“A little bit of Spain, in St Helens!”
It was a cold winters night. The Cooktwit and The Flame had bagged a spot in a party of ten at ‘La Casa Vieja’, a spanish restaurant in the heart of St Helen’s arty George’s Quarter. We were guests of St Helens ‘digital print magnate’ Keith Hughes. After a momentous Cooktwit paella cooked on a spade while camping in summer, Keith ‘the signage entrepreneur’ had declared that I need to get to La Casa Vieja to sample theirs. The time had come.
I entered the complex via the imposing castle gates, each decoratively regaled with a smart red and yellow sign (done by Keith!). I swept through into a quaint courtyard of jasmine and pergolas. Once more the red and yellow signage leapt into frame. One can imagine in summer this would be a thriving little spanish village. As it was deep December even the smokers had stayed away.
Once inside the Spanish theme is maintained. Guitars, hams, donkeys, lutes and various maps And paintings litter the walls and ceiling. It’s all rather quaint. A small half of ‘Alhambra’ lager was ordered as I waited for the rest of the gang. As we were the first in, the waitress handied us a couple of menus to peruse. I could be being a little churlish here, but in the subdued light the obligatory shiny, red, yellow, laminated menus were difficult to read and understand. Dishes flashed all over the place. And there was some large sums involved with some of them. Written with a felt tipped pen, a casual glance suggested this would not be a cheap night out. £6.75 for a dessert! This needed to be good. The menu format had an air of ‘English bar in Spain’ for me, but as I say I could be being churlish. Clear black on crisp white always works best for me.
Then the entourage assembled. Head visual guru Keith suggested we scrap the menu, go upstairs and see head chef and owner Manolo and see what’s in. Great call, I headed up and sure enough amongst the flurry of flames, steam and wonderful smells, a burly, rosy cheeked, Mediterranean chap, burst into song. We flung our favourites at him, liver, fish, seafood, steak, anything. He laughed and roared that everything is fresh and he has everything. “how many of you?”, “ten” we shouted. “Leave it to me, I will keep sending down the food”. It all seemed fair enough to me. I rushed down excited.
Sure enough the food started to arrive, olives, prosciutto, bread to start, then came meat balls, liver, beef in red wine, chicken in cream, chicken with chorizo and a glorious fruity salad, all gleefully imbibed by the waiting party. But the best was to come. After a short delay, in came an enormous silver platter drenched in food of the sea. Sadly my photos don’t do it justice. We drew our collective breath and dived in. Huge prawns dominated, closely followed by belly loads of squid, mussels, clams before moving down to flanks of salmon, sea bass, dorado all slicked in garlic, herbs and a light, seafood broth. It was divine. Despite ten of us piling in there was plenty to go round. We all got a bit of everything. Truly superb.
Toward the end Manolo himself came down to see how things were going. The thumbs were all well up. After asking whether the desserts were fresh and homemade and receiving a clip round the ear! He recommended the ‘Torija de vino’ fried marinated bread pudding in red wine, which sounded a bit dubious to me, but he was right. It was the best of the bunch. A caramelised egg flan and a chocolate mousse was up there too.
Having quaffed red wine as well as the food. The bill tipped in at a reasonable £40 per head (with tip). We had a great time. I would definitely try it again, it is always gratifying to see at first hand, top raw materials being cooked fresh on the premises by a passionate chef. Service by most of Manolo’s family is top notch as well. St Helens has a little gem here. It’s very own morsel of Spain.
La Casa Vieja
6-12 Bickerstaffe Street,
Saint Helens WA10 1DH