Vicky Andrews puzzles over a kitchen that seems a little reluctant to serve food
From Pat Butcher propping up the Queen Vic bar in the ‘80s, to twenty-ten hipster heaven in an overdressed balloon glass, the juniper berry has ripened for a new generation of gin drinkers.
Liverpool Gin has led the way for the local ginaissance and built a strong reputation, working hard to build up their brand at foodie festivals and events across the North West. The new million-pound Liverpool Gin Distillery in the business district spans three floors and in addition to their legendary premium organic gins promises a gin lab, gin tours, gin tasting, gin making and a kitchen serving handmade pizzas, tapas, flatbreads and nibbles.
The website offered no option for reservations so we dropped in nice and early on a Friday evening when the glitzy main bar was already bouncing to the sounds of Stevie Wonder, heaving with high-heeled women and the suited and booted post-work lads. Feeling a little self-conscious in my casual attire (I might have avoided the dress code scrutiny as I slipped in with a big group of giggling ladies) we scurried off downstairs to try and find a table.
Perhaps the staff were feeling jaded from the previous night’s VIP launch party, but after being ignored at the bar for nearly ten minutes, I wasn’t met with a friendly response. “The menus haven’t arrived yet so we can’t do food,” the bartender barked and reluctantly suggested that maybe he could go into the kitchen and ask the chef if there was any food available.
It was a perplexing situation to be in. A kitchen, a chef and presumably some ingredients too; but no menus in the place, a week after opening to the public.
Lucky for us, Chef was much more accommodating and sat down at our table, scrolling through photos of the food on his mobile phone with explanations of his creations. Catching sight of a few personal pics, I stifled a giggle, but appreciated his efforts. There was no mention of the hand-made pizzas but we agreed on a selection of plates and settled in with some trepidation of what would happen next.
The Basement Lounge is a sophisticated space, all grand decor with exposed metals, vast leather-studded armchairs and portraits peeping at you from the walls. They serve ‘dark spirits from all over the world’ but it’s a gin-free zone in here, so I hopped back upstairs to get some drinks in.
Liverpool Gin distill on site in the new building and the 600ltr copper still is an impressive feature of the bright and leafy ground floor bar. With no drink menus to choose from either, I asked the bar staff to recommend something and came away with a Valencian Orange and a Rose Petal, both mixed with Lamb & Watt Hibiscus tonic (£6.50 each, £5 for the shot of gin and £1.50 for the tonic.) Both were very refreshing but with so much ice and tonic in a single measure, it was hard to fully appreciate the flavour of the gin itself - a double would have cost £11.50.
My low expectations for the food were happily proved wrong as the plates arrived, starting with some perfectly cooked crispy calamari and a delicious aioli dip (£6) which was swiftly followed by pickled beetroot with goats’ cheese and candied walnuts (£5), a great combination of rich, sweet and tangy flavours. The deli sharing platter (£15) was enthusiastically pulled apart and including a variety of sliced cold meats, red pepper hummus, olives, artichokes, enoki mushrooms, three different types of cheese (including my favourite, smoked applewood) red onion chutney and a selection of bread and crackers.
Another couple of gins - an aromatic Valencia orange with basil tonic and an unusual ginger and lemongrass gin with hibiscus tonic - and we got stuck into dessert. The chocolate stuffed dessert churros (£5) were crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside with a thick chocolate dipping sauce that kept me coming back for more. My dining partner went for the Eton Mess (£5), a perfect rendition of the English classic but with a tangy twist of passion fruit, the sharpness of the pulp enhancing the sweetness of the meringue and indulgent cream.
I got chatting to Chef while paying the bill at the bar and felt a bit sorry for him as he confessed that we were his first proper sit-down table order. The quality of food was far better than the service from the venue and although it’s not quite right for lunch or dinner, if you’re looking for a tasty nibble alongside premium priced gin in the coolest bar on Castle Street, then you’re in the right place.
The thirst for gin continues but Liverpool Gin are not ginvincible and reading between the lines (and the lack of menus) there’s definitely more work to do here.
Liverpool Gin Distillery, 52 - 54 Castle Street, Liverpool, L2 7LQ
Follow Vicky Andrews on Twitter @PlanetVicster
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.
Calamari 8, beetroot and goats’ cheese 7, meat deli platter 8, Eton mess 7, churros 7
Grumpy bar staff in the basement and no menus
Fantastic venue for the party crowd