Brewery's new dining venture will grab you by the tentacles
TUCKED away behind the imposing structure of the Old Blind School is a courtyard. It plays host to The Buyer’s Club and the Wild Loaf bakery and, just recently, has become home to Oktopus, a spin-off restaurant from the team behind Kitchen Street’s Black Lodge Brewery.
But for a bright yellow sandwich board beyond the courtyard, on Hardman Street, Oktopus would be quite easy to miss.
Now those popcorn mussels; if there is a more perfect beer snack out there... I am not sure
The premises have been decked out with a number of wooden tables and what appear to be old school chairs; there are not too many covers, just enough for a full restaurant to generate a buzzing atmosphere.
The walls are exposed brick and there are no soft furnishings, but happily there is little reverb to make the aural experience strained. Lighting is adequate to afford scrutiny of the plates in front of you, but soft enough to help you ease into the experience. All this without the nigh-on ubiquitous Edison filament bulbs.
A bit of a talking point was the dispense of the beers; in a humorous and inventive flourish, a bright yellow Welsh dresser has been converted, with keg taps poking out from the back board.
The premise for the food and drink is a rather simple one: the translation of a brewery-based pop-up into a settled premises, providing the same condensed menu ideas and pairing them with ales brewed by the team at Black Lodge.
There are a range of plate sizes, some smaller and medium sized for sharing, others are possibly more suited to be treated as a normal sized meal for one.
So, does the premise work? Absolutely. The simplicity of the dishes, quality of the ingredients and competency of cooking and preparation from Christopher Ineson, former head chef of Maray and The Clove Hitch, delivers in an unwavering manner.
With eight keg lines of different beer styles (ranging from lager, IPA, heftier double IPA, saison up to a roasted porter with prices between £3.50 and £4.25), there is something that will satisfy even a dubious ale drinker and pair beautifully with the dishes making up the menu.
For those still unbelieving of the virtues of locally brewed beers, there is a selection of some excellent wines chosen by local merchant R&H Fine Wines based in Queens Arcade (just off Castle Street).
The selection is Old World-dominated, with a single wine from the Mendoza region of Argentina. The rest of the six whites and five reds are sourced from across Europe at prices in line with most other Liverpool restaurants (from £18.50 to £32 to the top end red and everything else in between). For our experience, we order the Black Lodge New England IPA (£3.75 for a schooner; a hazy American style pale ale with loads of hops for fresh flavours and perfect for cutting and contrasting richer, fattier foods).
The first two dishes to the pass are snacks of bread and butter with samphire (£3.20) and bowls of popcorn mussels (£4.00). Before waxing lyrical about the latter, the bread (supplied from Wild Loaf Sourdough, next door) is excellent; well-structured and flavoursome with a chewy but crisp crust which threatens to be gum-shredding, but, thankfully, isn’t. The citrusy butter, blended with pink peppercorns and samphire, is sweet, soft and highly perfumed, working a wonderful switch-hit in tandem with the sharply pickled samphire.
Now those mussels; if there is a more perfect beer snack out there, at the moment, I am not sure. Meaty, sweet, salty and encased in a light crumb-batter, they are served with red chilli and garlic to give something so moreish, so mouthwatering, it should convert even the most shellfish-shy diner.
Claremont Farm asparagus, served with hen’s egg, pine nuts and béarnaise sauce (£7.20), was always going to be a simple dish, but with ingredients created with care and good cooking, shines all the same. The spears of asparagus are deliciously verdant, the smothering of béarnaise sumptuously rich, the pine nuts gently toasted and, sadly, the egg on top a flat note (while the rest of the dish is warm, it is jarringly cold). However, this is only a minor distraction in an otherwise excellent dish.
The roasted cod with chorizo picante, Sefton Park foraged wild garlic and parsley sauce (£10) is a slightly odd looking dish. A blue plate with two puddles varying in shades of green isn’t the most enticing sight, but, generally, it works, both texturally and in terms of flavour. The cod is cooked perfectly and flavoured quite delicately, allowing the garlic and smoky-sweet chorizo to drive things along. The parsley sauce does feel somewhat superfluous on the plate, however, and is, perhaps, one component too many.
Filling the role for the carnivorous section of the meal is the pork belly porchetta, served with herby, buttery Jersey Royals and Wirral-grown watercress (£12). The pork belly is cooked perfectly to provide the blend of textures you would expect: soft but lightly resistant white meat, pillowy but flavoursome, fat and a crisp, chewy and sticky crackling. The potatoes are simply magnificent: nutty, waxy and soft, providing a foil for the complexities of the pork. The only real gripe was the pool of butter and pork fat. While the dish benefitted from some moisture, the smothering richness became increasingly tough to take.
Finally, chocolate nemesis (£6.50) makes its way to the table. A deceivingly sized slab of gooey chocolate torte, with cream and hazelnut praline, providing a decadent and near faultless end to proceedings. The dish isn’t too sweet, the mouthfeel highly enjoyable and all the elements well-judged. Though everything feels so bad for you with the nemesis, you can’t help but get lost in the chocolately depths. Truly hallowed ground for the greedy.
Oktopus is quite a tricky proposition to describe in brief, but it does make an excellent addition to the Liverpool scene. Thanks are deserved, in part, to the simplicity and brilliant execution of the dishes, in part to the lovely brisk service (no fuss, no distractions and friendly throughout) and with the focus on pairing beers, it’s a bit of a game changer.
I’ll finish this with two words that will probably haunt you until you try them: Popcorn... Mussels...
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.
24 Hardman Street,
Liverpool, L1 9AX.
Tel: 07565 299879.
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: Save it for the dog; 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
Sourdough and samphire butter: 8/10; popcorn mussels: 10/10 (though I’d be tempted to give them 11), porchetta, asparagus and roasted cod: 7/10; Chocolate nemesis; 9/10.
Lovely atmosphere, clean and the background music perfectly judged
Simple, unfussy and pretty faultless