Kelly Bishop is seduced by plant powered dishes and some naughty halloumi on the Albert Dock
Luckily for us, but bafflingly, the new Maray on the docks was quiet for a Friday night. We had legged it across town on the last minute, worried they were going to give our table away, but we needn’t have. We had the best seat in the house, right by the window. We watched the sun set as a bottle of Malbec (Carelli 34 - £23) softened our edges after a long week.
It looks like a swamp thing, but tastes like a souk on a plate
The team behind Maray has done well. This is the third of their relaxed, middle-Eastern inspired, small plate restaurants in Liverpool. Having basked in praise for their flagship Bold Street venue which opened in 2014, their Allerton branch followed just two years later. Now there is talk of them venturing into other cities - Manchester, take note. With all this in mind, we approached with high hopes but wondered: how good could it be, really?
I’ve tried very hard to find fault. So before I gush, let me nitpick. As mentioned, it wasn’t busy, which worked for us, but maybe not if you’re looking for more of a buzz. I can’t attribute that to the restaurant though, it deserves to be packed. Also they really like tahini, and punchy rivulets of sauce in general. We had to ask for some bread to mop it up and we were brought a very generous plate of thin flat bread scissored into triangles which curled at the edges quickly- but it was only a quid. And… that’s all I’ve got.
Like you, probably, I’ve been eating less meat and fish. So, resisting the seafood croquettes on special, we planted our feet firmly in Maray's well stocked veg patch. An appetiser of whipped goats cheese was zingy with tiny leaves of lemon thyme, and was more substantial than we were expecting. It went down a storm with the wine and prepared our tastebuds for the kaleidoscope to come.
A spectrum of colour and flavour - it’s all very Ottolenghi. With a view of the Tate Modern across the water, some of these plates could easily sneak onto its walls. Cauliflower (£6.75) is Maray's signature dish and 2019's prevalent vegan option. But you’ve not explored the potential of that brain-like brassica until you’ve tried Maray’s version. It looked like a swamp thing, but tasted like a souk on a plate. Herb oil, turmeric, harissa, tahini, flaked almonds, pomegranate, it’s all in there, and lord knows what they do to make it so juicy but I bet this could win over the most vehement of cauli-doubters.
Sumac mushrooms (£8) were drizzled liberally with more herb oil, lounging on a bed of dreamy artichoke puree, a sprinkling of pistachio dukkah added texture and colour. The falafels (£6) brought some bite too, while the pomegranate and flat leaf parsley punctuating the clandestine bed of tabbouleh turned up the lights.
Our waitress, Zoe, was a charm. She knew the menu inside out, her smile was warm, her patience saintly. She did her job with the air of someone who is being well looked after by their employer. Later, I overheard a chef rhapsodising about a dish he was preparing to a member of bar staff. His passion was tangible. Happy staff, happy customers.
Crispy courgette (£5.50) with its airbrushed stripe of powdered beetroot was my friend’s dish of dreams until the halloumi arrived and we both had to take a moment.
The joys of halloumi are well known, it’s squeaked its way onto almost every menu in the land. I’ve eaten it soused in grassy olive oil and fresh red chilli, battered in lieu of fish with mushy peas and chips, in a curry, on a pizza, drizzled with tangy chimichurri, even in a box at a festival, masquerading as ‘fries’. I thought I had seen it all. But to pair that salty seductress with tamarind caramel sauce and peanuts is another level of debauchery entirely. One bite and our eyeballs rolled back in rapture. In the words of Homer Simpson, it was 'groin-grabbingly transcendent'.
After that, the Aubergine Shawarma (£6.75) had a lot to live up to but it strutted up alongside its confident and successful mates with a knowing wink. Topped with crisp onions and a pickled red chilli, its characteristically smoky flesh oozed lasciviously.
We moved to the bar area to carry on nattering and have some breathing room before being tempted by after-dinner cocktails and a couple of scoops of ice cream. The souk showed up again in the ice cream: a vegan chocolate and ginger and a non-vegan ras el hanout, the latter tasted so much like Christmas that I did a big Shane McGowan grin.
Maray deserves the praise heaped upon it. I’m already planning a return visit with a group of friends. I might check out some of their non-veggie stuff then. But really, who needs animal flesh or tyre-textured meat substitutes when there are plant powered dishes like these?
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.
Goats cheese 9, Halloumi 10, Courgette 8, Cauliflower 10, Aubergine 8, Mushrooms 8, Falafel 7, Ice cream: Ras el hanout 8, Chocolate and ginger 7
Romantic, calm and so comfortable we could have stayed there all night.
Effortlessly professional, knowledgable and just friendly enough.