Vicky Andrews interviews the celebrity chef ahead of his appearance at Taste Liverpool, Drink Bordeaux
“We get medals to prove that we are ambassadors for Bordeaux wine and I'm more giddy about that, I think than anything,” says Simon Rimmer. The Sunday Brunch presenter and owner of award-winning restaurant Greens is out on the road this week for a new festival, Taste Liverpool - Drink Bordeaux.
The gastropub list has been completely turned on its head.
The four-day event in Liverpool from 2 - 5 June is a celebration of the region's hospitality culture, uniting Merseyside's thriving food and drink scene with that of Bordeaux in France.
At the launch on Thursday, Simon and Steven Doherty, former head chef of Le Gavroche, will be initiated as ambassadors of Bordeaux wines.
Does that mean they’ll have to sample quite a bit of vino?
“It's a dangerous scenario, isn't it?” Simon laughs. “It will be rude not to kind of partake after that, I think.”
Both Simon and Steven are on the Taste Liverpool, Drink Bordeaux line-up for a series of free cookery demonstrations at St Luke’s Church, alongside the likes of Paul Askew (The Art School), Lizzie Acker (Great British Bake Off), and Ellis Barrie (Lerpwl).
“What a location to do cookery demos, I love the Bombed Out Church,” says Simon. “I think it's one of the most iconic buildings in Liverpool, so to do something there is just going to be amazing.”
Global food city
The team behind Taste Liverpool hopes that the festival will mark a new chapter for the city as a gastronomic destination. I ask Simon if he thinks Liverpool can become a global food city.
“I think it already is,” he says. “It's always had that global reach to it.
“I've been based in Manchester for many years, despite the fact that I'm a Scouser. I think that in some respects, Liverpool was maybe a little bit later to the modern explosion of the British food industry. But I think now Liverpool is really ticking an awful lot of boxes.
“You look at somebody like Paul Askew, one of the greatest chefs in the UK - what he does at The Art School and what he does for promoting food in Liverpool is beyond compare. Ellis Barrie's opening down the docks with Lerpwl has been absolutely brilliant.
“Of course, Nisha Katona started Mowgli in Liverpool. I am a massive fan of the guys at Maray; I think what they're doing is absolutely superb.
"Panoramic, whilst it's maybe slightly more traditional, is a great venue.
Simon continues, "Even though they’re a national chain, Hawksmoor is going to open in Liverpool and they’re tremendously consistent wherever you go in the country. You know if you go to Hawksmoor, you're going to get really good food.
“Equally, I really like little places like Petit Coin, the little wine bar on the corner (Ed - Berry Street). They have a great wine list, it's a really cool place. It feels beautifully intimate. If I was compiling a list of places I would take people if they came to Liverpool for a food and drink experience, then that would also be pretty high on my list.”
Simon previously ran The Viking in West Kirby, Wirral, and The Elephant in Woolton, South Liverpool. These days he's a consultant for Mission Mars, the brand behind Rudy’s Pizza and Albert’s Schloss, a role which he says is “very pleasant now”.
“When we had The Elephant and The Viking in the Wirral, there was something nice about coming home. But we just decided to come out of pubs, that was the reason that they went.
“But never say never, you know. I'm proud to be from Merseyside and have businesses there without a shadow of a doubt.”
Simon opened his first restaurant, Greens in Didsbury, Manchester, with Simon Connelly in 1990. The two Simons are just about to open a second Greens in Sale; Rimmer says that it feels like the right time.
“We've toyed with the idea in the past,” he says. “It's going to use the heritage and the history of Greens, but with a slightly more modern twist. So it's a bar as well as being a restaurant.
"We're going a little bit more down the small plates route, not exclusively, but quite extensively; plus we're gonna have a really beautiful roof terrace, which we're very excited about.
“When we started Greens back in 1990, veggie food then was very worthy; and it almost was quite a negative approach. I always felt back in the day that it was about what you couldn't eat rather than what you could eat. Always from the start, ours was about a celebration of ingredients.
A hub in Sale
“It's the slowest rollout in the world. It's 31 years since Greens opened. So it means if we open another one in 31 years, it will be just ahead of my 90th birthday,” he laughs.
“But, we’ve talked about the rise in Liverpool's food and drink culture. And I think that Sale is a prime example of a location that has been crying out for a really good nighttime economy for many years.
“And I'm not saying there aren't any good places in Sale, but it feels that what is needed is a hub; a really good destination that will bring people from outside of Sale into the area and show how great it is.”
Moor up North
The hospitality industry in the North is bouncing back better than anywhere else in the UK, led by Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester. I ask Simon if he thinks there’s still a degree of snobbery coming from London?
“I don't really, I think that’s a view that tends to be bandied around without any fact,” he says.
“The gastropub list has been kind of completely turned on its head. And again, look at Moor Hall, what they’re doing for the North West.
“London is a completely different country, to the rest of England, Scotland and Wales. I think an awful lot of people in London have no idea or opinions about what happens in the North. We do live in a nation that is very London centric, but probably rightly so.
“But I think in some respects there’s almost an inverted snobbery that happens; not just in the North West. We say, we don't need London; and we don't you know, we absolutely don't. You don't need to go to London to have magnificent food and great hospitality.
“We have tremendous staff. We have tremendous producers. I mean, let's face it, in the North West we don't need the UK for produce.
“We have the most diverse agriculture in the whole of western Europe. We have some of the most tremendous cheese producers in the world. We have great artisan farmers who are producing magnificent stuff.
“We're very lucky in the North West, I think.”
Taste Liverpool, Drink Bordeaux takes place from 2 - 5 June. Catch Simon Rimmer's chef demo at St Luke's Church on Saturday 4 June, 1pm. For more information on events and participating venues, head to the Visit Liverpool website.
Follow Vicky Andrews on Twitter: @planetvicster