keen to visit Europe's 2008 Capital of Culture for a long time.
After a fine Saturday wandering the streets, dodging incessant Beatles memorabilia and visiting the Tate, Millie and I managed to book last minute tickets to the last night of Roger McGough's brilliantly funny adaptation of Moliere's 1664 comedy, Tartuffe, at the Playhouse. It was hilarious, with more rhyming couplets than a Beastie Boy would care to spit.
Walking to our restaurant for the evening, Lunya, I'll be frank, we wondered if we may have missed a trick, Desperate Scouse wives was on just down the road. Will it still be showing in 350 years time. Time will tell.
Having Morito on my doorstep, Bocca di Lupo as my favourite restaurant, and Barrafina next to my work (not that I've been to either sadly more than once), it was always going to be hard for this Spanish tapas restaurant to stand out from the crowd. Lucky then that it had won Best Restaurant by Lancashire Life, Cheshire Life and Liverpool Food Festival. And stand out it did.
Bringing together a menu so rich with quantity and quality as well as intricate histories and descriptions of each dish, the hardest thing was limiting the number of dishes we ordered. It is really no wonder that this mid-range price restaurant comes in at #4 in Liverpool's best restaurants according to Trip Advisor.
Housed in an airy, converted 18th century warehouse, yet not one for getting stuck in the past, a TV screen live streams all the action from the kitchen where they keep their own wood fired brick oven for traditional bread making and meat roasting. Perhaps though the highlight was the instant warmth we felt on entering the restaurant. Greeted by the friendly waiter we were profusely apologised to for the singing emanating from the floor above. It sounded like a travelling rugby team were singing odes to former glories. As it turned out this was the dulcet tones of a harmonious 23 strong Norwegian male sing troupe who had booked the upstairs room. This instantly added a wonderful atmosphere to the post-theatre dining. And they were just getting warmed up.
Ordering some salty Fino sherry to start, we navigated the menu. Forgoing pork belly (a Morito favourite) and the intriguing austuraian cheese & cider pate, we settled on our six dishes and ordered a bottle of Navajas Rioja. You know you're doing well when for the first time you can remember you order your selection of tapas dishes and they don't include a chorizo dish. There were certainly chorizo dishes on the menu and my loyal eye naturally gravitated to them but when it came to the crunch I opted for some new delights such was the variety and quality on offer...
Here they were (from the menu):
"Padrón peppers (Pimientos del Padrón) Small green peppers (1 in 20 is very hot, with the rest having a beautiful mild flavour), sautéed with extra virgin olive oil and Maldon sea salt. Russian roulette on your plate! Recommended wine: Vina Gravonia Heredia Reserva Blanco, D.O.C. Rioja Tenderloin of Ibérico pork (Lomo de cerdo Ibérico) Ibérico solomillo fillet, seared on our plancha and served pink over bubble and squeak with an orange and PX sherry reduction. Recommended wine: Anima Negra 2, Mallorc Morcilla de Burgos stack with caramelised Granny Smith apple (Morcilla de Burgos) This rice based black pudding is flavoured with cumin, and is sautéed with Granny Smith apples, finished off with a caramelised apple slice and drizzled with a pimentón caramel sauce. Recommended wine: Bodegas Pirineos Gwertztraminer Gulas (Gulas) A tapas bar favourite in the north of Spain. Originally elvers (baby eels), these are made from Alaskan pollock and served in hot olive oil with hot red chilli and garlic. Recommended wine: Castello de Medina, Sauvignon Blanc Hake in Asturian Cider (Merluza
en salsa de sidra Asturiana) Market fresh hake baked in our wood oven in parcels with cider, green pepper and Spanish onions, served over sea spinach with a traditional Asturian cider sauce. Recommended wine: Txomin, D.O. Guetaria Txakolina Patatas a lo Pobre A traditional peasant dish of Spain (literally, meaning poor man’s potatoes) potatoes sautéed with onion, peppers and garlic to a sticky caramelised finish. £4.45 Recommended wine: Abadal 5 Merlot, D.O. Pla de Bages"
The highlight was the gulas: thin strips of pollock braised in garlic and chilli oil. Originally baby eels were used for this dish but pollock is the modern day version. Closing our eyes this had exactly the same flavour and texture as spaghetti vongole as the thin fish strips replicated the sensation of al dente pasta.
So ordering over, settling into the fruity Rioja, next thing we knew 23 men were marching down the stairs lead by a guitarist. They approached the table next to us and, after a brief intro speech from the tall Norwegian - clearly their ring leader - and a stucato 1-2-3-4, launched into a 'happy birthday' rendition sung to a complete stranger. Everyone joined in, all oblivious to who had requested this aural treat, all enjoying it. So far so almost normal....
A true master of his art, the ring leader, even before the song's close was urging the guitarist to go straight into the next song. Which he did, with gusto. As the master of ceremonies announced to the restaurant that the next song would be the most romantic of songs, Eight Day a Week (by the Beetles). Well, after a day spent trying to ignore Liverpool's favourite sons, I willingly gave my heart to the moment.
Trooping out of the restaurant with their wives, merrily swaying into the distance, the men of song departed. Frantically Googling karaoke bars we realised our team of two could hold no sway in a town echoing with Norwegian song. Calling the nearest we were discouragingly knocked back. Two were too few for a karaoke room. After questioning what sort of karaoke bar he ran I sheepishly hung up, he didn't get that I was a convert to Liverpool's Beatle-loving brotherhood.
Liverpool will to me always be Beatles songs, orchestrated by Norwegian male choirs, in Spanish restaurants, sung by friendly people. Impromptu, boisterous and fun.