Pedro Cotzier on 'a bizarre blend of style over substance'
There is no mistaking whose house Number One Castle Street is these days.
With the name above the door, pictures in the menus, recipe books on stands at the entrance and framed pictures of Gino D’Acampo with various other grinning or startled looking celebrities festooned around the walls of the bar area, it would be hard to miss.
Not that they hide it, but the restaurant is part of a larger chain and you get the feeling that they’ve transposed the admittedly warm aesthetic across and stamped images of Gino onto as much of the space as they could.
The fact that both skewers were over-seasoned and rather sorry looking makes the price actually borderline scandalous
Under multiple Ginos’ gaze we were invited to take to the bar area, which was rather cramped: people indulging in cicchetti, cocktails, beer and glasses of wine, with a smattering of waiting diners for good measure. The central island bar itself takes up most of the space and there were not enough seats to hold bar patrons and all waiting restaurant goers.
I chose to indulge in a Theresianer IPA (£4.50) and hold off on ordering wine until the food. While it was pleasing to see something different to the ubiquity of Moretti and Peroni, it was still a rather dull choice given the rich vein Italy is now producing in its brewing scene. The likes of Brewfist, Toccalmatto and Birrifico Italiano produce some stunning beers which could pair quite wonderfully with food.
We were led to our table and, I have to admit, it was with some trepidation: the main restaurant, with high ceilings, large glass windows and mounted cable trays provides a lot of reverb for the noise generated by diners and the background music. Mercifully we were seated at the window and the volume was fine, though possibly less tolerable for diners placed into the throng. The eggshell blue leather seating was comfortable and there was plenty of room; the tables, busy as they may seem, are quite generously spaced.
Before getting onto the dishes, the menu felt a bit tough to work through. While there is some mileage in anecdotal prose singing the praises of each item, it would probably be better for diners to be able to establish exactly what the dish comprises rather than read lyrical references on how Gino’s kids loved it. Each to their own though. There’s also a reference at the end of each dish on the menu for the recipe; located in the books I mentioned above, should you want to try to recreate any of Gino’s interpretations at home.
The content of the menu, once distilled in our minds, was varied, with a mix of pizza, pasta, salads and meat/fish dishes.
First up was the tre cicchetti (£15.50). Sadly with no salted cod available, we were treated to an extra prawn and extra tomato and basil bruschetta. The toppings on each were generous, but then that should be expected given the price for something that is essentially topped and toasted bread. The prawns were great, succulent and flavoursome, carrying a big hit of chilli to balance with the seasoning and sweetness though they did prove initially difficult to tackle due to the size. The tomato and basil bruschetta was again enjoyable, though the tomatoes were good, they were a little on the cold side having possibly spent too much time visiting a fridge.
The special of ricotta-stuffed courgette flowers (£10, main picture, top) was excellent: a great balance across the dish with an array of textures. Crisp, perfect batter, yielding flower heads, soft sweet ricotta and firm courgette all drizzled with a floral honey.
Sadly things seemed to shift into a backward gear after this and the wine (a delightfully crisp Vermentino De Sardegna at £22) was a highlight in the midst of some rather disjointed food.
While the seabass with salsa and lemon (£17) was delicious and sweet, with a crisp skin and soft, flakey yield.
The seafood skewers were rather less impressive: a heavily demanding £17 for two skewers that comprised, in total, a single distressed scallop (seemingly split in two), two prawns, two matchbox-sized pieces of swordfish and several slices of courgette on a bed of dressed rocket and radicchio. The fact that both skewers were over-seasoned and rather sorry looking makes the price actually borderline scandalous.
The side dish of the Friarielli (I had to ask what this was, as the menu again blusters rather than informs) was rather more enjoyable. It is apparently a Neapolitan delicacy of cooked turnip shoots in oil and garlic (£3.75). In fairness it was the most impressive element of our main course. With a pungently rich and earthy flavour, with heaps of smoke and a wonderfully umami kick, it was something truly quite unique.
The steady decline continued somewhat with the introduction of desserts, the pistachio and maraschino cherry ice cream (£5) was fairly enjoyable and quite clearly homemade, given the nearly broken tooth on a cherry stone, though the texture of pulped frozen cherry was not the easiest to bear and there was quite a lack of anything pistachio aside from the tell-tale green lacing of the ice cream. The caprese tart (£6) was another matter however, a chocolate and almond torte, which tasted vaguely chocolatey and sadly, not at all of almond, was dry and actually burnt. The heaviest flavour was singed cocoa. Not even a generous globule of clotted cream could save it.
If ever there was a bizarre blend of style over substance, I think this could be a great template for it. Everything is rather polished; polite, well drilled and uniformly attired waiting staff, the wine selection is great and despite the cringeworthy elements (such as too much Gino… in well, everything) there are various other touches that are well thought out. It’s just rather baffling that the food, both in terms of quality and value, simply doesn’t stack up accordingly and the disappointing taste of profit margins lingers at the end.
Liverpool has a lot of Italian restaurants, especially in the business heavy Moorfields/Dale Street area, some are great and some are poor. Gino’s is not really one of the ones at the top of the list for the former.
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.
Gino D’Acampo - My Restaurant
1 Castle Street
0151 236 4444
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.
Tre cicchetti and stuffed courgette flowers 8/10; seabass 7/10; seafood skewers 3/10; friarielli 8/10; ice cream 6/10; caprese tart 3/10.
Convivial and gently buzzing, clean and the background music was good, but a little on the loud side.
Competent, friendly but lacking a bit of communication