Yet another northern torrential downpour threatened to dampen the hungry spirit as The Cooktwit and The Flame headed East on one of Northern Rails, 1980’s, heritage trolley carts, such is the downtrodden quality of 21st century transport when heading to the Liverbased metrop of Liverpool. We were heading to highly recommended gastrogaff ‘Salthouse Tapas’. The place is sited close to the mega retail emporium ‘Liverpool One’, a sort of posh, newer version of Manchester’s Arndale. In truth The Flame is not a great fan of the small plate, informal dining experience known as ‘tapas’. So given that this was my choice, it was with some slight trepidation that we ventured along the rain soaked streets. To be fair a late burst of evening sun had lightened the mood. We even skipped the last few yards!
From the outside things are promising. A lofty, Victorian structure, complete with curved frontage and contemporary, bold font signage. A roped off alfresco area sits out front. The afternoon’s inclemency meant that only a few random smokers were braving it when we arrived. We stepped up into the fray to be confronted by a riotous din. The bar hits first, a table of eight drinkers were seemingly well into the final throws of stupor as they shrieked their conversations. It wasn’t the best start. To be fair within seconds a lean, bearded chap had ushered us to our table for two. The noise seemed to continue and reverberate throughout the set. We quickly realised this is how it is. Thankfully having asked the flame for her hand in marriage thirty years ago, I knew I wouldn’t be required to go down on one knee and whisper sweet nothing’s tonight. I spared a thought for any hapless young buck who did have it in mind though. I doubt his future betrothed would have heard a word he was saying! Still mustn’t quibble, Anna (our initial waitress) had us settled and a Mango Margerita and a Campari were soon winging across. Flipping lovely they were too.
As is the norm nowadays a quick survey of the decor confirmed that we were indeed in a trendy place. The obligatory old school chairs were strewn around the place. The place settings doubling up as your menu (a la Beef and Pudding, Solita, to name but a few). I must say I quite like this idea. Keeps everything simple and as a bonus I could read it without me specs. We were downstairs in the main room which was filling up nicely. A mezzanine above seemed full as well. The atmosphere was building.
We ordered a bottle of Malbec (£16.95) and a shared platter of charcuterie to start (Monroyo Serrano ham, loin, chorizo, salchichon, bead and olive oil £9.95). We had developed a bit of a habit of ordering this in Sicily recently and this brought it back. If I’m honest this was better. Delivered on a table tennis bat it looked and tasted wonderful.
The reason(s) the flame has reservations on tapas is several fold 1) she doesn’t want me dipping in, sharing her food across the table (as if – Ed) and 2) she doesn’t like having food on her own as tapas doesn’t always arrive together as in a normal three course dinner. We ordered two dishes each after the ham platter. Bang on cue, within a few minutes the two dishes ordered by the flame turned up. In fairness though they were both very good. First up The roast hake fillet with Serrano ham, fennel and sherry jus (£6.50). The picture doesn’t do it justice, a soap bar sized slab of pure white beautifully cooked fish bathed in a sweet sauce with fennel julienne layered on top. I managed a morsel and it was delightful. The flame loved it and declared dish of the day. The second dish was the hot smoked salmon with a Bloody Mary salad (£5.50). Not my cup of tea to be honest but bang on for the flame. Despite not being ‘hot’ as such she declared it a winner.
Then came my first choice ‘Roasted lamb rump with broad beans, olives and red peppers’ (£7.50). This was superb. The lamb perhaps a shade more well done than I would have preferred, but nonetheless the combination of colours, the sweet, slightly crisp lamb (on the outside) and the olive oil dressing made for a stunning dish. It wouldn’t have looked out of place at Mr Coopers. My second dish was the ‘Galician Octopus with sautéed new potatoes, lemon and paprika’ (£5.50). Lots of smokey, paprika flavours. I would have liked a few tentacles on there to give it a bit more drama and look a bit more like octopus, but a lovely dish. I did notice quite a lot of ‘Malaga Fried Fish with lemon and aioli’ coming out. Looked like you got a decent portion and looked great on its plank.
After a few minutes rest and deliberation we decided to plumb for another quick savoury dish. We noticed the special of ‘chicken and chorizo sliders’ (£5.50) were flying out as well. As there was two per portion we had one each. Miniature brioche bun with mini chicken schnitzel, chorizo sausage and cheese skewered together in a neat little package. Hot, well cooked and very tasty. A lovely final tapas. As ever I ventured into the desert section and wolfed down a ‘Roasted Rhubarb Pavlova with Chantilly cream and passion fruit syrup’ (£4.95). Oh boy, I like my ‘meringuey’ deserts and so this hit the spot no problem, sweet, sticky and tangy. A lovely end. A decent brew mopped up and left us to pay the £75 all in.
I love El Rincon in Manchester. You can’t beat the Spanish atmosphere, but I’d have to say the presentation and quality of food at the Salthouse was better, and for similar money. There’s still plenty on the menu to try so I reckon we’ll be back.
We went for a romantic evening stroll down the Liverpool front afterwards. What better way to help get the digestive juices flowing? We had a great night. We will defiantly be giving Liverpool another go. I wonder where to next? Salt House Charcuterie and Tapas 1 Hanover Street Liverpool 0151 706 0092 http://www.salthousetapas.co.uk