Gerry Corner unmasks Bootle's best kept secret
IN the five years that the L20 Restaurant has been allowing diners a taste of its fledgling chefs’ talents, I must have passed the place, oblivious, a hundred times.
“The WHAT restaurant?” I hear you query; and indeed the L20 announces itself as “one of Liverpool’s best-kept secrets”. A bold claim, but you’ll get no argument here.
It is run by, and operates out of, Bootle’s Hugh Baird College (or Huge Bird as it’s affectionately known, or is that just me) but it hides its light in a cul-de-sac round the other side of the building.
Teenage servers show signs of worryingly abnormal behaviour: they are polite, helpful, informative
Round about, clusters of students are busily preparing for afternoon lectures, some by bludgeoning each other with bags of books, others by keeping abreast of social media: “That’s not me, I do not wear jeans like THAT!”
Inside, the smart, bright dining room is inhabited by teenagers who show signs of worryingly abnormal behaviour: they are polite, helpful, informative. They sit us down and proceed to cook us a three-course meal and then do the washing up and the wiping down.
I suddenly wonder if this is all a lovely dream and can only hope I will never wake up to discover that my own teenagers are still demanding to know why there is NEVER any food in the house, by which they mean food that does not require any more complicated preparation than the removal of its wrapper.
Our arrival at L20 proved a surprise to them, such is its current anonymity. Passing trade is rare since the only people normally passing are college users and the occupants of those houses on the other side of Exeter Road.
Telephone bookings are the norm, 40 were there for lunch a few days earlier, and previous diners have included the referee and his assistants for European nights at Anfield and Goodison. We were the only customers this particular Friday lunchtime, which is a shame for them and a shame for the local population missing out on some of the best value food in the city.
The L20 Restaurant is operated by the multi award-winning L20 Hotel School, and while its kitchen is overseen by professional chefs, all the cooking is done, from scratch, by students aged 16 and 17, and everything you eat is freshly made in house.
One look at the starters tells us these kids can cook. A savoury cheesecake (pictured top) is quietly accomplished, the velvety filling offset with the tang of Garstang Blue. A good quantity of good quality mussels comes with a well-balanced sauce of cider, cream and capers and a chunk of home-baked bread, doughy at the centre but tasty and crusty all the same.
Skrei is a word I had not encountered before on a menu in Liverpool, the name given to a young firm-fleshed fish from the Barents Sea, here allowed to shine, literally so, the gleaming white flesh has not spent overlong in the pan, just long enough for the skin to develop a proper crust.
Generous lemon butter sauce, slender, perfectly-timed broccoli stems and pea puree make up the numbers, along with round chips, as favoured by Tom Kerridge, which lend refinement to this simple, lovely plateful.
The only misstep came with the lamb; a hunk of braised shoulder is spot on, but two roasted slices of loin, the stars of the dish, are in places a little overcooked. Not disastrously so; enough to affect the texture and the flavour, but not enough to ruin the dish, which has plenty else of interest – such as good beetroot mash in a pretty spiral cone, like a pink walnut whip; and a little jug of lamb jus, dark, rich and savoury.
For pudding, a neat take on rhubarb and custard comprises chunks of poached fruit with a well-made egg custard tart and ice cream infused with nutmeg, and then a delightful, Caribbean-influenced dish of pineapple roasted in spices, rum-soaked sponge and passion fruit sorbet.
Prices are pitched at a level that reflects a kitchen chiefly populated by chefs learning their trade. But a few minor technical points aside, those students are turning out dishes that are proficient, attractive and tasty. And at £13.50 for three courses (£10.50 for two), they ought to be turning people away.
L20 Restaurant, Exeter Road, Bootle L20 7BL. 0151 353 4518.
All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the venue or a PR outfit. Critics dine unannounced and their opinions are completely independent of any commercial relationships.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind in the area: fine dining v the best fine dining, Sunday roasts against the best Sunday roasts, etc. On this basis, the scores represent...
1-5: The dog's dinner; 6-9: Netflix and chill; 10-11: In an emergency; 12-13: If you happen to be passing; 14-15: Worth a trip out; 16-17: Very good to exceptional; 18-20: As good as it gets.
Mussels 8/10, cheesecake, 8/10, lamb 6.5/10, skrei 9/10, rhubarb and custard 7/10, pineapple 8/10
Eager to please
Relaxed and friendly