Lindsey Bennett is well impressed by this Sunday roast pop-up

Pop-ups can be a roll of the dice in the dark. Food and drink, service and location can all be wildly variable; I should know – my dim and distant past includes experience of catering for a series of pop-up restaurants in precarious places. One venue boasted only a toilet and a tap before we did some ‘Challenge Anneka’ style restorations that mercifully held together until about ten minutes after the last customer departed.

Already a bit chancy, it’s really double jeopardy to offer a Sunday roast pop-up - a meal that everybody has their own cherished memories and particular expectations of.

There's still a whiff of drying paint and staple gun...

Bitter Social has settled into the upstairs space at Furnival’s Well for their six month term, and looks to have its winning game together from the get-go. Only a week after the soft launch, their Sunday roast is strong and my appetite duly whetted for their other menu of ‘delicious food and quaffable drinks’ with a fair balance of meat, vegan and vegetarian choices.

2018 11 13 Furnivals Well
Bitter Social's six month pop up is in the upstairs of Furnival's Well
2018 11 13 Bitter Social Charles Dickens
Plaque outside Furnival's Well marking Charles Dickens' connection to the place

There is still a whiff of drying paint and staple gun to the brightly lit dining room, refurbished by their own hand. Velvet lined booths on one side and longer tables by the window are joyfully painted with a giant version of their cherubic logo. The space is a surprising contrast to the snug bar downstairs. 

The building is an old Victorian prison (or Bridewell), behind solid brick walls, with the cells converted into intimate pub booths. The atmosphere is as heavy as the metal gates that would have kept the inmates, in; conversely you’ll be reluctant to leave with food this good. 

Bitter Social – never to be referred to as BS because they really aren’t - are a coming together of well-crafted drinks produced by mixologists who have a clear passion for the stuff and dishes created and executed by a chef with a Michelin pedigree and a wonderful way with elevating ingredients into delicious and satisfying nosh. 

Forgoing the suggested ‘Matching Mary’ I’d heard enough about the culinary cocktails from the soft launch and chose a fig-vermouth-sherry mix, chilled to perfection (£6.00). Charles Dickens visited Furnival’s Well whilst he was penning the Pickwick Papers, but this drink was straight out of A Christmas Carol, summoning the ghost of my Christmas past. Figgy and wintry, the sherry tempered by the vermouth. My festive season began at the first sip.

2018 11 13 Bitter Social Logo Table
Bitter Social's colourful signature tables

The short wine list is from natural wine proprietors Bunch on Berry Street. Only the house is available by the glass and a white and red of Paso Primero (£5.00) were good with food and didn’t overpower.

We split the only starter, a prawn cocktail (£5.00). What my friend side-eyed as a small portion turned out to be an abundance of tiny shrimp entangled with ribbons of crisp iceberg lettuce and a light and sweet home-made Marie-Rose sauce. One squeeze of lemon and it was perfectly seasoned. 

All three of the Sunday roasts (£12.50) each come with plated up roasties, Yorkies, gravy and shared bowls of roasted roots and Savoy cabbage. All more than matched my ideals, clearly home-cooked by an adept hand. My rolled lamb belly was exquisite. Tender, meaty, lovingly prepared, the fat flesh meltingly balanced. The ‘winner winner chicken dinner’ was just that; full of moisture, herbs and flavour, with both light and dark cuts. 

2018 11 13 Bitter Social Prawn Cocktail
Prawn cocktail: an abundance of tiny shrimp
2018 11 13 Bitter Social Lamb
Rolled lamb belly and roasted roots

I’d been told the vegan roast would be ‘the best in the country’. A red wine jackfruit Wellington, here again was the new ingredient that keeps popping up to underwhelming effect. But at Bitter Social, finally a triumph and our recently converted vegan member agreed. A rich, sweet pastry encasing tenderly cooked jackfruit sitting in pool of gravy with proper depth. Vegan cooking on its own terms. The vegan cauliflower ‘chez’ (£3.00) was a compromise I don’t think they should have made, but the peanut butter sprouts (£3.00) more than made up for this. Deep-fried, deep green blossoming Brussels and a crunchy homemade butter to swipe them through. 

The one complaint might be the speed of food coming from the kitchen; trimmings were set down just a touch too long after our mains with another wait for side orders. But our waiter was friendly and very accommodating - he seemed to be enjoying himself, which was fun to see and masked any kitchen stress.

2018 11 13 Bitter Social Jackfruit Wellington
Jackfruit Wellington - vegan Sunday lunch
2018 11 13 Bitter Social Cauliflower Chez
Cauliflower chez

Desserts at £5,00 were more of a mix, but we were stuffed and satiated in that sleepy Sunday way by this point. Apple crumble and custard was unimpeachable and huge, the cheese board a bit lacking - with only two cheeses  - and sorbets were enjoyable large scoops of fizzy lemon and raspberry.  

In a poor attempt to emulate Charles Dickens himself I impeach you that it would be criminal to let any of the poor prison puns in this piece of prose put you off visiting this pop-up post haste! It’s a wonderful new chapter for an old Liverpool lock-up.

Bitter Social at Furnival’s Well, 1 Campbell Square, Liverpool, L1 5FB.

2018 11 13 Bitter Social Exterior

The score:

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.

  • Food 8/10

    Prawn cocktail 9, rolled lamb belly 9, chicken 9, vegan Wellington 9, trimmings 8, cauliflower chez 3, Brussels sprouts 9, crumble 9, cheese 4, sorbet 7, cocktail/drink 9

  • Service 3/5

    Friendly and welcoming

  • Ambience 4/5

    Relaxed Sunday vibe