I’m still very much a tourist in Liverpool. Though, like London, I’m getting better at finding my way around, and now can make a beeline for Bold Street straight from the station, I’m still finding new places to try, getting new recommendations and new invites.
One of these is The Monro. On an unassuming street next to a construction site or two, and a little way from clubs, pubs and a kebab shop (now there’s perfect placement) sits a little gem of a pub, whose 18th century facade barely hints at what lies inside.
Inside you’ll find a warm welcome, a gentle elegance and a space that firmly allows you to leave the busy city behind.
On this particular evening, the owner, Will had invited a number of people – bloggers, writers and food lovers – to come and sample dishes from their new fine dining menu. Along with Will, and new team member James (recently transplanted from The Lawns), new chef Alex is intending to take The Monro on it’s next step forward, into the fine dining pub that Will always envisaged.
The menu had been kept closely guarded by our hosts. It was only as we were seated in the rear dining room that our curiosity was to be satisfied.
Dainty glasses were served, their chilled contents creating condensation on the glass, and whilst there was a hint if strawberry in the air, the contents of our amuse bouche were distinctly savoury.
Beetroot consommé with golden beetroot and strawberry awoke our taste buds. Light acidity and earthiness played with the fruitiness of the strawberry, taking the sweet fruit away from its classic pairings.
Appetites awoken, they were gently softened with freshly baked bread, and a smoked truffle and chive butter. Heaven.
Our starter was a tender breast of wood pigeon, cooked beautifully, with pickled baby carrots, and a brioche crumb. Whilst the latter added texture, as a main component it seemed in want of a little something, for whereas the sweet acidicity of the carrots cut through the rich, soft pigeon, it didn’t enhance the dish.
Our fish course was a beauty to behold. Razor clams, sorrel ice, samphire and tomato jelly. The clams were soft and sweet, the sorrel fresh and clean while the samphire spiked the dish with crisp saltiness. Sadly the tomato jelly too seemed a touch mismatched and needed a bit more oomph – soft umami acidity from a roasted tomato flavour would have been an ideal addition.
Our meat course, however both promised and delivered.
Tender lamb rump, olive caramel, butternut squash puree and spiralised potato. The lamb easily surrendered to our knives, but was still perfectly pink. The squash was creamy and sweet, the cheese sharp and salty, the olive caramel soft, with a distinct umami hit. The combination had the whole table silent bar murmurs and exclamations of appreciation and the soft catch of cutlery on plate.
Again. Please, again.
All too soon we were edging towards dessert and a gin laden granita (Liverpool Gin, of course) was there to cleanse our palates. The Fever-Tree tonic was an ideal foil and the gin (atop our wine and cocktails) hit my system like a freight train.
I felt my system reset.
Our first dessert called on the French tradition of cheese before sweet. Blue cheese beignets with a green apple puree. These were lovely, but it seemed strange to add another heavy savoury flavour after the cleansing granita. A switch around might be in order, along with a stronger puree to cut through that lovely rich cheese.
And so to our final course.
The presentation, whilst useful for the kitchen, belies the prettiness of this dish. One of the best pannacottas I’ve ever eaten, topped with a raspberry espuma that maintained every flavour of the raspberries, down to that soft powdery finish. A sprig of lemon balm lifted the whole dish.
A fitting end to the night – and for me, sadly it was. I saw the time on my phone, gave my apologies and made a mad dash for the last direct train home, seating myself with a minute to spare.
Alex, Will, James – thank you for a fantastic evening, I’m only sad it was cut short. There’s such promise here, and for such a young chef, such skill an enthusiasm.
Liverpool, dammit you keep knocking my socks off.