A bazillion years ago, when I was fresh faced and often inebriated, I lived in a road called Heathfield Road in Liverpool in a giant house of students, most refusing to wash up, clean the bathroom or hoover the carpets. It was, despite those things, an absolute idyll where we laughed and laughed and achieved very little for two long years of university. The Neon Jamon tapas restaurant is located just around the corner from that old house, and in our days was a restaurant called Ark where we used to go during revision to drink vast quantities of wine and fall asleep at our desks in the afternoon. It’s a great corner to have a restaurant and a fascinating corner to watch Allerton pass by. I very rarely go up to Allerton any more but whenever I do it’s with great fondness that I look around to see what’s changed and what’s still there. Neon Jamon, if you’re unfamiliar with that part of town, is on Smithdown Place, the corner opposite the top of Penny Lane and that looks over on to the old, peeling Sgt Pepper’s Bistro that I don’t think has ever been open in my years in Liverpool. It sits next to the Penny Lane News cornershop and around the corner from Schmooze and Spire.
Oh tapas…. Oh it’s just the best isn’t it. Whenever anything newly tapas related opens in Liverpool, I rush to try it and this was no exception. We visited in the opening week, it’s just taken me nearly two months to tell you about it. Restaurant reviews are always my favourite things to write but the ones that take the most time. I’ve recently learned that I’ve been uploading photos in the most about-face, totally back-to-front manner for 3 years so it’s actually not as painful as it once was but it does take a really long time to load them all, to remember what I ate and to tell you about it and the longer I leave it, the harder it becomes.
I did take a few notes that night, not something I often bother with but I’d been waiting for my friend Hannah for an hour by this point (the taxi’s fault and not hers) and so I felt I needed to do something to detract attention from the impression I’d been stood up. I also managed to choke on a padron pepper on my own, still waiting at this point, tears were rolling down my face and I didn’t even have any drink left so I thought I might die in the big front window of Neon Jamon in Allerton. I have included here for you, what I wrote. “No rose, sweet cava instead. Very nice. Castellbach – varying degrees of sec. Much discussion about my handbag. Ordered padron peppers, choked. Buzzy spot.” I think, at this point, Hannah must have arrived and saved us from further haikus. I have absolutely no idea who or what I was discussing my handbag with but it was enough for me to make a note of it.
I do remember ordering cava, and that in the absence of the rose variety, the waitress (who was possibly the person I discussed my bag with) recommended the sweet one. I don’t particularly like sweet wines but this was actually very nice. I think Castellbach must have been the name of it. Whilst I waited for Hannah, I ordered a plate of the bitter, roasted and salty green peppers that I love to find on tapas menus. This is when I choked on a flake of sea salt and my life flashed before my eyes. In credit to the waitress, as soon as she noticed my flailing arms, look of terror and tear-sodden cheeks, she rushed off to get me a glass of water without a look backwards! I think Hannah may have arrived at this point, which was a comfort..
The menu is large and well presented with clear sections relating to cured meats, cheese, vegetarian options, fish type things, meat type things. I couldn’t see much that I wouldn’t want to order on there and the drinks menu was lovely. Much cava and a nice wine list, brandies, sherries, spanish beers. I think the glass in the picture below was a Spanish cider which Hannah enjoyed. We started with a selection of Spanish hams (£9.95), served with aioli and small crunchy breadsticks. The meats were delicious, full of flavour and the aioli packed a good punch. I can’t even begin to remember what they were but I believe there to have been iberico and other thinly sliced treats. Actually I’ve just found the menu here and so can confirm there was iberico, lomo, chorizo and jamon and a thin catalan sausage called fuet. Next up were Malaga style little squids (£4.95), thinly coated in a crunchy batter, these tiny little squids were fried in garlic and chilli and served with more aioli. These were lovely, tiny, bite size and really more-ish. Similar to the fried squid in Chinese cooking. Everywhere I go, I find I gravitate towards croquetas (£4.55), they are probably one of my favourite foods in the WHOLE world. There’s something about that creamy bechamel and the crunchy breadcrumb, delicious! I think we chose 2 jamon ones and 2 chorizo and these were lovely, comforting and creamy.
Next on the giant long list of things we found time to eat were the ribs. Iberico pork ribs in Membrillo and sherry vinegar (£4.95), these were possibly my least favourite thing but perhaps because they promised to be so good. They weren’t bad at all, just a bit disappointing. Mostly bone and quite dry. The next up was my favourite though, Pintxo Moruno (£4.95) were little skewers of the most tender and juicy pork shoulder in a sweet and spicy pepper sauce. These were absolutely delicious and I wanted to sink into a bucket of them. Next up were the sort of thing you order after quite a number of glasses of cava and when you get a bit adventurous at the thought of something unusual. They are listed on the menu as Hamburguesa (£4.95), two mini veal hamburgers served with a green peppercorn sauce. They are usually served in a brioche style bun but they advised us they’d run out and asked if normal bread would be ok. These were really unusual. A lovely texture but perhaps a few too many peppercorns, they were nicest when we’d pushed quite a few peppercorns out on to the plate. We finished the savoury aspects of the night with a cheese platter (£7.95) including manchego, azul d.o, mahon and curado de oveja. They were all lovely and served with membrillo, grapes and those bit acorns that the Ibercio pigs forage for.
We then decided on a sherry and a brandy each to go with our churros. I’m sure we really didn’t need any other food by this point but it was a lovely way to round off our meal. I actually can’t remember which brandy Hannah tried but it may have been a Mendoza or a Gran Reserva. My sherry might have been the Pedro Ximinev. The churros (£4.25) were lovely, crispy and crunchy with a perfect little pot of chocolate sauce. I think I may have licked out the pot.
It was a lovely meal. The restaurant is decorated beautifully and was absolutely packed to the rafters with people on a cold night in late March. The teal blue of the branding is such a beautiful colour and it’s a lovely spot to sit at the window and watch the world wander past. They also serve breakfast which is very tempting. I imagine it will be a huge success and deservedly so. The service wasn’t amazing but it was the 4th day they had been open and that was to be expected. It was full of people have a very jolly time and the mood was infectious.
12 SMITHDOWN PLACE, LIVERPOOL L15 9EH