Gordo enjoys quality Catalonian cuisine at Lunya Liverpool
I first walked into Lunya thirteen years ago. It looked Spanish. I’d had my fill of Italians, or YAFI’s as I called them ('Yet Another Fucking Italian') and after a couple of visits to the newly opened Evuna in Manchester, owned and managed by the extremely knowledgeable Jane Dowler, I was thinking it was high time that we started to see some real Spanish restaurants opening. The amazing Jose Pizzaro had yet to make his appearance. He still hasn’t up north unfortunately.
It turned out that Lunya in Liverpool, for me, was the most authentic Spanish restaurant (veering towards the Catalonian) outside London; it reminded me of a much less formal Cambio de Tercio on the Old Brompton Road. The food there was old school Spanish and the only place you could get a hunk of crispy, juicy suckling pig every day. It was always full of extremely smart Spanish people. I note, checking their website today, it’s gone ‘contemporary’ which usually means messing about with stuff when you shouldn’t.
Lunya was tip-top then; is that true today?
The restaurant moved around the corner onto Hannover Street a few years ago, clearly demonstrating the importance of position where restaurants are concerned. Added to that, there is a fabulous deli in front, allowing people to nip in and have a nosy without feeling conspicuous. This gets people involved. Derek Lilly, the founder of the Piccolino brand, once told me that half the front window of restaurant should be a bar. This does the same thing.
The owners of Lunya are the Kinsellas; Peter and Elaine. If you are on their email list, you’ll be aware that Peter can have a right old chat. He is also the UK’s number one Iberophile, as well as an extremely successful business consultant back in the day. In Elaine, he has a partner who is an absolute credit to the running of the business as well as front of house; she’s a right old charmer.
When I visited for this review, they were both on holiday, which doesn’t stop front of house being equally charming. They are efficient as well, working as a team and scanning the room. The mark of a great chef, in my humble opinion, is how well the kitchen performs when they are on holiday. The same goes for the owner. Will the mice be playing?
I kicked proceedings off with Gordal olives (£5.30). These are big fat buggers stuffed with orange flesh and chilli flakes. They are creamy, not sharp, with flavour boosted by the gentle acidity of the orange and a bit of heat from the chilli flakes. A glass of dry sherry would be good with these; there are 14 served by the glass. I defy you to find a better choice outside (or indeed, inside) London. You’d be pushing it in Barcelona.
Lunya’s list of Spanish wines and drinks (including gins) spreads over twenty pages and is very serious. It was a great pity I was driving.
The crispy chicken with Catalan sauce (£8.95) is KFC on steroids. The sauce is made from cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, a touch of mayonnaise, paprika and garlic, all of which produces a deep strong umami flavour. On the third dunking I decided I loved it. Like many authentic Catalonian sauces, it’s a bit baby-food-ish in consistency but comes into its own with the crunchy texture of the chicken. I think Peter is copying the Albert Adria trick of bashing cornflakes up and shoving them into the batter mix. Bloody great.
Albondigas - pork and beef meatballs in a rich tomato sauce (£8.10) - were gorgeous, a fine mix shot through with chives and seasoned well, a nice rich fattiness to them whilst the tomato sauce has spent a while being introduced to the feminine side of cooking tomatoes, simmered for a long time, losing that sharp acidic edge that I don’t like, whilst pulling the sweetness through.
I love a good paella.
I remember one of Lunya’s from their outpost in Manchester, made with squid ink and riddled with juicy squid rings, cooked just so they don’t turn rubbery. At Lunya Liverpool the Arroz Negra (£37.90) is built for two and freshly cooked each time. Patience on the part of the diner is required. This one was worth waiting for. The rice is slightly underdone, as it should be, four quarters of lemon standing guard ready to be squeezed all over and then stirred in alongside the dollop of freshly made garlic mayo and you have a captivating piece of Catalan indulgence. It’s sitting next to a professional flamenco couple who have just finished a set and the room is taking a breath. It’s all pretty earthy.
Peter has always been a master of the tortilla. And this one (£6.75) proved he hasn’t lost his touch. It is dual textured. Outside the thick disc is singed and firm, the middle warm and melting with small cubes of nearly collapsing boiled potato. I personally would like a bit more salt, sea salt in fact for a bit of crunch. This is a handsome portion and as good as anything I’ve had in Spain.
Finishing off I ordered the Tarta De Santiago (£7.40). I called in for a coffee a few weeks ago, and Peter was in residence fussing around this Catalonian almond tart. He shared a bit with me, pointing out that it was suitable for vegans and other such people. It was bloody good as it happens, as was this second slice.
If you are looking for a genuinely great Iberian experience, this is the place. You can nip in for a piece of cake and a good coffee, a lunch with the girls or a blow-out all evening. It’s for everyone. I believe that the suckling pig is an item you can order for a special occasion. I would say well worth it, check the website.
Peter and Elaine; keep at it, you’re getting even better.
A firm Gordo Go.
Lunya, 55 Hanover St, Liverpool L1 3DN.
Twitter and Instagram @GordoManchester
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Olive 9, Meatballs 8, Chicken 7.75, Arroz 8.75, Tortilla 9, Tart 7.75