Damon Fairclough discovers good food concealed within the chaos
Back in the heady days of 2008, a spoof Toxteth rapper called Riuven made a bit of a flash-in-the-scouse-pan name for himself when he appeared at the Capital of Culture’s big opening arena gig. Billed by the Echo as an “underground rap star”, his signature number – performed with faux-scally tongue stuck firmly in his Liverpudlian cheek – was Tha LIV, a semi-comedic rattle through some stereotypical city scenarios.
The repeated refrain, “This is how we do it in tha LIV” was part joke, part promise, part threat.
Somewhere within LIV Organic, there’s a cracking wholefood café just waiting to pop out
It struck me at the time that I’d never heard anyone refer to Liverpool as “the LIV”, and such was Riuven’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it celebrity that it certainly never caught on. And yet here it is again on this wholefood café and store – LIV Organic & Natural Food Market. Presumably there’s a pun packed in there somewhere – something to do with LIVing in LIVerpool – but it feels as oddly forced as it did in Riuven’s hands a decade ago.
Launched in spring 2017, LIV Organic has never lacked ambition. Taking over the lofty art deco spaces of Bold Street’s Radiant House – originally the home of the Liverpool Gas Company – the combination of vegetarian and vegan café together with a superstore selling food and cosmetics is clearly inspired by American-based chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
The LIV Organic café sits at the front of the building, well placed to take advantage of huge windows that suck in the daylight while opening up views of typically hectic Bold Street life. And on this Saturday afternoon, the hectic atmosphere followed us into the venue and tailed us to our seat, as this is a counter-service café where confusion reigns if you’ve never been in before.
Like a badly managed office, the place is plastered in post-it notes and labels delivering a mind-mangling array of food options, meal deals and menu amendments. There’s no discernible queue – just a general indecisive hover – and it’s every man/woman for themselves when it comes to working out what to do.
So here’s the secret. Choose a regular plate (£6.95), and you can select one main dish from the selection sitting under lights then pile up as many options from the salad bar as you want. A large plate (£8.95) gets you the same, except you can have two main dishes instead.
Once we’d conquered the information overload, we were impressed by the food laid out before us. In the manner of the old Everyman Bistro or the long-lost Bluecoat café, here were fabulous looking curries and casseroles, salads and sides. Prices are reasonable rather than super-cheap, but it’s possible to stack up a teetering pile of good-for-you stuff if so inclined.
My large plate was served stone cold – a mystery given that the dishes were sitting under supposedly warming lights on the counter – so a microwave blast was required to bring them up to an edible temperature. But once irradiated, it was excellent belly-filling stuff.
A seitan sausage casserole served with fluffy white rice was rich and warming, while a cheese-topped stack of sliced potato interleaved with vegetable chilli was imaginative and tasty. The salad of rocket and unctuous, oozy aubergine was equally fresh and full flavoured.
Our small plate was possibly even better, with the sticky, saffron-heavy vegan paella delivering fragrant satisfaction. A crisp Asian salad of bean sprouts and red cabbage was crunchy and light, although the oily pleasures of the accompanying sprout and almond concoction won the day. Truly, sprouts aren’t just for Christmas.
A slice of rather dry gluten-free Victoria sponge (£3.25) chosen from a selection of just two cakes was a disappointing conclusion after the savoury side of things had eventually gone so right. Even more of a disappointment was spotting the rest of the cake selection as we were leaving, what with them being located out of sight of the café itself. A little more application of logic and the food here would get the setting it deserves.
A decent cup of coffee (£2.50) helped drive away the wintry spirits that chill the large, glass-fronted space, while a sludgy, sand-coloured banana espresso smoothie (£5.75) was a nourishing, if less than pretty, treat. A surprise and a pity though that it came in a plastic bottle given the venue’s loudly trumpeted green credentials.
Somewhere within LIV Organic, there’s a cracking wholefood café just waiting to pop out – a venue to rival the ever-reliable Egg, perhaps. In fact, hidden within LIV Organic, there’s literally a café waiting to be revealed – a (deserted) pizzeria run by Liverpool’s Amalia restaurant that we only discovered, concealed behind high shelving, after we’d walked round the entire shop.
But maybe that’s just the way they do things in tha LIV. It might all be a bit inexplicable, but give it a go and you just might end up having a good time.
LIV Organic & Natural Food Market,18-26 Bold Street, Liverpool, L1 4DS
Follow Damon on Twitter @noiseheatpower
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.
Vegetarian paella 8, sprout and almond salad 9, Asian salad 7, Seitan sausage casserole 6, Cheese, potato, chilli stack 7, Aubergine salad 7, Victoria sponge 5, banana espresso smoothie 7
A little on edge