Vicky Andrews finds exceptional food at this ordinary neighbourhood bistro
I think I’ve found my new favourite restaurant. The only problem is, it isn’t in Liverpool - it’s “up north”, in Crosby. I’ve just moved from Lark Lane to Woolton Village, thinking it was the gastronomic capital of Merseyside. Turns out I might have gone the wrong way.
It was Crosby's best-kept secret until Hollywood star Rebel Wilson turned up
We’ve booked to visit Mustard & Co on a scorching Saturday in the throes of a heatwave. Every other bastard on this sweatbox Miseryrail train is wearing flip-flops, baggy shorts and a vest top. Some girls have forgotten to put anything on their boobs and/or bottom.
I am wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt and black trainers. I look like I’m on my way to a funeral. Death by non-breathable fibres. As the sun beats down, life choices are bitterly regretted on the 15-minute walk from Crosby & Blundellsands station to College Road.
By the time we reach the restaurant, my face is redder than a Southport tomato. The staff probably don’t see weary travellers like us beating the door down very often, but they muster well as an emergency response team. One large jug of water and two limoncello Aperol spritzes later (£8) and we’re out of the danger zone.
Mustard & Co is Crosby’s best-kept secret. Well, it was until Hollywood star Rebel Wilson turned up there in April for a scene in her new film, The Almond and the Seahorse. We could only get a last-minute booking at 6.30pm and I fully expect this place to go meteoric when the movie gets released.
Movie stars aside, this place is an ordinary neighbourhood bistro. When we arrive it’s empty inside but al fresco tables are busy with ladies in summer frocks and blokes in chino shorts making the most of this corner suntrap.
Couples walk through the door and squawk loud greetings to their neighbours. A guy with a pram sits outside enjoying a pint on his evening route with the new baby. It’s a heartwarming huddle of community that you don’t see very often on the boozy strips of South Liverpool.
And I can’t think of many neighbourhood bistros out that way where the food is exceptional. The menu at Mustard & Co is small but more than enough. On our visit, there are just four starters, four mains and three desserts, but I’d quite happily eat every single one of them.
When the bread arrives, it’s clear that the food is going to be something special. Homemade sourdough served with onion and sage butter, crispy onions and black onion ash (£4.) The person who has come up with that butter is gifted because they’ve made a simple thing packed with clever and intriguing flavours. Black onion ash? No idea what it is, but I love it.
Even with the front door open it’s hot, hot, hot, and the chefs really are working in hell’s kitchen. It’s open plan, which gives us a chance to watch head chef Tom Caldwell and his sous chef, Romain from Lyon, work their magic. (Sorry Romain, I didn’t catch your surname.)
The menu reads a bit like the Encyclopedia of Food Chemistry. Caesar salad - poached chicken breast, chicken thigh and pancetta terrine, quail egg, gem lettuce sauce, anchovy emulsion and parmesan crisp (£7.95) On the plate, elegant sculptures of meat and crisp spiral around a green pool like the throne of Zeus on Mount Olympus.
They say that asparagus should be kept simple but this Formby bunch holds its own under pickled shimeji and morel mushrooms, cured egg yolk and summer truffle, in a rich and creamy Parmesan foam (£7.95) The mission to get here was definitely worth it.
Since COVID-19, we’ve been asked to tolerate average food and slow service. Mustard & Co proves that even in these times, perfection is possible.
Lamb loin (£22.95) is beautifully pink, served with pommes Anna, a classic French side of layered potatoes. There’s a lamb neck “bon bon”, plus fresh broad beans and fennel that sing of seasonal celebration. Ewe cheese, yoghurt dressing, and a sweet, herby jus, keep every bite interesting.
A little more rough and ready is a fillet of beef (£24.95) which comes with an ox cheek pithivier - a sort of mini puff pastry pie. A solitary confit potato looks a bit awkward next to the well-hung king oyster mushroom.
Baby leek blushes on the side and the marmite and beef glaze is as salty and rich as I hoped it would be. The dish needs more veg, but the fillet is cooked perfectly and that little fluffy pie takes it next level for me. Utterly brilliant.
Desserts are poetry in motion. Chocolate mousse (£7.95) is another compendium of mad ingredients - honeycomb, chocolate soil, apricot, and olive oil tuile, served with a voluptuous scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The statuesque pavlova (£6.95) with Lancashire rhubarb and green apple sorbet reveals sweet chunks of fruit, a gooey centre and some sort of edible flowers. By this point, the restaurant is very busy and I've already put our server through enough daft questions about individual components.
There’s a cracking selection of wines (we had a bottle of the Feudo Anancio - an easy-going sunny Sicilian Grillo - for a very reasonable £22) and the menu changes monthly, giving you the perfect excuse to come back over and over again. I know I will.
Now, does anybody want to buy a house in Woolton?
Mustard & Co, 84 College Rd, Crosby, Liverpool L23 0RP
Follow Vicky Andrews on Twitter.
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.
Asparagus 9, Caesar salad 10, lamb loin 10, fillet of beef 9, chocolate mousse 8, pavlova 10
A brilliant team - they cut the Mustard
Lovely bistro but might need to invest in some aircon