Angie Sammons ventures to the far pavilions and finds plenty to like
I first met Peter and Elaine Kinsella at some food festival or other in 2007. He was an educational psychologist, she was a teacher and they were dishing out expensive looking olives and Manchego, from a gazebo, like they were going out of fashion.
The couple had met while they were both working for Mencap and their family travels had taken them, time and again, to the bucking, kicking region of Iberia we know as Catalunya.
It goes without saying that they liked it there and they wanted everyone to share their love. So seriously so that Peter cheerfully told me how they had just poured their life savings, home and a substantial bank loan into a unit in the yet-to-open Liverpool One. They’d had enough of conventional life and now they were pursing their dream: a restaurant and deli serving and selling nothing but Catalunyan dishes and produce.
I looked fearfully on.
A petite version of the mothership, this is a tight ship, with young, capable people darting here and there
What they lacked in experience, the Kinsellas made up for in heart and soul which carried them to near bankruptcy. Just when it was all about to go horribly wrong, the hard business mind kicked in and the fortunes of Lunya turned around. Further adventures came in the shape of a second Lunya in Manchester and last year they left College Lane for a huge premises, warehouse included, on Hanover Street.
Nowadays, nobody doubts the Kinsellas, not even when they said they were dipping their figurative toes into the whimsy waters of Albert Dock with a new concept: Lunyalita.
Grand, Grade I, restored from dereliction, and now newly crowned the “Royal Albert Dock”, this is the place that food critic Matthew Norman once dubbed the Albert Tat Dock (you need to be at least 40 to get that one) when he came to savage the Blue Bar & Grill.
Although it is packed with summer tourists, in recent years few people from Liverpool have ventured near it, prompting its new commercial owners to reposition it as a year-round food and drink destination. Surely, if anyone could help make it work, the Kinsellas could, so they were headhunted as an anchor tenant.
It is all very brisk and businesslike at Lunyalita. Or business as usual if you know the other place. A petite version of the mothership, this is a tight ship, with young, capable people darting here and there.
On Tuesday night the restaurant upstairs is closed and we sit in the bar/deli area among the oils and honeys. There have been greater sorrows in my life.
From the ten sherries (you can actually buy a bottle but that’s a bit mad, we decide) the cheapest shot, a Micaela Fino (£5.45) is thinner than the much better and still-as-refreshing Xixarito Manzanilla Pasada (£7.45). Food wise, the card is pretty much the same as big Lunya: cured meats, platters, fish, paellas, vegetables and salads.
But I have grown wary of “small plates” concepts, or tapas, or whatever you want to call them. Who among us has not wanted to take the chef in a headlock when nine dishes of food are all plonked down on your table at once? It is confusing, it is unsatisfying, it’s really fucking annoying.
When I find myself in these places, I make sure they drip feed us, ordering two or three dishes maximum at a time. Taking charge can make some waiters nervous, but not here in Lunyalita where the server fully appreciates it.
A small board of hand carved 5J Iberico jamon de Bellota is an eye-watering £19.95, but given that an entire leg will set you back over £500 online it seems a small price to pay for "the finest ham in the world”. Black Iberian (pata negra) free range pigs are fed a diet of acorns and other wild plants. Cured for three years, the flavours are intense. Limited production means they have to be reserved and paid for three years in advance. And here it is on a plate. If you are only going to order one thing.
From a short list of specials comes some excellent baby octopus (£6.95) floured, deep fried and served over some spinach leaves with a piquant, citrusy mojo sauce.
Albondigas (£6.95), their version of pork and beef meatballs in a blazing but sweet tomato sauce, are as competent as they ever were, as is the Morcilla de Burgo (£6.75), Spanish black pudding, essentially, but softer and sweeter than its British counterpart.
Catalan scouse (£6.95) replaces lamb and/or beef with chorizo (I fish out the one piece) and more morcilla. It’s great - if you like potatoes and not much else.
Garbanzos (£6.85) is described as chickpeas in a rich broth - and the flavour is decent enough. But the pulse could have done with a little more time and its al dente nature overshadows the rest. Patatas bravas (£5.45) with more of that cerise tomato sauce and squiggled with aioli are as good as they ought to be.
Then there is a lovely tart de Santiago (£5.50) a dense almond cake served with a sharp raspberry coulis and a blob of ice cream, rounded off with a raisin-sweet Moscatel (£6.75). In case you were wondering, the espresso martini (£7.95) is also worth a look.
For me, it’s always good to have an excuse to visit the Kinsella’s premises and this little Lunya is the most appealing of all. Winter will be the real test for this new Albert Dock remodelling and it remains to be seen how many locals will venture to its far pavilions.
Fear no more.
Lunyalita, Unit 5, 26 Britannia Pavilion, Albert Dock, L3 4AD. 0151 317 4199
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.
Jamon de Bellota 10; baby octopus 8; albondigas 7; Catalan scouse 5; Morcilla 8; garbanzos 5; patatas bravas 7; tart de Santiago 8
The quay to happiness
Very knowledgeable, efficient and friendly