Vicky Andrews goes nuts for a slice of cosmopolitan Italy
DALE Street is about as far away from Sicilian romance as you can get. One of King John’s original seven streets, this area would have seen all manner of sin, filth and stench in the 13th century. Today, the road is a throbbing artery of a city that thrives on hospitality and travellers. Perhaps not so different from Medieval Liverpool, after all.
If Gino’s is a Maserati, Carlisi is a Fiat 500 - a bit cramped, a bit noisy, but loads of fun and effortlessly cool
Run by two Sicilian brothers, Carlisi describes itself as a “modern, Italian-fusion concept bar”. It’s nowhere near as wanky as that sounds. It isn’t the biggest or the flashiest Italian in town. They don’t serve linguine with lobster like Gino D'ACampo's place down the other end of the road. There’s no army of suited waiters, starched tablecloths, or a wall of fame boasting celebrity guests.
If Gino’s is a Maserati, Carlisi is a Fiat 500 - a bit cramped, a bit noisy, but loads of fun and effortlessly cool.
My first visit to Carlisi was a quick pit stop on a Saturday afternoon, when the place was packed out with a private party. We grabbed a table next to the bar and ordered a plate of mortadella, burrata and cherry tomatoes, with a thick crema caffè. A weird combination, but it made me want to come back for more.
Friday night in Liverpool’s “business district” and it’s an eclectic mix of wildlife - office hounds on a post-work sesh; Ibis staycationers; stags and hens stocking up on cheap booze at Tesco. The bar stools in the front window of Carlisi are the best seats in the house, as all manner of fashion statements parade past on the street with brazen abandon.
We start our evening with two spritzers for £12 on the three-hour long “Happy Hour”, as a scrum of pissed blokes sprawls out onto the pavement from the main bar.
It always seems to be busy here, probably due to its dawn ‘til dusk menu that’s split into every subcategory you never knew you needed.
Breakfast and brunch, nibbles and small bites, Sicilian street food, charcuterie and cheese boards, gourmet panini and focaccia, a bruschetta bar, salad bar and signature dishes; lasagne and parmigiana. Mamma mia.
Trying to be all things to all people can be a risky little game in hospitality, but the Carlisi brothers seem to have pulled it off.
From the moment you arrive to the minute you leave, you get looked after with genuine warmth and enthusiasm. Alessio Carlisi is quite the charmer, but I rather like a flirty Italian man. He’s rushed off his feet but still finds time to go through the menu and give us some recommendations for a decent spread.
Service is leisurely and plates come out when they’re ready. There is bruschetta bufalina (£5.95); two perfect slices of buffalo mozzarella sandwiched between juicy beef tomatoes, served on sourdough bread with a dark crust and squishy centre. With fresh basil leaves and big glugs of extra virgin olive oil, that alone would happily satisfy my wanderlust.
Sicilians are very proud of their pistachios and this versatile nut pops up in both sweet and savoury dishes. Focaccia pistacchiosa (£7.50) uses pistachio pesto and pistachio Mortadella ham, with grilled aubergines, burrata cheese and pistachio sauce. Imagine a pistachio pizza capricciosa and you’re halfway there.
It’s very filling - and there’s a strong possibility we’ve ordered too much bread - but if you had to encapsulate comfort food in a buttie, then this is it.
Deep-fried arancini balls (£4 each) from the Sicilian street food section of the menu have a golden crunch and oozy prawn risotto centre with homemade bechamel sauce and more pistachio nuts. I’d order another with swordfish and aubergine filling if they hadn’t sold out.
Aged and thinly sliced bresaola (£7.95) is a volcanic mountain of rich beef fillet tail, stacked with nutty parmesan shavings, punchy rocket leaves and tangy balsamic. I’m pretty sure they’ve snuck some pistachio in here too. Presentation wise, the three breadsticks look a bit like an afterthought, but it’s some of my favourite flavours on one plate, so what the hell.
It’s been a meandering hour or so through the menu and gig tickets at a venue on the other side of town means we don’t have time for dessert. Cavalo! Whadayagunnado?
Well, all I can do is take a photo of the fridge, with its cartoccio, genovese and Sicilian cassata cake, all looking as fit as a baker’s dog. Carlisi is also famous for its Sicilian cannoli, (one cannolo, two cannoli), tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough with sweet ricotta cheese fillings, finished with pistachios, of course.
Revenge is a dish best served with a spritz, and I will be back.
Coffee, cannoli and cocktails - Carlisi is an authentic slice of cosmopolitan Italy and short of getting on a plane, you probably won’t find a better place for Sicilian street food. The service is friendly, the atmosphere is buzzing, and the food is buono.
Come for breakfast, stay for cocktails. You’d be pistachio nuts not to.
Carlisi, 92-94 Dale St, Liverpool L2 5TF
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.
Bruschetta bufalina 7, bresaola 6, focaccia pistacchiosa 7, arancini 6
Our survey says, it’s a winner