Lindsey Bennett discovers some familiar faces amidst this new collection of food stalls
Yet another new street food offering is upon the good citizens of Merseyside. In the spacious plaza of Mann Island lies Dockside Dining Club, a not unattractive space featuring vendors (who I’m becoming quite familiar with) serving their deep-fat fryer enabled mini-menus.
It’s all rather hectic and discombobulating
It only opened mere days ago, but in time there will be events, workshops, classes and non-food traders – an upcoming yoga class outside sounds great, but has little to do with the actual dining element (Dockside downward dog?). To quote one of the founders, customers can expect ‘the very best in dining solutions for brunch, lunch and dinner’, but on the evidence of this initial visit, DDC hasn’t quite delivered that yet.
I wondered, as I soaked up the views of the Albert Dock and Three Graces, during my ‘golden hour’ visit, how this and others of its ilk, will prosper once our incredible streak of good weather subsides. Dockside Dining Club, with its outsize deckchairs, OSB furniture and pastel Miami-lite stylings is unlikely to be the first port of call on a windswept and grey February evening - although with a little inventiveness, one can imagine the proposed Winter Garden being worth a look.
We ordered a variety of food from four of the ten vendors: Japanese, Spanish, healthy/Americana and Middle Eastern. It’s all rather hectic and discombobulating despite a desolate bar and no queues. The general expectation was that I should return when my internal clock prompted me to collect my order, but as customers were scarce, some friendly staff brought the food over to my nicely situated outdoor table. And then, because I ordered it all within five minutes, it arrived within five minutes.
‘Konichiwa’ Izakaya, a sushi restaurant that usually offers only three varieties of fish, although it proposes exactly no fish dishes at DDC. The katsu fries (£7) were my favourite; a prime example of what people toe-curlingly insist on calling ‘dirty-food’. A fun take on a northern-chip shop classic with an unctuous katsu curry sauce not quite snuffing out the crispy panko chicken strips, yet veritably transforming the fries into a belly pleasing carby comfort food cut through with some well-judged sweet pickled radish. Fried mixed veg gyoza (£6) were expensive and dry, requiring assistance from the soy rice wine dipping sauce to be edible.
Where Izakaya’s servers seemed distracted, El Cupido’s were attentive, although perhaps because they looked not to have served anyone for some time. I ordered a generous portion of whitebait (£6.50); although almost nude, soft and splattered in a paprika-mayo-ketchup, the dish was relatively tasty and visually appealing, if not exactly what one would expect from the Mediterranean staple.
Blackberry Grove occupies a unique position here, serving coffees and breakfasts in a larger ‘solid’ unit near the city-side entrance – hence it opens earlier. Here I finally tried jackfruit, that much-heralded vegan saviour, without it torpedoing my whole meal. It wasn’t bad, slathered in a sweet, effectively overpowering BBQ sauce, spooned onto nachos with vegan cheese. At £5.95 for the smaller portion, a trend of slightly over-priced dishes continues.
The driest shish wrap I’ve ever eaten (£7) and some gargantuan halloumi fries topped with tahini and pomegranate (£5) rounded out the meal, courtesy of KO Grill (who have a restaurant on Bold Street). The latter were delicious; perfectly fried, golden and holding their form. Of the former, too much bread, insufficient hummus, chicken breast and old lettuce do not a happy shish make. The bread was almost inedible, with no chicken juices to soften it.
In regard to the other vendors, I’ve eaten and enjoyed Cowfish before so didn’t bother here this time. Rubber-necking at other customers’ ‘Miami Pizza Slice’ pizzas, showed dry and anaemic dough – also, it’s a misnomer, as they don’t actually offer pizza by the slice.
Fish and Chips from Lucky Fish Co., surely couldn’t beat a chippie on price or portion size. Cluckin Delicious sells fried chicken, but seeing it piled up en masse waiting to be dipped in the fryer, quite frankly put me off a little; street food needs to be busy and quickly turned over to be best.
The two sweet places were empty and didn’t catch the eye in the way that crêperies and waffle shops usually do when marketing themselves towards the pre-alcohol-drinking youth.
In short, Dockside Dining Club contributes to street food fatigue, alleviated by its beautiful location and the incredible weather. Perhaps like El Cupidos’ chef, who exhaustedly told me she would love her own premises, I’m also a bit fed-up of the concept, the endless fryers and wooden cutlery. DDS, with its derivative style just makes me wonder what’s next in the world of ‘conceptual’ dining, rather than next for this big space down by the river.
Dockside Dining Club, Mann Island, Liverpool, L3 1DQ
Izakaya: katsu fries 6, mixed veg gyoza 4 El Cupido: whitebait 5 Blackberry Grove jackfruit 5 KO Grill shish 4, Halloumi fries 6
Great location and incredible views - but not very buzzy