Birthday at Salt House Tapas

So the week I turned twenty seven will always be memorable and not for all of the best reasons. The week, and I don’t mean this in a selfish ‘it stole my birthday’ but for everyone all over the country, was marred somewhat my the vindictive and despicable actions of some thoughtless and destructive people. Saying that, it has brought out the best of the people in this country.

In Liverpool, the brunt of many of the most callous jokes about the rioting, those people whose cars were set on fire and who were cowering in their own homes during the hours of darkness were out on the streets early the next morning cleaning up the mess that these thugs had left behind. They even named themselves the ‘Riot Wombles’ which brought smiles to many. Even during the height of the violence in the very early hours of Tuesday morning, the local radio station was playing ‘I will survive’ by Gloria Gaynor. Now that’s why I love Liverpool.

So with all things horrible, great things became apparent too and nowhere is there more apparent a community than on the streets of L8 where I live. Or Toxteth to the media. It has been 30 years since the famous Toxteth riots brought on by very different factors and for a worrying moment on Monday, it seemed as if no time had passed. But it’s simply not true, many of those who have been charged with coming and destroying our part of the city were from well out of our part of town and what’s more, the people of Toxteth have been out on the streets at night in hi-vis jackets advising people to go home and not get into trouble and comforting the locals in their homes. That’s true community spirit.

So with all of this, we’ve been unsure about leaving the house especially when earlier in the week much of Liverpool was closing earlier in a ‘better safe than sorry’ step. But on Thursday, we decided that we had to do something to celebrate and so the Boy came over and took me out for lunch. We decided on Salt House Tapas on the corner of Hanover Street opposite John Lewis which we went to last year for my birthday and were so impressed and have been attempting to go back to ever since.

Salt House Tapas is a wonderful tapas bar in the old Bishop’s residence as you walk down to the waterfront. The people who own have it emphasise that they wanted to create somewhere you could have a drink and some good contemporary tapas and while the onus is on local products, they make no apologies for sourcing brilliant things from elsewhere. Tapas is the current food du jour in the Northwest, we can’t get enough of it but I’m rather bored of small dishes of strongly flavoured meat with strongly flavoured tomato or cream sauces and Salt House Tapas is very different!

We decided to split our meal into 3 dishes, then 3 dishes and finishing with another 4 dishes. This may sound overly ambitious but we were hungry and the portions are typical tapas size. We spent ages poring over the menu and making shortlists, removing things, adding them again, planning what to leave this time and have next time… I won’t lie to you, it was hard.

The service in Salt House Tapas is exemplary. Not just brilliant in terms of well executed and friendly but the waitresses are chatty without being intrusive and conversational without the enforced jollity that often comes with the kind of customer service which is measured with surveys and ‘mystery shoppers’. We ordered two cokes and were left to peruse the menu.

I have listed these in the order they arrived as it’s easier to keep track!!

Chilled gazpacho shot:

We decided to begin with a gazpacho shot. I adore gazpacho. Some people are bemused by cold soups but I love them. I think the flavours are intensified by chilling them and that they’re so refreshing. The soup was thick and heavily flavoured. The quality of the breadcrumbs used to bind the ripe tomatoes suggests that they use left over sourdough from the bread section of the menu. The Boy had never tried gazpacho before and he was shocked by how flavoursome it was. There was a gutsy strength behind the soup which tasted almost like the tabasco in a Bloody Mary. It was delicious and I wanted to lick the shot glass.

Iberian ham croquettes:

We had both been hankering after these since our last visit. I remember that we gobsmacked at the texture then and were gobsmacked at them all over again on Thursday. We both decided they were even better than we remembered! The potato and Iberian ham are blended into the softest, creamiest mixture. It’s so buttery and delicate and the breadcrumbs on the outside are those sharp panko style that you get in Japanese cooking. Oh they’re so delicious, I can’t even describe them to you. But a sign of how good they are is that a portion is 4 but you can order extra at an extra cost. I think I’d order double if I were allowed. The waitress bought us some aioli to dip them in and it was that wonderful aioli that almost burns with the chopped garlic.

Seared scallops with sweetcorn puree, chorizo oil and crisp Serrano:

If I were the sort of experimental chef who has stars above my restaurant and a ‘test kitchen’ next door, I would have possibly made the connection that the next step from scallops with peas, which are everywhere, would be scallops with sweetcorn. They do after all come together in a Bird’s eye Medley. Not the scallops, the peas and the sweetcorn. It was a much more subtle flavour than the pea imparts and the jaggedy shards of ham created a wonderful contrast in texture. The scallops were cooked perfectly. Soft and sweet, they tasted like they had been plucked straight from the sea. It was a brilliant dish and beautifully done.

A short pause was taken and round 2 began…

Fried potatoes with brava sauce, Crispy fried calamari, lemon and aioli and Sautéed baby chorizo with orange blossom honey:

The chorizo look like olives in the picture but they were delicious, small but punchy. They were sauteed in orange blossom honey which just made everything about them even better and they had quite a firm texture. I could have eaten bowls and bowls of them. The calamari were extremely tender but the batter crispy. I managed to make them a little soggy by squeezing lemon juice all over them but that didn’t really detract and there was more of that fiery aioli to temper them. The potatoes in bravas sauce was delicious, thick and full bodied sauce similar to the gazpacho, and dare I say it, it could have been a bit spicier, but the potatoes were jaggedy and crispy and so very hot!

Another short break and into the finale!!

Slow roasted shoulder of lamb with crushed peas and broad beans:

This slow cooked lamb was as soft as butter and had a lovely crispy topping. The flavour was strong of rosemary and garlic but never overpowering and the crushed broad beans beneath lent a subtler edge to it all. It was absolutely delicious and incredibly well cooked. We wondered how they do that much slow cooking to serve people throughout the day, perhaps they have it poaching somewhere!

Chargrilled pork and leon chorizo sliders:

Sliders are the biggest thing since sliced bread, apparently. This seems odd as they are small burgers, even someone who has never been in the same room as them can tell that they’re mini burgers but the americans are nuts for them and you are a nobody until you have sampled a slider. I am now a somebody, I have had a slider. They were all the rage on Masterchef last year and I think that if you’re inventive, you can do some amazing things with them. These were delicious. The bread was almost sweet and glazed on the top. A thick layer of sweet, softened onions sat atop the pork and chorizo patty which was thick with flavour and strong with thyme. They were very nice but suffered from sliding bun syndrome by which you spend a lot of time trying to keep the two sides together and the inside between them, small price to pay though.

From the specials board: Chargrilled courgettes with goat’s curd, honey and almonds:

This was on the specials board and we chose it because we thought it would be nice to try another vegetable amongst our very carnivorous third round and because I love goat’s curd and I love courgettes and the Boy who is less keen is willing to go along with many of my whims. (Is the plural whims or still whim? Hmmm…) They were absolutely delicious. Smoky in that way that grilled or roasted courgettes can be and very fresh flavoured. The goat’s curd was extremely light and fresh and worked perfectly with the honey and almonds which jazzed it up a little and provided a brilliant crunch.

Slow roasted pork belly with peaches, sherry and almonds:

Now, the obvious difference with this dish is that we don’t have a photo. We don’t have a photo because we had waited an entire year to recreate the brilliance of the slow roasted pork belly with quince and here was the new spanglier version and we actually inhaled it before we even remembered that we might want to take a picture. I can sort of explain how it looked, a tranche of the most succulent, most tender, most sweet and sticky pork belly sitting on a bed of peach segments cooked in sherry and sprinkled with almonds. Sitting on top of the pork belly was the most tooth-shatteringly crunchy crackling which we both fell on like a starved pack of wolves. It was amazing, I can’t really put into words how brilliantly cooked the pork was but imagine the softness that you could cut with just the side of a fork and that sweet, sticky meat that comes with cooking at a low temperature for a long time. Oh it was heaven and you’ll just have to believe me as there’s no photo to see!

So that rounds up our brilliant meal. And at about £30 a head including drinks, it was actually very reasonable. The scallops top the prices at £8.95 but for the most part, most dishes are priced between £4 and £6 and there are some really reasonably priced cocktails which next time I’m drinking I shall definitely take part in. We’ve made a list for next time which includes the fillet steak with haricot blanc and baby back ribs with a sweet and sour glaze and I’m counting the days.

So that wrapped up my birthday. I had some lovely presents and feel very lucky. The bad spirits in Liverpool are hopefully coming to an end but it’s hard to completely believe that it won’t come back every night as it gets darker. People are very much carrying on with life and there’s such a police presence on the streets but with nightfall comes a lot of nerves and it’ll take a while for us all to go completely back to normal.

http://www.salthousetapas.co.uk/

0151 706 0092

Salt House, Hanover Street, L1 3DW

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