Vicky Andrews rocks the boat at Duke Street Food & Drink Market
When the chef patron at The Art School Restaurant tells you that he’s embarking on a new adventure with a crew that includes Harry Marquart (Kelp, Bone and Block) and local kitchen stars Kieran Gill and Jake Lewis, you’ve got to get excited. As Paul Askew revealed the name of the new restaurant to me back in November 2021, I was even more intrigued - “Barnacle”. The fishy puns went wild in my head.
Forget your Scouse stew, peawack soup and wet nellies. This is new Liverpool.
“It’s not a fish restaurant,” said Paul, reeling me back in. “We’re going to tell the food cultural story of Liverpool, through its maritime history. It relates to my father who was known as Captain ‘Barnacle Bill’ Askew, the sailor.”
Paul’s family history and the concept behind Barnacle could have its own section in Central Library but what these guys are basically trying to do is tell the story of Liverpool’s food and drink provenance, with local ingredients that link to the port’s bustling trade over the decades.
Just before Christmas, I popped into Duke Street Food & Drink Market while my partner was off having a bottomless brunch with the girls' netball team. That might be your idea of a wet dream but mine was sitting on my own on the Barnacle mezzanine eating a bowl of seafood chowder. Different strokes and all that.
Back for my second visit with the OH in tow, we step into the cacophony of the food hall and purposefully stride upstairs.
The Barnacle team have inherited a beautiful location from Pilgrim (reopening up the road this summer) but that confusion of being a separate venture within a food hall has not yet been solved. People sneak in and sit down at an empty table, the staff explain the menu - they get up and go back downstairs. And repeat, ad infinitum.
There’s a clear entry point upstairs with a reservation desk, dining tables set in a formal style, and a sign above the kitchen that says “Barnacle”. Not sure what more they can do.
The three course menu is £37.50 and on this occasion includes an amuse bouche of pork and vegetables with a sweet and salty Asian stock, served with warm Abyss Stout soda bread and raw milk Wirral butter.
It’s more of a subtle nod to the legacy of the great port than a history lesson. Forget your Scouse stew, peawack soup and wet nellies. This is new Liverpool.
The Dockers Umbrella cocktail (£11.50) named after Liverpool’s long-lost overhead railway, puts an ingenious spin on the classic margarita with smoky mezcal and hints of elderflower, sipped from a tongue-tingling salty rim. I bloody love margaritas and this one was special.
Cunard and White Star were based in Liverpool and in 1920 bartender Harry Craddock arrived here from America as prohibition came in. Corpse Reviver #2 (£11.50) was Harry’s creation at the American Bar at The Savoy Hotel in London in the 1920s and '30s.
Next to us, four ladies are enjoying a meal after a day of shopping, with much fizz and frivolity. Short of being in first class on RMS Carinthia, the top deck of Duke Street Market feels like a fine way to experience the grand nautical party life.
For starters, there is that New Liverpool seafood chowder dotted with crab, clam, smoked pork, kohlrabi and vinegary pockets of cockles. Vegetarians are looked after with a dish of Peter Jones’ winter squash, Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese and granola tarragon.
My Old Spot pork belly comes golden brown with Edge & Sons black pudding, Cox apple, celeriac, and just a spoon of gravy. Free range chicken terrine has been marinated in lovage to level up the flavour and served with black garlic puree, pickled lemon and burnt leek leaves. Field to Fork is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in restaurants, but here you believe it. Earthy but elegant dishes that pop with different flavours with each mouthful.
The main course is just four options again and there is Mr Ward’s tandoori cod, with cauliflower pilau and Barnacle masala; for veggies and vegans, Ormskirk hispi, Smithy’s mushrooms, bulgar wheat and shallots.
The Cumbrian ox cheek is salacious stuff but proves a challenge for my photographic skills. Our host explains it’s braised in Neptune abyss stout with the addition of spices, bay leaves, juniper berries, then cooled down and the juices reduced, served with buttery and velvety mashed potatoes, Roscoff onion and crispy cavolo nero from Warrington.
“Tales of Orient” around the salt-aged Cumbrian duck is an appropriate tease; there is a perfectly pink slice of duck, the fat rendered down and crisped, with a crust of peppercorns and hints of five spice. Pink and white stripes of pickled beetroot, cashew nuts, carrot and heaven knows what else. It reminds me a bit of Bagpuss.
Seasonal produce always lends itself best to a good pud, and both live up to the high expectations. Guanaja 70% chocolate fondant is comforting and rich, its own enigmatic island of sponge with a warm, volcanic centre, finished with coffee cream and burnt coffee bean oil.
Creamy custard with a centrepiece of poached rhubarb and ginger crumb looks stunning and the one mouthful I am allowed to try is delightful. Every course is an absolute banger.
This chef is an alchemist of the highest order. He’d probably be publicly executed for witchcraft in olden times, then a statue erected 100 years later when they realised he was just a normal bloke with some avant-garde ideas.
Barnacle isn’t just teaching us the culinary history of Liverpool here; it’s rewriting it for the future and putting Merseyside on the map.
The lively atmosphere of Duke Street Market won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but the food is first-class and the service absolute gold. The menus rotate with the seasons and so a return visit can always be on the cards. Catch it while you can - Barnacle is a nautical food journey to be treasured.
Barnacle, Duke Street Market, 46 Duke St, Liverpool L1 5AS
Since visiting Barnacle, the prix fixe menu has gone up to three courses for £45. We presume that this is due to rising costs faced by the hospitality industry as a whole and feel that this is still good value for the quality of the experience.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. 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.
Pork belly 8, chicken terrine 9, ox cheek 9, duck 10, Guanaja fondant 9, rhubarb and custard 8
Rogue diners were a bit distracting