Megan Walsh rekindles an old love affair and squeals at some pork
For the people of Liverpool, the independently-run Salt House Tapas is an institution.
In the years before Jon and Paddy (also owners of Salt House Bacaro and the recently-opened Rocket & Ruby) set up shop in Church House in 2010, Liverpool was not exactly blessed with a wealth of restaurant options. For many, a gourmet dining experience meant two-for-one at Fatty Arbuckle’s or a big bowl of pasta at the beloved Caesar’s Palace.
Returning to Salt House Tapas was like rekindling an old love affair – nostalgic, comforting and still a bit exciting
Now of course, dining in Liverpool is a different story. The foodie scene stretches far and wide, across nations and continents, and you might even argue that we Liverpudlians are now a little spoilt for choice.
I say this because I recently realised it had been almost seven years since I last paid a visit to Salt House Tapas, instead favouring newer kids on the block such as Neon Jamon and Lunya.
Disappointed in my abandonment, I quickly made a call to the old Church House. “Yes, hello? I’d like to repent my sins… I mean, I’d like a table for two please,” and then, just like that, the following week I was back in my old haunt.
Inside it hasn’t changed – it’s still effortlessly sophisticated yet cosy and rustic - which I took to be a good omen.
While deciding what to order, we get things started with a Valencian orange gin (£4.50) and graze on some buttery Gordal olives covered in lashings of olive oil and generous scatterings of sea salt (£3.50).
Being 3pm, we could take our pick from the main menu, or opt for a lunchtime deal of three plates and bread for £12.95pp. The latter was tempting, but in the end our culinary curiosity (and rumbling tums) overcame any frugality.
Confusing cameos of hummus, za’atar and tahini felt slightly out of place in a Spanish restaurant, but we still went ahead and ordered a spiced cauliflower and tahini yoghurt (£5.50) which was smokey and satisfying, regardless of its peculiar place on the menu.
After a quick trip to the Middle East we returned to Spain for the arrival of patatas bravas (£4.95) – a safe choice, but a classic nonetheless. Sadly though, they didn’t quite get it right and our bravas tasted more like a batch of overcooked roasties than the saucy chunks of potato I had in mind.
Thankfully, the crumbly black pudding and quail’s egg (£6.50) arriving shortly after and beautifully presented pulled things back after the dodgy spuds. The excellent slow-braised pork cheek (£7.50) followed, invoking squeals of joy from us both; the balanced flavours of sweet pork, salty feta and tangy pickled onion earned the dish a solid ten.
The simplicity of the slow-cooked octopus (£7.50) was welcome among the richness of the other dishes, and the oil made a great sauce for our Baltic Bakehouse sourdough (£2.95). Last, but certainly not least, was the hake pil pil (£7.95), perfectly paired with caramelised cauliflower and in-season baby leek.
Perhaps we didn’t need to end with a hearty portion of Crema Catalana (£5.50), but there'll be no regrets here. After we’d tapped away at the solid caramel top, we sank our spoons into a zesty, creamy filling, which was just the right amount of indulgence for a Saturday afternoon – along with a bottle of Pinna Fidelis Tempranillo (£26.95), of course.
Returning to Salt House Tapas was like rekindling an old love affair – nostalgic, comforting and still a bit exciting. The food was actually better than I remembered, and the service was top drawer. The only thing that’s changed is the menu – so it’s a good job I’ve got seven years of catching up to do.
Church House, 1 Hanover St, Liverpool L1 3DW. Tel: 0151 706 0092
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.
Cauliflower 7, bravas 2, black pudding 8, pork 10, octopus 9, hake 9, Crema Catalana 9
Attentive and professional, with a big pinch of Scouse wit
Relaxed and unpretentious