Lindsey Bennett tries to squeeze in as much as possible... just don't mention Peaky Blinders
WHAT better way to return to Liverpool, after four weeks dahn sarf, than by spending a gloriously sunny Bank Holiday weekend strolling around the popping Cains Brewery Village with my family - who arrived en masse armed with appetites, sunglasses and a willingness to eat lunch sequentially in four different seating combinations at four different venues?
That we didn’t quite achieve this goal was due to a dizzying combination of loud local bands at Sound City festival, living art installations, urban sunshine and the joy of discovering new venues within this expanding complex.
In fact, so bustling was CBV, that Ryde bicycle café, which was high on my must-try list, had run out of food by 4pm - due no doubt to the influx of festival goers and sun seekers.
On this serendipitous Sunday, our first drink was the refreshing house ‘Das Lager’ at Craft Minded, a craft beer taproom and bottle shop in the wasteland/rubble across from the Brewery proper’s distinctive orange Victorian Grade II listed brick building.
Looming over the fair-weather picnic tables perched on top of levelled off gravel is Craft Minded’s strident silver chimney. As a venue, this place is awesome; high ceilings with sleek fridges displaying a grown-up range of craft beers and a cool bar with around six beers on tap.
They host a revolving roster of food pop-ups and we sampled the Po-Boy from the returning Breaking Bread ‘local gourmet’ sandwichery. Unfortunately it was pretty poor, basically a scampi bap with a side of soft, cloggy curly fries. Maybe it was a bum choice, bad name or misunderstanding but New Orleans and pomegranate (as in ‘New Orlean’s style pomegranate salad’ filling) don’t seem happy bed–fellows to me. And I want my Po’ Boys on French bread – not a sesame bun.
Things could (and did) only get better. After a break, taking in extracts of Cosi Fan Tutte from eveningwear-bedecked singers and a liberal application of sunscreen, we arrived at the Skaus Pop-Up in Dockleaf.
Dockleaf is a self-described ‘Urban Local’ with a seasonally evolving drinks menu that cleverly pairs beer and cocktails together, under titles such as ‘Harvest’ ‘Grain silo’, ‘Fermentation tank’ and ‘Mash up’ according to the flavours and styles of the alcohol included.
The space is tiled, wooden and comfortable, a bit like an old ship, subtly referencing Liverpool’s sea-faring history - cold colours giving off a warm, competent atmosphere.
They have been hosting Skaus, a Nordic pop-up as a prelude to opening a permanent kitchen. The old dock lines still stretch between the Nordic and the ‘Pool and the local chefs behind Skaus use Nordic inspiration, ‘hyper’ seasonal ingredients and a little local magic to create their menus.
I was unlucky to have missed brunch but locked down the bavette steak and 24-hour ox cheek croquette, served with British asparagus and foraged nettle immediately after the kitchen reopened at 4.15pm. When I say ‘kitchen’, I mean an open ad-hoc corner of the main room, manned by one sober chef/owner and a friendly hostess. I chose both sides of hasselback chips with rock salt, shallots and chives, as well as the seasonal greens and seaweed butter.
This was good cooking; sympathetic treatment of ingredients with flavour and enterprise. The greens retained their beautiful colours, the bavette was medium rare and tender, smothered in the nettle sauce. I neither required nor desired the croquette sidekick, but I can attest to its superior construction.
The portion was generous and I was happy to share my spoils with my family, who had been disappointed by the grub at the nearby Baltic Market (Note: this is not a review of the adjacent Baltic Food Market, but the experience is really interdependent because their atmosphere’s comingle - we found the food from there all disappointing.)
For Skaus though, I’d return from the depths of a Nordic winter with no light source to sample the full menu and would very much hone in on their pickles and soused dishes.
The Cains Brewery - which opened in 1858 - is the focus of a multi-million pound redevelopment, which in time might (hopefully) see a boutique hotel, art house cinema and additional leisure businesses (as well as a supermarket). At present, it’s in the first flush of a truly revived era that has seen the site retain its historic character, drawing in an eclectic range of businesses. It's also bloody good fun to boot. Well worth a visit.
Red Brick Vintage is a catacomb-like trove of vintage, local goods which opens into a smart hall hosting modern micro businesses.
Ghetto Golf is a messy, neon, boozy crazy golf night out and the Baltic Food Market is atmospherically a winner.
Tank Room is a beer bar in the OG Cains Brewery’s tank fermentation room, with witty artwork, an engaging, industrial but comfortable fit out and a considered selection of beer on tap.
Ryde Café … I’ll be back (on two wheels) to eat breakfast served to me by serene hipster bike mechanics in highly covetable aprons, fine tuning my gearbox.
The less said about the Peaky Blinders ‘BeerMongers’ establishment the better. Suffice to say it presents as an extremely low rent version of Westworld crossed with the BBC costume department and awash with the stench of somewhere making hay while the sun shines.