LIVERPOOL ONE and its tributaries have something of the Thames Frost Fair about them: smooth expanses thronged with temptations, an air of fragility “in the current climate”, and a certain London flavour. Lunya could not have chosen a better location, with their claim to “make and sell the highest quality food – the standard of which has rarely been seen in the UK.”
Lunya is 'the UK’s first Catalonian Fusion Restaurant and Deli', another remarkable combination of words which begs for the addition of 'and last'
While this may recall Dr Fox’s reasoning on Brass Eye that paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than with humans – “there’s no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact” – a look at Lunya’s menu and deli reveals a range of food that, as far as I know, has no precedent in Liverpool. Our waitress’ opening gambit – “the suckling pig’s off” – is surely a new one on the city.
Lunya is “the UK’s first Catalonian Fusion Restaurant and Deli”, another remarkable combination of words which begs for the addition of “and last”.
Just round the corner, the new Latino on the block, Jamie’s Italian, glowers at passing Scouse beauties, readying itself to show them what it’s made of. Opened just this week, it has the same kind of selling points as Lunya – Mediterranean cooking with a rare authenticity of ingredients and technique, and an eye-pleasing mix of glossy design and higgledy piggledy “authenticity”, courtesy of hanging hams and papier-mâché figurines. Let’s hope Liverpool One is big enough for the both of them.
The Lunya manifesto continues: “We believe passionately in seasonal food.” Of course they do, as much as they believe passionately in not teasing old dears.
“Seasonal food” is nearing clichéd meaninglessness. What about that early summer staple that we sampled, tortilla de scouse (more of which later)?
The head chef of a popular local restaurant recently discussed his dedication to another unspoken foodie rule: “shopping locally”, lamenting the razing of the Christian's fruit and veg stall-cum-shop on Bold Street. Surely, for a restaurant, the point of shopping locally (other than supporting the local economy and reducing carbon emissions) is to secure locally-produced ingredients. For instance, tomatoes that have been allowed to ripen fully on the plant, not picked when still firm and flavourless in order that they survive long flights. As handy and characterful as it was, that stall on Bold Street was no farmers’ market. Lunya appears to be on the right lines, with pastries bought from a local bakery and their meat from Edge and Son of New Ferry.
We read on: “Ask for our recipes and ingredients...you will discover that we love to tell you about them.” It feels like the owners are trying to manufacture an ‘authentic dining experience’. But for whom? For us, or for their own satisfaction? One final gem: “We want you to enjoy your time with us” Because ur worth it.
When Nigel Slater writes casually of getting some joint of meat at “the market”, as if it should be preceded by “daaarn”, he is really alluding to a farmers’ market, or the one at Borough, and has paid a good £30 for a leg of lamb.
As much as the Sunday supplements wish we were, we are not Provençal peasants with farm-fresh seasonal produce clogging up the market place. “Authentic” food in Britain is often branded and expensive, particularly when purchased in cities. Lunya, to their great credit, have kept prices fair, with the seven mains running £12-£18.
It was to the truly bountiful tapas and deli counter titbits that we confined ourselves, however. First, the tortilla de scouse (£3.75), served with pickled red cabbage, was an unexpected pleasure. Described as “homemade Spanish omelette with local minced lamb, carrots and thyme”, there is something about the unapologetic potato-ness of tortilla that made it work. Maybe Rafa will have some of this flown over to Milan.
It was a pleasure to see razor clams on the menu and they were just how they should be – pop them in and, just as you think “chewy”, they become garlicky goodness. It seems sad that we export so many and don’t slurp them up ourselves, resulting in prohibitive prices: £5.95 for two, in this case.
Our more bountiful portion of chiperones (£5.95) put up similarly weedy resistance to our gnashers. The accompanying alioli was good and yellow. The only minor issue was that they had cooled and the batter had lost its sparkle. That may have been our fault for leaving them too long, but four of our six dishes came out at once, despite the menu’s promise that “we will split your order”.
The sourdough (£3.50) was a little too cakey and claggy to our taste. Although it was good to have something artisan, the crumb did not suit the tapas.
Lunya champions rare breeds, citing a “deep meat flavour” as the happy consequence. In the case of our oxtail croquettes (£4.75), you would have to search very deeply indeed for it. The horseradish and caraway seed mousse sounded sophisticated, but not splodging out from underneath the croquettes. The dish was a little cloying, as a whole.
Just pronouncing the proliferation of Spanish and Catalan terms and place names made our mouths water in anticipation and slobber in consternation. None more so than esqueixada (£6.95), with its salty consonants and incredibly tangy taste. Here, olives, peppers and onions are mixed with salt cod that is “cooked” in a sherry vinegar dressing. It triggered some hugely enjoyable mouth-puckering.
We were nearly denied dessert due to a deserted kitchen, but one of the chefs was apprehended as he made his escape. Granted, it was late, and eating out at this time of night in Liverpool is usually less about razor clams than the Lobster Pot’s fluorescent sauce. Perhaps in unconscious tribute, we got take-out.
White chocolate cheesecake (£5.75) with chilli-infused raspberries (or “gerds” in Catalan: so much for the Romance languages) was described as an adaptation of a recipe originating with the Bishop of Birkenhead, our very own Vicar of Dibley. It would have pleased the tubbiest of clergymen, as would our slice of Tarta de Santiago, a moist yet crumbly almond cake (£3.75).
The menu is huge. The specials alone took up a sheet of A4. The deli counter is rich testament to the Spaniards’ dastardly range of curing techniques; the vegetarians get a whole page of tapas to themselves, as do the breakfast options.
The Catalans have a way with eggs, it seems, and Lunya’s decision to include hot chocolate and churros (£3.50) on the menu is a utilitarian gesture to the city of which Bentham and Mill would have been proud. This alone will guarantee a return visit.
It seems appropriate, given the slightly corporate version of authenticity offered by Lunya, that the Catalan version of “bon appetit” is “bon profit”, but our overriding impression was of warmth, professionalism and quality.
Mr Oliver may well have been paying lip service to Liverpool in recent days (“with the buzz in the place I know I made the right decision [to site the restaurant here rather than Manchester]”) but if Lunya maintains these standards then scousers will long be paying Homage to Catalonia.
18-20 College Lane
Liverpool Confidential reviewers always dine out unannounced and we always pick up our own tabs. Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafés against the best cafés Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: get a DVD, 10-11: if you must, 12-13: if you’re passing,14-15: worth a trip,16-17: very good, 17-18: exceptional, 19: pure quality, 20 Outstanding