Faced with a massive menu in mad surroundings, Angie Sammons is pleasantly surprised
I have no idea if the food was any good - or not - when Al Dente was Aki’s Greek Taverna. It was the sort of place we went to late at night for ballast and beers before, perhaps, setting off a box of industrial grade fireworks in Toxteth Cemetery.
Indeed, the last time I was in there, that’s exactly how the evening ended: a Call of Duty-style stand-off between one of my dining companions who had tooled himself up with a barely legal selection of war re-enactment rockets (earlier removed by Aki’s waiters “for the comfort of other customers”) and a bunch of unwitting scallies who had gone to the graveyard with the intention of sparking up something a little more laid back.
See, in 1995, November 5 to be precise, when no smartphones meant no Instagram and no TripAdvisor meant no bloody judging, you ate what you were given and liked it.
And when confronted with a vast menu containing no fewer than 32 main courses you’d lick your lips like Desperate Dan and dive in. You wouldn’t get all anxious and start imagining that you had made a terrible decision coming here, that everything must have come out of freezer packs and how they must have twenty microwaves whizzing in the back.
So went our conversation when we sat down there at the weekend. Had Al Dente bitten off more than it could chew?
Since those heady days and bonfire nights, the history of number 1 Lark Lane has been chequered. It is a premises that should have everything going for it - standalone building, big outdoor seating area, and, if nothing else, its address. But too many subsequent owners have dicked about with it and, as a result, it’s been knocked off the gastronomic radar.
Now it is Al Dente: Mediterranean Restaurant, Gin Garden and Shisha Lounge. A mad mash up which we found ourselves in accidentally, deciding to put our first world misgivings to one side.
Everything we ate, under the direction of a Tunisian head chef (we are told), was pretty much spot on
I’m glad we did because the food, service and feel of the place all delivered. Seated in a crazy log cabin style garden, where every other table was taken on this sultry Saturday evening, we took possession of a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc. A stag party occupied the next booth and it was all a bit like finding the only good restaurant in Malia - in a strangely OK way.
Everything we ate, under the direction of a Tunisian head chef (we are told), was pretty much spot on. From a mind boggling fourteen starters, a succulent crayfish and avocado salad (£6.95) was both bounteous and refreshing, with just the right amount of saucy tang. The avocado was a little unripe (well the place is called Al Dente), something which the waiting staff later drew attention to and apologised for.
Aubergine bake (or melanzane alla parmigiana to use their vernacular) which I sometimes order because I love it and I hate preparing it, hit the mark; another abundant, gratifying dish and a bargain at £4.95. The stag party, meanwhile, were tucking into a spectacular looking plate of sucuk (spicy sausage) and halloumi, ballast for their many, many beers, 2018 style.
We swerved the sixteen pizzas and pastas and, from fifteen meat and fish dishes, which vary in complexity from “chicken gorgonzola” to “mince meat” to lamb chops and grilled duck, came a gleaming fillet of cod (£13.95) nicely seared over a generous bed of green beans. A lovely fish like this does not require much embellishment and a rather sweet but nevertheless colourful Mediterranean “tapana” sprinkled across the top just got in the way.
Positive vibrations too were drawn from the Aldente Special (£12.95): chicken, mushroom, garlic onions and peppers, all baked in lashings of mozzarella - simple Mediterranean fare, executed with care, no further forensic description needed.
An excellent crisp, green side salad of cucumbers, avocados and olives plus a big bowl of fat, crunchy chips (£2.95 each) left us feeling very well disposed towards life, the universe and everything, as did a second bottle of wine and a final bill of £80.
Would we please leave a review on Tripadvisor? they asked, a platform where Al Dente already benefits from dozens of glowing comments - mostly from a series of users who have never seen fit to remark on anything before or since. We can do better than that, we reply. And so can they.
Al Dente, 1 Lark Lane, Aigburth, Liverpool L17 8UN. Tel: 0151 727 2111
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.
Crayfish and avocado salad 7; Aubergine bake 8; Cod 8; Green salad 8; Al Dente Special 7