Jonathan Schofield dines with Jimmy Choo and Christian Dior
The dining room at Bacino is the most aromatic in the North. It sits on the ground floor of Flannels in one corner of the fashion department store's perfume and beauty section. If you sit facing out of the restaurant you can watch as people pay to be pampered at the beauty bar. It's a curious experience but not unpleasant, it's as though you're dining with the brands. Just over from me was Jimmy Choo and behind him Dior. I gave them a little wave.
Dishes need to be tightened up, sharpened or, even, simplified
Flannels is all about opulence for the people and thus it's surprising how restrained the restaurant is in its colour palette of pale greens and creams. There are inconsistencies with the interior design, the chairs down the middle of the room look wrong in their black and white and too low for comfort, but generally this is a tranquil and easy-going space.
Even better than the decor was the service which was professional, knowledgeable and charming. Well done to the staff training at Bacino, or maybe the three staff serving me were just naturals, which makes it easier.
The Italian name of the restaurant 'Bacino' translates variously as 'basin, dock, pelvis'. The reference here is probably to 'dock' given Liverpool's seafaring history rather than 'pelvis' which would be singularly unnerving as a restaurant title.
The food takes the easy route jumping on the 'cicchetti' bandwagon. Cicchetti originally meant small plates from Venice, now the word has largely dissolved into another meaningless food and drink marketing expression along with 'streetfood', 'Pan-Asian' and so many others.
So the service was excellent, so how was the food? Not very good.
The sea bass (£13.50) was fine in itself, cooked correctly, nice flesh, and was lifted by the basil pesto although the leeks were stringy and unyielding. Still, the dish might have survived as ok if it hadn't been for the large dollop of aggressive agrodolce, a sweet sour condiment/paste (the word agrodolce combines the two words for sour and sweet). The Bacino version (there are many variants of agrodolce) slapped every other ingredient in the face and told it to bugger off. It left a deeply unpleasant aftertaste and ruined the fish.
The Tuscan chicken pappadelle (£10) was better. Fat papadelle pasta, excellent chicken, all good, the tang of thyme worked well too. But I'm not sure the mascarpone and maybe even the fennel helped. They again, especially the former I suspect, delivered a sickly tang to the dish.
The cavolo nero (£4.50) was excellent but looked a mess. I loved this dish, sauteed Italian kale bolstered and boosted by a white bean and garlic oil puree which was in no way sickly just wonderfully savoury with a cracking garlic kick.
The baked king prawns (£11.90) were a total failure. There was no moisture left in the flesh. They were arenaceous, bitty, baked into dust. The accompanying sauce was a thin thing with nowhere near enough chilli heat. A dessert of tiramisu (£7.50) was the opposite, moist, sweet, rich, creamy and a winner. This and the cavolo nero were the best things I ate at Bacino.
Bacino is part of the Zanna Hospitality Group.
This organisation self-describes as a 'collective from within the hospitality industry' creating and operating 'a range of independent restaurants across the UK'. When does a group of restaurants become a chain? When does it stop being an independent?
In Zanna's case probably a while back. There are more than eight outlets with sub-outlets now, including the well-known Evelyn's in Manchester, others include Mughli, Gooey, Sienna. The group/chain/brand/collective is spread wide across the North West and on the eastern side of the country in Sheffield and Leicester.
Maybe the group is spreading itself too thinly and taking its eye off the ball.
Bacino is a promising restaurant but dishes need to be tightened up, sharpened or, in the case of the sea bass, simplified. The food is simply not right at present, there are too many clashing flavours, it's unbalanced.
Let me emphasise again though the service was magnificent. And the place smelled lovely.
Bacino, Flannels, Parker Street, Liverpool, L1 1DJ
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.
Seabass 5, chicken papadelle 6, cavolo nero 7, baked prawns 4, tiramisu 6