Gerry Corner visits a little slice of paradise on Newington
“IT’S gorgeous. I love it,”
The customer in the Italian Club Bakery could have been talking about any of the bounty of cakes, biscuits, breads and savouries on display, the lot made freshly from scratch that morning.
You’ll have gathered I’m a fan. Well, with melting aubergine bake; occhi di bue (pictured above), little jammy biscuits that dissolve on the tongue, so good you’ve devoured a dozen before you know it; and a sensational amaretto roulade, all dressed up like a Christmas log and carved into little slices of paradise, then that’s a given.
“When they come, they always come back.”
Then there’s bread with bite and crunch and character, from an oven at the top of the building reached via two flights of steps – a stairway to leaven – where a Pole named Jazak works the dough.
Beyond the shop counter, pastry chef Alberto begins the daily preparation of cakes and biscuits before the sun comes up in the kitchen that’s open plan not by design but necessity in space that comes at a premium.
The man sitting down to coffee with me (very good coffee, by the way, served with the soft puff pastry crunch off Ventagli biscuits) is recalling how he began work at 4.45 every morning for six days a week to make bread and help establish the city centre bakery.
He is Maurizio Pellegrini, one half of The Italian Club, not to be confused with Mauricio Pellegrino, once centre half at a certain English club of this parish. Pellegrini and Rosaria Crolla, his partner in business and in life, run three branches of The Italian Club – the Bold Street original, the fish restaurant a little further up the road, and the bakery just around the corner in Newington.
Opened in February 2016, by popular demand, the shop-cum-cafe between Bold Street and Renshaw Street can be hardly five paces from side to side. You can perch on stools in the window, or opposite the counter, or upstairs sharing a bright, white space with bags of salt and semolina and sacks of flour – red for bread, green for pizza.
“We wanted it to be a typical Italian panetteria,” says Pellegrini. The bakery’s menu draws on the best of Italian baking, with Sicilian cannoli (“we can’t make enough”), and focaccia Pugliese, whose ingredients he lovingly recites: “Rock salt, olive, oregano, tomato…”
It’s all Italian, with one of two exceptions, one being the ever-popular Victoria sponge, except even that’s Italian really, a torte paradiso with knobs on.
Maurizio’s the boss but the workers treat him more like their big brother, arguing good-naturedly with him one moment, teasing him the next, and the warmth generated cannot be explained entirely by the temperature of the oven.
Alberto honed his skills while working with Maurizio at a hotel in Venice at the start of the millennium. There’s Carlotta from Rome – whose smile lights up the front of house that’s her domain – and Anna from Palermo; the southern Mediterranean monopoly broken by the Jazak in the pack.
There’s a fair bit of to-ing-and fro-ing in the hour or so I’m there, but if they had a bakery this good in downtown Naples, the queue would surely spill into the street.
Those that do find their way past the door, generally like what they find. Or as Pellegrini puts it: “When they come, they always come back.”
The Italian Club Bakery 22 Newington, Liverpool L1 4ED. Open 9am - 5pm (closed Sunday).