Vicky Andrews finds a force to be reckoned with on Smithdown Road
“Everything moves so quickly in the restaurant world, you’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse. If I hadn’t been in the kitchen for six months I think I would have lost the plot,” says Sam Grainger, Executive Chef at Belzan.
Sam has one of the loveliest smiles I’ve ever seen, which is quite surprising from somebody working in the hospitality industry during such challenging times. Both Sam and co-founder Chris Edwards have got a lot to smile about; the award-winning Belzan has bounced back from the tsunami of Covid-19 with a successful deli and wine shop, cook at home meals and now a five-course dine-in bistro menu that’s selling out every month.
We have an incredible team here. Making sure that we’ve got a job for people has always been our main driving force
The secret of their success? Reflect, regroup and refocus. Chris explains;
“At the start of lockdown, we sat at home for about four weeks and then it slowly started to dawn on us that it wasn’t going to change within the next four or five months.
“Doing food to take home was something we’d never done before. That was a bit of a learning curve in the first few weeks but then we got into our groove with it. At one point we were serving more of the ‘finish at home’ meals in a week than we’d be able to serve in the restaurant. So it was an incredible opportunity for us to reach out to a whole new group of people that had never come in before.”
View this post on InstagramLittle reminder that our online deli is open and re-stocked. This weeks finish at home meals include... • CONFIT DUCK, SQUASH, & PICKLED CABBAGE • PORK CHOP, TONKOTSU, ROAST PEACH, PAK CHOI Collection Thu-Sat // Local Saturday delivery 🚚
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Sam says, “When we started we didn’t have a clue what that was going to be like. We thought we might get a couple of people through the door but it turned into an absolute monster. We didn’t realise it was going to be so big.”
In August, they reopened the restaurant and launched a monthly fixed menu that showcases the best seasonal ingredients. The online applause echoed from L15 across the suburbs and the city, so I had to grab a place on the September one. The bistro offers a small, intimate experience but the flavours are huge and the creativity is magical.
Artichoke soup, cooked low and slow and aerated with nitrogen, was a creamy sweet cloud, confettied with caviar. Then we had Smørrebrød, a sort of Danish canape, topped with delicate pieces of smoked eel, pickled cucumber, dill and buttermilk. Venison tartare from Balmoral was crowned with juicy blackberries, smoked onion and at the epicentre of it all, a titillating confit egg yolk that begged to be popped.
Halibut from the Scottish Isle of Gigha was served with a tangy Welsh umeboshi plum ketchup and ‘roast bone sauce’. That might not sound very sexy, but it packed fistfuls of flavour into a little jug of jus. Gigha halibut is some of the best in the world and comes in whole to be filleted in the kitchen and the bones simmered down like a fish stock.
Sustainability is high on the agenda and there is a strong focus on using as much as possible from both meat and plants.
Chris says, “The menu starts with us thinking about our favourite ingredients that are in season that month or things that we normally eat around this time of year, and then we develop that.
“When we decide to use an ingredient, like the fish bone stock, it’s about using as much of it as possible. That’s not a culture that’s always been seen in the UK, but it definitely is now; making sure that nothing goes to waste.”
I don’t like to waste anything either so I jumped at the chance to squeeze in an optional sixth course of Grandma Singletons Lancashire cheese with a slice of pear and mustard tart and a tot of port. Book ended with home-baked focaccia and cauliflower butter to start and a cheeky dessert finale called ‘One Hundred Picnics’ - inspired by the chef's favourite chocolate bar - it was a gastronomic adventure that was fun and packed with flair.
The best thing is that you can come back every four weeks and have something completely different. There are vegetarian and gluten-free options and you can add a flight of wine, beer and cider or grown-up soft drinks for each course.
Belzan has created something very special and unique with this menu and it wouldn’t seem out of place wearing a Michelin star. Despite the new rules for bars and restaurants, including a 10pm finish time, both Sam and Chris are very positive about the future.
Sam says, “We have two sittings in the evening which staggers the night a bit for us. If everyone tries to book in at 7.30pm you cant serve everyone, but I think everyone will adapt to the changes quite easily. It’s just that everyone wants to go out to eat and have a drink afterwards, which isn’t going to happen anymore.”
Chris adds, “We have an incredible team here. Making sure that we’ve got a job for people has always been our main driving force, and maintaining that we can keep some creative control of our lives.”
The October menu looks set to be just as genius, with whispers of smoked corn chowder, seabass pastrami and butternut squash donuts. Places are very limited so get in quick.
Belzan’s seasonal taster menu is available on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Book online at www.belzan.co.uk
Belzan, 371 Smithdown Road, Liverpool, L15 3JJ