Thursday 30 January 2020

Ember Yard, Soho

I've often told people that with a restaurant obsession as unhealthy and fanatical as mine, the only other city in the world I could live in is New York. The depth and maturity of its restaurant scene, the variety of its cuisines, their service culture and a love of eating out that's embraced at all levels of society, it all adds up to one of the truly great food cities, somewhere I'm very sure I could find a happy home.

There is a downside to the place, though, and one that's almost a dealbreaker for a food blogger. New Yorkers like their restaurants dark. And while I'm sure that's great for a first date, or cultivating that traditional New York speakeasy vibe, it plays havoc with the illustrations on a review. The lighting scheme at Ember Yard takes me right back to New York City, places like Maison Premiere or the Breslin, where the gloomy candlelit dining rooms are only occasionally pierced by people turning their mobile phone torches on to read the menu. What I mean to say is, sorry about the pictures you're about to see. It was very dark in there.

Fortunately lighting aside, Ember Yard is a blast. The fusion Italian-Spanish thing done so well by their sister restaurant the Opera Tavern shines just as brightly here, with hand-carved Iberico ham offered alongside various premium Italian charcuterie, both Spanish and Italian cheeses, and a largish list of dishes that skip daintily but confidently around the Mediterranean. Padron peppers, blistered attractively, went incredibly well with a glass of La Gitana. Yes that is a photo of a bowl of padron peppers and a glass of sherry. I promise.

Next, boquerones, sharp and sweet like mini pickled herrings, also excellent quality and not overly pickled and mushy like they can sometimes be.

If I was so inclined, I could criticise the ham at Ember Yard for being carved a bit clumsily and thick, but in all honesty it was still soft and perfectly easy to eat, and with that nutty, earthy flavour of the finest Spanish pig. In fact, the thick slices just meant we ended up with more ham, and as any Iberico fan will tell you, More Ham is always a Good Thing. Even if I'd ended my evening at Ember Yard here, I would have come away with a smile on my face - the care that goes into the food is evident from the smallest snack to the largest sharing plate.

I didn't get to try this, the courgette flower stuffed with Monte Enebro (goat's) cheese, but given the rate it disappeared I'm sure it had plenty to recommend it.

I would have been very annoyed if I didn't get to try any of the octopus and chorizo skewer though, so I made sure to leap in there quick and grab my share. The octopus was beautifully tender with a good "crispy bit" quotient, and the chorizo was soft and fatty and spicy as the best examples always are. If you like chargrilled octopus, and you like chorizo, and you'd have to be pretty odd not to, then this is a must-order.

I'd noticed early on that the Ember Yard rib-eye comes with 'chicken jus' and from that moment knew I'd have to end up ordering it. It didn't disappoint - a huge amount of beef, carefully charred in the Josper, dressed in a thick, umami-rich chicken gravy that somehow didn't battle the natural flavour of the beef but enhanced it. I think I'd prefer it if they'd presented it charred-side up rather than laying all the slices down on their sides, but that's a minor niggle. Also, all this lot cost £28 - not a bad price at all for so much cow.

"Cheesecake" was in fact more of a caramelly mousse on a bed of biscuit crumbs, dressed in a sauce made from carrot and blackcurrant. The dulche de leche made a great base for the dairy, and the carrot & blackcurrant sauce wasn't as weird as it sounds, as the carrot flavour was fortunately quite subdued. A very enjoyable dessert, this one.

And finally churros, a straightforward and familiar dish perhaps but one you'd have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy. Fried pastry, chocolate sauce and chantilly cream. Perfect.

I was always going to like Ember Yard. The Salt Yard group are distinct and sophisticated restaurant operators that know good food and know how to cook it, and if you've ever had a bad meal at any of their places you must have been very unlucky indeed. Restaurants like these - tastefully realised, authentic enough, keenly priced - are the backbone of the London dining scene, the kind of friendly and flexible space you can pop in for a plate of ham and a sherry or settle in with a group of friends for a long session; on the evening we visited there were plenty of people doing both.

And it got me thinking, perhaps I couldn't live in New York after all. I don't think NYC really has any answer for these kind of places, or countless other uniquely London restaurants that take a cuisine and reinvent it for a local audience without losing the glow of authenticity. Or I don't know, maybe it does, I've not been for a few years and it all could have changed. All I do know is that New York doesn't have Ember Yard. And I'd certainly miss that.


I was invited to Ember Yard and didn't see a bill.

Monday 27 January 2020

Lardo, Hackney

There are a lot of restaurants a bit like Lardo. Pizza, pasta, short wine list, a smattering of cocktails, coffee and a selection of ice creams and sorbets. The mid-range Italian bistro is recognisable to pretty much anyone who's ever eaten out in the UK, and forms the template from everything from nationwide chains like Pizza Express to current foodie darlings Padella or Bancone. It's one of our most tried-and-tested restaurant formulas, accessible and recognisable, fun for all the family.

But settling on a successful template is only half the battle. For every stonking Italian bistro success story there are, lurking on high streets all up and down the country, plenty more places that will make you wish you'd never trusted them with your dinner money. I have my own issues with Pizza Express - I'm aware that huge numbers of people rely on it as the only place you can take the kids and not end up wanting to kill yourself, but I've never left a branch anything other than disappointed - but don't get me started on dross like Zizzi, Ask, Strada, and Jamie's bloody Italian, where the only thing more depressing than the experience of eating in one is that they're absolutely bloody everywhere you look. Well, apart from Jamie's Italian, which went into administration last year, thank God.

Lardo, then, simultaneously feels very familiar, and yet by virtue of so many of its ilk being so very rubbish, also feels like a giant leap forward. With no table booked on a rainy Sunday afternoon we were shown to bar stools overlooking the frenetic activity in the open kitchen, the kind of seats I'd have asked for even if I had booked. From here, we were able to decide which of the dishes looked like they were worth ordering - which turned out to be pretty much all of them - and just how much care and skill goes into ostensibly quite simple bowls of pasta and salads. House bread was a gorgeous sticky sourdough, possibly from E5 Bakehouse nearby, to be dipped in fiercely grassy olive oil. A great start.

Fried salsify were greaseless and crisp, a gorgeous golden brown and served with a nice homemade mayonnaise. Salsify is an interesting vegetable - sort of a cross between a potato and a parsnip - and giving it a crunchy batter and deepfrying it makes perfect sense when you think about it. These didn't last long.

Smoked cod's roe was a beautiful thing indeed - smooth and salty and fresh, and incredibly satisfying to smoosh down onto the toast to eat. The cod's roe bar really has been raised in London in recent years, with everywhere from Quality Chop House to the Drapers Arms offering an impressive take. In fact it was about the only thing at Norma that I'd order again.

The endive in this pear & blue cheese salad had clearly been very close to direct heat at some point in its history - the taste and aroma of woodsmoke was heady and evocative. The pears had been gently pickled, and the cheese provided a nice sharp counterpoint, and in fact there was very little to fault at all. Even the £7 price point seemed more than reasonable considering.

Lardo should be very proud indeed of their pasta work. Maltagliati (literally "badly cut") were bold, thick shapes, firm and with a good bite but not chewy or hard. They came soaked in a rosemary and lemon butter, which was obviously brilliant, and studded with crushed chickpeas which added a nice earthiness to it all. I'm increasingly of the opinion that the best pasta dishes are vegetarian; give me a buttery spinach & ricotta ravioli, or an umami-rich cacio e pepe over any number of winey ragus and crab and chilli linguines any day of the week.

Having said that, in order to boost our meat eating credentials, as a second main we'd ordered the lamb shoulder with polenta. For £19 you get a vast chunk of meat, with a fantastic mix of dark crispy bits and gooey fat, on a bed of polenta soaked in lamb juices. I was really very good, vibrantly flavoured and lovingly cooked, the kind of marriage of technique and top ingredients that only few restaurants are capable of producing. We were completely stuffed by this point but because we were enjoying ourselves so much seriously considered a dessert. In the end though, because we'd spent a bit more than planned and because the Tranmere - Man U game was about to kick off and we wanted to save a spot indoors at the pub, paid the bill and headed off into the rain.

Only two minor negatives brought the score down a bit. Firstly, although I was happy with the position of the bar stools they were immobile - "no bar fights in here!" as my friend pointed out - and the foot rests positioned quite low down, so sitting on them eventually became rather uncomfortable. This is presumably not too much of an issue for the length of time it takes to have a cocktail and a bowl of pasta, but you wouldn't want to linger. Secondly, £44/head for two snacks, a salad and two mains is by no means unreasonable, but is perhaps at the top end of acceptable considering this is Hackney not Covent Garden. By way of a comparison, a similar meal at Bancone cost £33/head, and that is right in the middle of the West End where presumably rents are higher.

But these are, after all, merely niggles. Lardo is a very accomplished little operation, one of the few joints in town doing this kind of thing genuinely well, and has quite rightly found many fans amongst Hackneyites. It's the kind of local pizza/pasta place that everywhere wishes it has, suitably family-friendly as befitting the area but mature and classy as it needs to be for an evening audience, the kind of flexibility and charm that ensures continued success. So, well done them. Now can someone please do the same for Battersea?


Friday 24 January 2020

Sussex, Soho

The sadly-departed Arbutus on Frith Street introduced many Londoners to the joys of mid-range fine-dining, and holds a special place in so many memories. Classy without being stuffy, precise and refined without being ludicrously expensive, it sat in that sweet spot of accessible and good value, the first-choice of many people who wanted a special evening out but didn't want to go full-blown tasting menu. Any restaurant closure is regrettable to some extent (meh, possibly not Jamie's Italian) but Arbutus left a mid-range bistro hole in Soho, a place not overly blessed with decent mid-range bistros.

Taking over this prime spot on the top of Frith Street (if you ignore the short-lived Flavour Bastard, and I very much suggest you do) is Sussex, and it's a pleasure to report they've very much taken the warmth and vibe - and price-points - of Arbutus and blessed Soho once again with the kind of place you can pop in for a bar snack and martini, or sit down to four courses and a bottle of English sparkling. Sussex doesn't reinvent the wheel (although admittedly some of its creations are rather left-field) but it is, by design, a friendly neighbourhood spot that will keep huge swathes of Soho society happy, and judging by the crowds on a cold Wednesday night it's already hit the ground running.

The bar menu at Sussex is the first thing to catch the eye. Marmite éclairs, oysters with bloody mary gel, torched langoustine tails with lardo - this was an ambitious list of snacks, and pretty keenly priced. But we weren't about to start eating perched at the bar when we had a nice comfy table waiting, so after checking if all the bar menu items were available on the main ALC (they were), we drained our daiquiris and headed next door to the main dining room.

These are the Marmite éclairs. Not the prettiest of things to look at perhaps, but the pastry was soft without being soggy, the mixture inside a lovely smooth mushroom parfait with only a touch (thankfully) of the advertised Marmite, and the little pickle on top was a good balance to the richness inside. These are a bit of a signature nibble of this restaurant group and have certainly improved since I tried them at Rabbit in Chelsea (also run by the same people) a few years back.

Langoustine tails, though not overcooked and still nice and plump and moist, had just a vague whiff of something slightly less than fresh - whether they'd been frozen, or whether it's just a side effect of the 'torching', I can't tell you. Even so, they were nice enough, and paired well with the chunks of lardon, and all said and done £12 isn't too bad for 3 langoustine tails in a nice restaurant in Soho.

Bar snacks out of the way, it was on with the starters proper. Monkfish cheeks were fantastic, with a golden crust like seared scallops and dressed in a light lemon velouté. They gave a surprising amount of resistance on the bite, which I'm going to assume was deliberate because I thought it just made them that much more interesting to eat - meaty and dense.

Beef tartare was fantastic, and for whatever reason there's not often you can say that in this town. I've had pretty dreadful versions at otherwise very well-regarded places, and paid through the nose for them too - this had a lovely loose hand-chopped texture, the cheddar crisp on top was actually a welcome contrast in texture and umami taste, and even the little blobs of beetroot jam, which could easily have been an affectation too far, played a welcome part. Right up there with the best tartare in town (see also: Zedel Brasserie, and, if you're feeling flush, Bob Bob Ricard).

As a little extra off-menu treat between courses, we were served a squirrel raviolo soaked in veal jus. Now I don't know how much the kitchens at Sussex knew about my personal obsessions before I sat down that evening, but whether through design or sheer chance they landed on every single one of my favourite things - game, pasta, veal jus - in one dish and by jolly it was glorious. The squirrels, apparently, are trapped on a farm somewhere down south, and are not only free range and organic (probably) but vermin, so you're doing the world a favour by eating them. Well, that's my excuse, anyway.

Mains, if I'm going to be completely honest, weren't quite up to the levels of what had arrived before. My venison was nicely cooked but the sauce was a bit thin, and I'm afraid the faggot - essentially the main reason I ordered it in the first place - was unforgivably dry and difficult to eat.

Cod was better - Sussex really know how to get a nice brown crust on their seafood, which is good - and the crab ravioli another winning way with pasta, but the whole thing was incredibly salty, spoiling it a bit. For someone who inhabits restaurants as often as I do to have an issue with salt levels, well, something must have really gone wrong somewhere. That said, pretty thing isn't it? So a slightly more careful hand with the seasoning and they'll have themselves a top fish dish.

I don't know why shoestring fries are such a rarity in this country - in the US it feels like they're becoming the default side for diner food - but I always order them when I see them and these were great, dressed in a clever vinegar powder like a posh bowl of Walker's crisps. I like how Sussex have really thought about how to make every element of the menu more interesting and attractive - I've mentioned how well the bar snack menu reads but the full a la carte is full of little twists and surprises as well. It's a place that almost certainly would reward repeat visits.

Completely stuffed by this point we just about managed to squeeze in a cheeseboard before admitting defeat. Tor goat's and a washed rind who's name escapes me were both immaculately kept and a perfect temperature, and came served both with lovely house made fennelseed crackers and also some sugared walnuts which were so insanely addictive I don't know how we managed to leave the place without raiding the kitchen for another fix. Sussex didn't need to serve house crackers or sugared walnuts with their cheeseboard, and indeed if what had come before had been less successful I could easily moan about them loading the 'board with unnecessary extras, but here it just felt right. Hey, I don't make the rules. No wait, I do make the rules, and so I'm allowed to be fickle if I want.

So although not perfect, and with various mistakes here and there enough to dock it a few points, Sussex is a restaurant with its heart in the right place and showing enough personality and ambition to set it apart from so many Bistros in town where mid-range is too often synonymous for middle-of-the-road. Time will tell whether it's a worthy successor to the legendary Arbutus, but in the first few months at least they've found a few fans. And quite right too - there's a lot to like here. An awful lot indeed.


I was invited to review Sussex and didn't see a bill

Wednesday 22 January 2020

La Chingada, Surrey Quays

In some ways I wish my last post wasn't about a brand new taco place serving brilliant Mexican food, bringing to UK shores the kind of authenticity and value that we've hitherto rarely seen, because what you're about to read revisits pretty similar ground. But the thing is, there's no good reason that an excellent restaurant shouldn't be written about just because this particular blogger has happened to stumble across the same cuisine in a different city a couple of weeks previously, and anyway, if a new taco joint as good as La Chingada opened every week from now until 2025 it would still be worth writing about because food like this - rewarding, generous, faithfully executed - deserves to be discovered by as very many people as possible.

La Chingada has, of course, already very much been discovered. The intrepid food adventurers at London recently featured it on a number of different pages - Where to Eat in London Ths Weekend amongst them - and on a subsequent Sunday afternoon it's probably fair to say staff were struggling to come to terms with their newfound fame. Battling a temporarily broken down grill and a card machine with an extreme reluctance to perform its required duties, the wait to order was, not too far into the afternoon, about 15-20 minutes, and the wait after that to pick up the food probably about the same again. But the crowd waited patiently and in good humour, and before long tantalising plates of fresh tacos were being passed overhead to those lucky enough to have found themselves a seat.

First up, guacamole. In contrast to the stripped-back Madre version (I'm going to end up comparing most of this to Madre I'm afraid, but that's a pretty good benchmark to be judged against), La Chingada's guac has chunks of onions and tomatoes in, and is "wetter", probably through use of more lime juice. Both styles have much to recommend them, and in fact given the choice on taste alone I'm not sure I can choose a favourite - both places serve it with the correct type of lightly salted corn tortillas - but it has to be said that Madre serve a whole lot more guac for £4 than La Chingada do for £4.50, and I'm not sure all of this can be excused by steeper London rents.

Continuing with the sides, chicharrones (pork crackling) were basically unimprovable - fluffy, crisp, light, and perfectly seasoned. They came with a deceptively innocent looking salsa verde, which you start by scooping up in enthusiastic amounts before realising a few mouthfuls in that your face is on fire. The vast number of different ways that taco joints make their salsas is one of the great and everlasting joys of this kind of cuisine - no two places make the same, sometimes the hottest is red, sometimes it's green, sometimes they use smoked arbol chillies, sometimes habanero, and the first thing you should do in any decent taco place is try them all, one by one, to figure out your favourite. At La Chingada I'm in love with their dark red habanero, a masterpiece of salsa work.

So to the tacos. First up, al pastor, a dish borne of Lebanese influences that swaps lamb for pork and turns the vertical spit-roasting method into a very impressive taco filling dispenser. The flavour of the pork was fantastic, the toppings super fresh, the casings soft and earthy, and the whole thing was about as good as you could expect anywhere in London except - again - that pesky spot in Liverpool had found an ever-so-slightly more attractive texture for their al pastor, being soft and blessed with irresistable ribbons of fat where the La Chingada were drier and crunchier, albeit not unpleasantly so. And I'm still only finding fault because I can - they were demolished with glee, like everything else served that afternoon.

More impressive were the suadero, confit beef with an incredible flavour and texture, which should be right at the very top of your must-order list at La Chingada. It's hard to explain why an ostensibly simple arrangement of slow-cooked beef, salad and maize tortilla should be so heartwarmingly wonderful but that's the thing about good tacos - the combination of tender meat, vibrant salad and the all-important lick of chilli goes like a missile for all the taste pleasure points without it being clear exactly why, or how. Best just sit back and enjoy it, is my advice.

And it's really not hard to enjoy La Chingada. Last on the taco list were these carnitas, pork, this time not roasted on a spit but slow-cooked (usually) shoulder which could boast a more interesting texture, if not quite the levels of flavour of the al pastor. Even so, this was a supremely enjoyable taco, and clear porky juices spilled everywhere as we demolished them without dignity or shame.

La Chingada had one final trick up its sleeve - red enchiladas, a special - served with tomatoey potatoes and a pork chop. That's right, La Chingada serve their enchiladas with a massive grilled chop, which is about the best accompaniment I can think of for enchiladas. In all honesty, chop aside this was a rather uneven dish - the potatoes were particularly odd, all wobbly and soft - but hey, where else can you get a massive pork chop and enchiladas on the same plate? Nowhere, that's where. Including, I imagine, in Mexico...

I'm afraid in the general chaos and taco-chucking I forgot to take a photo of the bill, but I've posted my iPhone shot of the menu above so you can pretty much work it out. Essentially, it's good value, reason enough to make a visit even if it wasn't the only decent taco joint for miles around, which it most certainly is. It's clear that people who really know tacos, and really know how to make them, are occupying this bijou spot, and the love they pour into the product is evident in every bite, as well as in the fact that the guy behind the counter was making sure that for every takeaway order taken the recipients didn't live too far away from the shop, lest the tacos got cold and spoiled the experience. That right there is some serious quality control.

So congratulations Surrey Quays, you've beaten most of the rest of the country in the Great Taco Races, and you should be inordinately pleased that La Chingada is on your doorstep. To everyone else, well it's hardly a massive trek for Londoners and I can't imagine anyone would be disappointed with the menu here even after the journey and Eater-inflicted queue inflation combined. If anything, given the quality of the product I can only see the queues getting bigger, so why not jump on the overground now and see what all the fuss is about before it gets seriously oversubscribed. Hand on heart, for sheer ingredient bravery and those cracking margaritas, my top taco peddler is still Madre. But for those times I'm not up north and I have a craving for al pastor, I'll be heading to Surrey Quays.


Friday 10 January 2020

Madre, Liverpool

For much of its existence as a tourist attraction, the Albert Dock in Liverpool, stately and beautiful and a fantastic place to wander around though it undoubtedly always was, was where restaurants went to die. With a massive tourist footfall ensuring that nobody really had to worry about repeat trade, and sky-high rents preventing all but most ruthless and cynical operators from setting up shop, it was home to a collection of the worst restaurants in the city, each one of them unambitious, overpriced and crap. I remember a (nominally) French creperie that reheated pre-made crepes to order, a steakhouse-turned-late night club that would serve its £35 Argentinian fillets with tiny pots of plasticky Bearnaise that cost you £2.50 extra, and - the cream of the shit crop - What's Cooking, a bizarre place selling truly diabolically bad burgers, fajitas and burritos (the vegetable version of which is £12.50) and served by a bunch of people giving the impression they'd rather be anywhere else in the world. Even more diabolically, What's Cooking is still there.

Just around the corner from What's Cooking used to be an Indian restaurant called Spice Lounge. Now admittedly, I never went, but I think I'm on fairly steady ground in assuming that it was unambitious, overpriced and crap. It has been replaced by a taqueria called Madre, and you're going to have to give me a moment to compose myself here, because I can't quite believe what I'm about to type. Here goes. Madre is a restaurant in the Albert Dock in Liverpool, and it's good. It's very good. Madre is a restaurant in the Albert Dock in Liverpool, and it's very good.

Of course, given the pedigree of the owners, I probably should have given them the benefit of the doubt but after so many decades of terrible meals it seemed somehow impossible - literally impossible - that somewhere ambitious, intelligent and keenly priced would one day live up to the standards of this building's extraordinary architecture. Madre is a kind of collaboration between one half of Breddos Tacos, Nud Dudhia*[see edit] - still the only person to make a fish taco good enough to match the ones served in TJ - and the very well-regarded Liverpudlian bistro Belzan, and from the second you walk through the door it's clear that, unlike so many of their neighbours, they want to do things properly. For example across three different nights, a margarita, made by three different bar staff, was never anything less than great - cold, crisp, dusted with tajin, elegantly presented. The best cocktail I've ever been served in Liverpool, and though that's not a particularly high bar, well, there it is.

Tortilla chips, lightly salted (not unseasoned, nor - bleugh - artificially-flavoured Doritos), came with a giant mound of fresh guacamole, a refreshingly stripped-back version involving little other than Mexican avocado, lime and coriander but which at £4 was bigger, bolder and far better than most I've been served elsewhere. You can tell almost everything you need to know about a Mexican restaurant from its guacamole. And Madre's guacamole is basically perfect.

From this flying start, incredibly things only got even better. The modestly-titled "Patatas" were crushed into charming irregular shapes then fried to crunchy on the outside, creamy inside. Served with cooling garlic sour cream and seasoned with what I think was a kind of arbol chilli paste, they were absolutely knockout.

This is a burrata and squash tostada, which I didn't try as I have next to no interest in squash at the best of times, but was declared "very nice" so I'll leave it at that. I'm sure it was lovely if you like squash.

I'd ordered roasted bone marrow mainly for the sheer novelty of being able to order bone marrow in a restaurant in the Albert Dock (the Albert Dock!) but it somehow conspired to be one of the highlights of the meal. Expertly cooked and dressed simply with chives, it was buttery, beefy and brilliant on its own, but I had what I consider to be the unique and brilliant idea of scooping the marrow out with a tortilla chip, thus creating the world's most decadent Mexican canapé. If you go to Madre I thoroughly recommend you do the same.

Tacos, though, are the star of the show at Madre and their versions are as exhaustively researched and lovingly created as any I've come across outside of Baja California. The quality of the pork is impressive, with just enough fat to be tender and not enough to feel too rich, deeply spiced and with a lovely lick of woodsmoke from the grill. They are topped with a little baton of pineapple, in true Al Pastor style, and a mound of fresh coriander and white onion to provide crunch and colour. But most importantly of all the tortillas were absolutely spot-on, soft yet firm, holding their shape to the last bite, and leaving your fingers for hours afterwards with that glorious soily aroma of masa flour. If you closed your eyes you could almost be in a little cantina in the arches of Mercado Hidalgo, while somewhere amidst the noise of the market a Mariachi band is on their third rendition of "Guantanamera".

Oh, Madre do fish tacos too, and yes, they're also fantastic. Generous chunks of fresh fish (cod) with a greaseless batter and gently chillified Jalapeno mayo, they too would have not been out of place served under a Mexican sun, with all the flavour and texture of the very best examples.

By this point my own astonishment at eating as well as this in the Albert Dock (the Albert Dock!) had turned into a kind of gentle hysteria - I was determined to eat as much as I could in case the whole thing turned out to be some elaborate prank or Christmas tequila-spiked fever dream. So these are chicken pibil, glorious slow-cooked chicken with orange and chilli, and like the other tacos were deeply authentic, generously portioned and sparkling with personality and flavour.

And finally, because a restaurant this good needs to have no corner of the menu unturned, we ordered a portion of "Churro French Toast", an idea every bit as filthy and wonderful as it sounds, a kind of butter-soaked waffle topped with salted caramel soft-serve ice cream. It was just on the edge of being too salty, too fatty, to much - but even after the amount of tacos we'd knocked back the bowl still got licked clean.

So. What to make of it all? Our dinner at Madre was so good, so unbelievably good, that the moment it was over I started to panic. What if it can't find an audience? What if, after so many decades of "restaurant in the Albert Dock" being a kind of local shorthand for crap, they can't convince enough Scousers to give it a try, and can't convince enough tourists it isn't just another Tex-Mex laminated menu ripoff joint? What if they lose their nerve and take the roast bone marrow and Half Pig's Head Chicharron (£35, to share) off the menu and end up being just another well-meaning but otherwise unambitious Mexican restaurant? What then?

So I'm doing two things. Firstly I'm writing this, to try (in my increasingly un-influential way) and get the word out to the country as a whole and Liverpool in particular that you have a genuine, honest-to-goodness world class gem on your doorstep, and to forget every dismal and overpriced dinner you've ever had in this part of the greatest city on earth and head immediately to Madre. You won't regret it. And secondly, I'm going to make sure that every one of my future trips up to Liverpool involve at least a bowl of guac and chips in this charming, brick-walled and stone-flagged space, doing my own selfless bit to support the business. Whatever happens though, Madre exists right now, in Liverpool, in the Albert Dock (the Albert Dock!) and that in itself is cause for heavy and continued celebration. Mine's a margarita.


Sorry about the terrible photos, my camera had run out of batteries so I had to use my iPhone.

EDIT: Madre is in fact a collaboration with BOTH halves of Breddos Tacos, with Chris Whitney also involved. Not sure why I thought otherwise - apologies and many thanks to Chris as well for this incredible place.