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Lerpwl, Liverpool: ‘Right from the start they push the tasting menus’ – restaurant review | Food

Lerpwl, Britannia Pavilion, Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 4AD (0151 909 6241; lerpwl.com). Tasting menus £50 and £90, plus supplements. Snacks £3.50 to £9, plates £9 to £24, desserts £9, wines from £31

Recently I received an email from Liam Barrie, one of the brothers behind Lerpwl at Liverpool. Could I consider revisiting the restaurant he and Ellis Barrie opened in 2020? Not only could I consider it: I had considered it feverishly, several times, and with good reason. The Barrie brothers have a great story. At a very young age, they transformed a small café, near a remote Anglesey mobile home park, into what quickly became a place of gastronomic pilgrimage. The Marram Grass was renowned for being a place that took the finest ingredients from North Wales and turned them into edible wonders. Now they had moved to town and taken up space in the red-brick merchant palace that is Albert Dock for Lerpwl, the Welsh for Liverpool.

At first I looked at their website. I watched it every time I had to review at Liverpool. Each time, I was led to disappointed, joint-chewing distraction. The menus were on dropbox links, a nightmare on mobile, if they worked at all. This stuff matters. Restaurants, sort your websites. An extraordinary number hides its address in some dusty digital nook or doesn’t bother to include it at all. And please add a phone number for people who are running late and want to let you know. Booking sites are a nightmare for this stuff. Why not offer a WhatsApp number if you can’t stand the idea of ​​talking to your customers?

“Spectacular”: Menai oysters. Photography: Jo Ritchie/The Observer

The biggest problem with Lerpwl was the proposal. You can have it all you want as long as it’s a tasting menu, either £90 or £50, but with several extras that add an extra £31 to both. A menu was called the “Capricious”. What? A dinner marked by sudden changes in mood and behavior? If I wanted to, I could stay home and argue with my family. It all seemed exhausting. I hadn’t reported any of this. If enough people want a £121 tasting menu, then good luck to them. But since they had now asked me to come, I explained why I hadn’t. They recognized my points.

Recently I looked back at their website. Lo and behold, the dropbox links were gone, the broken links had been fixed, and they had introduced a “plates” menu, essentially a la carte: a few snacks, larger plates, three cuts of steak, all to share. The least I could do was reserve a table. First the basics: despite all the great tasting menu tricks, they make a lot of their relaxed vibe. While the open square kitchen is occupied by very intense and highly wired young men, the large wide room vibrates with friendly and relaxed chatter. It’s a place of hard surfaces, quirky Victorian columns and bare tables dressed with enough place settings to accommodate a rugby club buffet.

Fried chicken
‘An offense against the gods’: fried chicken. Photography: Jo Ritchie/The Observer

Some dishes are truly spectacular. Among the short list of snacks are Menai silver oysters. One is dressed with diced compressed cucumber, glistening pearls of dill oil and a spritz of sweet acidity; the other comes with fermented chili, sesame and seaweed. Both are a total explosion of invigorating seaside beauty. There’s a pastrami pie of duck cut into small cubes in a beautifully folded savory tile. Their triple-cooked barrel fries are as golden as polished copper coins and come with a hilarious, artery-rich Hollandaise sauce made with duck fat rather than olive oil. Some might find this overwhelming; I have never been overwhelmed with duck fat. They serve a terrific Little Gem salad with diced cucumbers, under snowfalls of shredded Keen’s cheddar cheese and a lovage-laden dressing.

Unfortunately, not everything is like that. The food reminds me of a certain local amateur choir where the sopranos are beautiful and always banging merrily, but the tenors are just a little stringy and sad. Take their fried chicken. It’s a single leg for £6. Weirdly, they removed the skin, which is an offense to the vengeful gods of fried chicken. What happens when you beat a piece of skinless chicken? The dough slides straight down, as if it were an insect losing its shell. It comes on a dark green grass emulsion, which in turn is on a monogrammed piece of paper. The paper quickly turns into torn rags in the bowl.

Duck.
‘I admire the preparation’: duck. Photography: Jo Ritchie/The Observer

I admire the preparation of a piece of matured duck, but it arrives with a quenelle of confit duck leg which is a gummy mulch. There’s a really terrible dish of undercooked eggplant, with a bland buttermilk dressing that has very little taste. The desserts, though Instagram-ready, boil down to artful splashes of mousses and sorbet dumplings. The closest thing to structure is a parfait glazed under a crispy white chocolate dome. Unfortunately, the parfait is scented with lavender. We’re firmly in aged, slack-elastic, panty-drawer territory.

There are other issues including a jolly waiter who staunchly refuses to use a paper and pen to take our order despite being prompted to do so. This might explain why we are brought a dish of beets which we did not ask for. We send it. We’re told everything will happen when it’s ready, which is odd because they happily serve these tasting menus in a specific order. It’s also boring. Things land at odd times, like the crisps, which arrive late with the salad, not the snacks they’re listed among. And while they say that everything is to be shared, the table is too small for the number of plates arriving at once. Our server gets a bit agitated when we refuse to order the bread, as if we’ve made a big faux pas. Finally, there is the bewildering wine list. The Old World whites start with something happily drinkable Slovenian for £32 before leaping majestically to a £60 English pinot gris. There is nothing in between. Prinks might just be in order.

Brick sheet with summer berries.
‘Artful splodges’: filo pastry with summer berries. Photography: Jo Ritchie/The Observer

When I booked I was asked to choose a menu and specify the new a la carte, but right off the bat they push tasting menus, which always come with £19 extras. I got the feeling that for all their proclamations of informality, relaxed vibes and good times, their hearts really aren’t in everything on the menu. Admittedly, they are not very good at it. They want to be a restaurant with a tasting menu. It’s their thing. Fair enough. If they can find bettors willing to cough up the big coin, that’s really what they should stick with.

News

Surrey has just become home to its first food hall, with the opening of Epsom Social. The space, in Epsom Square, can accommodate 200 people and eight vendors, including Venezuelan street eatery Pabellon, Indian Curry on Naanstop as well as food offerings representing Lebanon, Mexico and Korea. There will also be a series of popups (epsomsocial.com).

And news of a closure: It’s farewell to The Glasshouse which has been supplying Kew, west London since 1999. The restaurant, owned by chef Bruce Poole and restaurateur Nigel Platts-Martin, holds a star Michelin since 2002, most recently under Chef Gregory Wellman. He will become head chef at partner restaurant La Trompette in Chiswick after the last service on September 17.

And finally, a disappointed reader got in touch recently. A year ago, she booked a table for lunch at Simon Rogan The Anvil in Cumbria, which won its third Michelin star in February. When she booked the lunch menu was £100pp. A month before her booking, she was contacted to be told that the lunch menu had been scrapped and the evening menu, which had been reduced from £195 to £250, had been introduced in its place. “We can’t afford it,” my correspondent said. “I’m not sure I want it anyway, so I canceled the reservation.” It was “a difficult decision for Simon and the team to implement,” a spokesperson for L’Enclume told me. “But necessary given inflation.”

Email Jay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1



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