Once upon a time, I think I may have partaken in a day trip that didn’t involve food. It’s possible, but I can’t remember it. Because for as long as I can recall, an integral part of a day trip is the food that can accompany it.
It’s a double-edged sword really. Finding somewhere to eat – especially in a new town, city or country – can be a saliva-inducing journey of research with all the excitement and anticipation that goes with visiting somewhere new. Of course, it’s another thing to add to the list when you’re preparing for your grand day out and then there’s also that added pressure that you might just cock it all up by choosing the wrong place.
Despite that concern, I think the former outweighs the latter and if you love filling your face like I do, adding a food-filled dimension to a day out just makes it all the sweeter. I’ve also got one simple tip to avoid the latter – get some advice from people in the know. In my case, as I planned lunch for mine and mum’s trip to Liverpool to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition at the city’s World Museum, I asked blogger Hungry Harriet for her recommendations on where to go. She had a whole slew of places and after thorough snooping of all of them, we decided on Salthouse Bacaro.
In the heart of Liverpool’s financial district, it calls itself a Venetian small plates joint. I’ve only been to Venice once and I think I was busy chasing a bloke I fancied at the time, so I can’t profess to be an expert on Venetian small plates, but the idea of a touch of Italy, a load of food to share, and good cocktails was enough to get my vote.
It’s a welcoming place, slap bang on a corner, with a big old bar down one side and plenty of tables filling up the big open space. Good job really, since we arrived the minute they opened at 12 and definitely weren’t the only ones gagging for lunch there. Keen to lap up as much sunshine as possible, we took one of the outside tables and while mum was far too virtuous for my liking, I got stuck into the drinks menu.
There’s all the usual stuff, with the addition of the ‘Bellini bar’ and a whole selection of ‘Italian bitters’, so I went for an Amaro spritz, closing my eyes and pretending very briefly that the road alongside us was a picturesque Venetian canal and the cars gondolas gliding through the water. Ok, I tried…
To be fair, we didn’t come for the seating, but for the food. And the menu itself was enough to bring a smile to your face. Simply divided into an array of Spuntini, charcuterie, pizzettes, bread and then fish, meat and vegetarian dishes, I defy even the fussiest of eater to say they can’t find something on there that looks great. The real challenge isn’t in what to have, but what NOT to try.
We started with arancini, which on the day we visited was mediterranean vegetables. Golden and crispy, with the risotto inside not only tasty, but soft and yielding yet still with a bite. Not quite up there with the crazy creation I had at Kokosnot nor apparently as marvellous as the delights mum tried in Sicily, but still as good, if not better, as any I’ve had at restaurants in the UK before.
Let’s remember that the way restaurants like this work means your food comes when it’s ready. It’s a continental way of eating where you dig in, eat what you’ve got in front of you, and take each dish as it come. No sitting politely on ceremony while your food gets cold (unless you insist on taking pictures of everything, thus sentencing yourself to a life of cold food – guilty as charged, your honour) and instead getting involved as soon as possible as the dishes just keep on coming.
Next up could have been anything from sea bass to black pudding but was our one vegetarian choice of the day – burrata. I think this may have been my favourite. I love burrata anyway and think I would have been happy had someone served me up a pillow of this Italian loveliness on a bare plate but instead it was perched on top of a bed of guacamole, with its own crown of salsa on top. It came with garlic pizza bread which we were convinced we didn’t want but found ourselves happily munching through as we used it to shovel dollops of the calorie-laden creaminess into our mouths. Simple, yet triumphant.
Next up was a choice from the fish menu – dressed white crab with black garlic aioli, radish, samphire and an apple dressing. Light and fresh, a perfect summer dish, that showed off the crab meat but also the contrast between the salt of the samphire, that delicious sticky, almost caramel-like sweetness of the black garlic, and the slight sour of the apple dressing.
Another light dish – I’d imagine probably by design on the part of the kitchen – was the pan-fried sea bass, which for me was a surprising favourite. As Forrest Gump would say, simple is as simple does, and this really was simple.
The fish sat on top of the charred courgette, simple enough in both appearance and flavour, but it wasn’t long before both the red onion agrodolce and pea and jalapeno puree announced themselves, the former sweet and sticky and the latter winning with an almost wasabi-like warmth that tickled your tastebuds without overpowering the rest of the plate.
Buoyed by our choices so far, we rubbed our hands in glee at the prospect of the remaining two dishes we’d chosen. Both from the meat menu, they promised big, rich flavours with the accompanying full tummies. First was the Stornoway black pudding with sauteed chicken livers, caramelised onions and a Marsala sauce.
It was impressive enough on the plate, piled so high with liver and onions that you could hardly see the black pudding, with the whole lot surrounded by a moat of glistening sauce. I was convinced I would love it. I wanted to love it. But somehow it just didn’t hit the spot. Every element is something I love, and each was executed brilliantly in its own right, but both of us found the whole plate a bit too sweet. Don’t get me wrong, I love a rich, sweet sickly mess of blood, liver, onions and wine as much as the next greedy carnivore, but I wonder if perhaps it’s just a bit too much.
Last and by no means least was our other meat option and the one that had caught our eye the moment we got our grubby little mitts on the menu. Braised ox cheek with mushroom puree, truffle cheese and bone marrow jus. Another flesh-filled party of indulgence that you know you should possibly steer clear of on health grounds but can’t drag yourself away in the same way a fat kid just can’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar.
It was everything we hoped. Meat that dissolved at the lightest touch of a piece of cutlery yet contrasted that delicate texture with a hefty flavour. A rich, sweet mushroom puree underneath and a slab of cheese with the distinctive notes of truffle, all in a rich, unctuous sauce. Rich, yet utterly delicious.
Despite being rather full, we finished off with Bacaro ‘petit fours’ and a strong coffee each – partly due to concern that we needed a good nap after such a full-on feed and might sleep through the Terracotta Warriors. They were a dainty selection of sweet treats, from their own take on lemon meringue in the form of lemon cream on top of a thin meringue to simple chocolate fudge. All nice enough, but not quite in the same league as some of the small plates for me.
Regardless, we left smiling at having struck gold with our day-trip lunch choice. Bacaro is everything Hungry Harriet said it would be, everything I’d hoped for, and much more. The service was on point, efficient without being rushed and casual without being messy. The pricing is more than reasonable – between about £5 and £9 per dish. And most importantly, the food is bang on.
Yes, the thought of choosing a dud is never pleasant. And actually choosing one can be heartbreaking. But when you hit the jackpot, it’s worth it every time.
We paid in full at Salthouse Bacaro. They didn’t know I was a blogger. Big thanks to Hungry Harriet for a great recommendation.