Thursday, 24 October 2019

Wreckfish, Liverpool

The key to a successful local restaurant, he says almost as if he has a clue what he's talking about, is to allow a certain degree of flexibility in ordering. If you want your place to become a regular's regular, you need to take into account the different reason people eat out, and the range of budgets different diners have. This doesn't (necessarily) mean a large menu with lots of options because that too often ends up stretching a kitchen's skills too thinly and running the risk of some ingredients hanging around in storage for longer than they should. Instead, let people have the option of piling on starters, mains, a huge sharing steak for two, desserts and a cheeseboard, with fizz to start and port to end, if they like, on some occasions. But also allow for a less extravagant meal another night, with a selection of more modest ingredients served for an attractive amount of money at quieter times.

Wreckfish, as you might expect from a group that know exactly how to run a local restaurant, covers every one of these eventualities with taste and style. There's the A La Carte menu, offered all day long, with 8 starters and 8 mains that run the full gamut of dietary demands from game and charcuterie through to seafood and even vegan. There's a brunch/breakfast menu, which I am yet to try but judging by the tables taken on Saturday morning is clearly doing something right. There's a Sunday lunch menu which offers the usual roasts alongside a few refugees from the ALC, and there's what we dropped in for at 6:30pm on a Monday, the early evening set menu.

Does this look like a dish from a £22 3-course menu to you? A neat square of mackerel fillet, blowtorched to a crisp skin and served with neat blobs of yoghurt, cubes of poached apple, a disc of kohlrabi sprinkled with an incredibly addictive seed and spice mix, and all those geometric shapes framed by two jagged pieces of cracker. A masterclass in presentation, which of course would mean nothing if it didn't taste that good but the veg and dairy made a brilliant combination, the mix of textures were spot on, and the mackerel was nice and fatty even if it probably didn't quite need the amount of salt they'd piled on top of it.

Ox tongue, served in neat rows and drizzled with olive oil like beefy anchovies, had a fantastic flavour and none of that grainy toughness you sometimes get with this kind of offal. Celeriac remoulade was nice and herby and fresh, and spears of gherkin provided a touch of sweetness and acidity. None of these ingredients are expensive, you'll notice - just presented and treated as if they are. And that's the kind of attitude I like.

Carrot and caraway soup arrived piping hot, as indeed it should, except thanks to a combination of the thick ceramic bowl it was in, and the dense texture of the broth itself, managed to stay too hot to eat for about 20 minutes. When it did finally settle down we were able to appreciate the fragrant effect the caraway had on the carrot, which was even better soaked into some of the supplied foccacia. All the Elite Bistros do very nice focaccia.

Sea bream, as carefully cooked as the mackerel, with a nice crisp skin, rested on a bed of butternut squash risotto - something I wouldn't choose as an accompaniment myself but the person who ordered it seemed happy enough. Some buttered spinach and a scattering interesting herbs including something called 'sea rosemary' completed the picture, a straightforwardly enjoyable, attractive fish dish.

Even further out of my comfort zone than butternut squash risotto is this vegan favourite, roast cauliflower, but I tried a little bit of it and you know what, it was rather good. If you were a vegan and were used to being served nothing better than a falafel burger on any given night out I imagine you'd enjoy it even more.

Maple glazed "bacon" was in fact a thick square of cured pork belly, nicely treated and attractively presented but just a tad the wrong side of overwhelming. I like pork belly, and bacon, very much, but there's really only so much it's comfortable to eat in one go, and though I appreciated the quality of the pork, and the gribiche, and the broccoli, it was touch and go whether I could finish it at one point. I did, though. I'm good like that.

We had no such issues finishing off the desserts, because they were all brilliant. Salted creme caramel crème brûlée (my bad, thanks commenter Pete) was flattering in its simplicity, just a bowl of vanilla-spiked custard, not too salty, topped with a delicate crust of set sugar.

Poached pear was a very attractive thing, glowing an incredible luminescent yellow and paired (sorry) with a blob of smooth vanilla ice cream and some tangy smushed-up (I believe is the technical term) Sauternes jelly.

And finally, semifreddo, which on account of my aversion to caffeine I didn't try much of other than (obviously) nicking a bite of the honeycomb which I think I might be addicted to.

The total bill came to £88, which is just over £29 a person for three courses and a bottle of wine, pretty astonishing value for an evening meal even if the food had been half as good. And Wreckfish don't even automatically add on a tip - we left one, of course, as service had been absolutely spot-on, but then I don't think I've ever had cause to complain about front of house at any of Sticky Walnut, Burnt Truffle, Hispi or Kala. Maybe Pinion - the only one of the group I'm yet to patronise - is staffed by belligerent ne'er-do-wells, but something tells me it isn't. And something tells me it's going to have to go on the list as well. Meantime, I'm able to chalk up yet another great place to eat in the North West, this handsome building, populated by handsome people serving handsome food, right in the centre of the handsomest city in the country.



Pete said...

One hundred lines, Mr Pople. On my desk tomorrow morning.

I must not confuse crème brûlée with crème caramel...

Chris Pople said...

Pete: FUCK. Will fix.