I finally got round to a long planned day out in Liverpool on Saturday. Good intentions of spending some time in assorted museums and galleries were curtailed by the glorious weather, so I actually spent most of the day strolling the streets, loafing in parks, and stopping off for refreshments here and there.
Tapas had been part of the plan for a while, having not had any decent Spanish food for a while, and having received glowing recommendations for both Salt House and Lunya. On the day there was little to choose between the two, but Salt House won on account of its outdoor tables being in the sun rather than shade.
Things didn't get off to the best of starts. I was sat at the table for a good ten minutes, and watched a couple arrive after me, sit down, peruse the menu and order all before anyone seemed to notice I was there. A waitress eventually came over and said 'Are you waiting for someone?' 'No, just me' I replied. 'Oh', she said, 'can I get you something?' 'Perhaps a menu?' 'Ok', she wandered off, looking a bit surprised. Maybe solo dining is still unheard of in these parts, it's still quite uncommon in a lot of places, and can be an uncomfortable experience. I've long since stopped caring though, if I'm out and about alone and want a good meal then why not. I'm not going to get Iberico ham at Greggs am I?
Fortunately things improved rapidly from thereon, the menu arrived swiftly and the waitress was soon back to take my order. I chose from the lunch special menu (3 tapas plates and bread for £8.90) and added a half plate of acorn fed Iberico ham (£7) from the main menu. To drink, a glass of manzanilla sherry.
Before we proceed further, I need to make this clear. Sherry is categorically not just for your Gran at Christmas time. Anyone who still thinks this is true is missing out. Try a glass of chilled dry sherry (Manzanilla or Fino) with just about any savoury dish, you might be surprised. With a plate of good quality ham it's a match made in heaven.
The Iberico ham at Salt House was excellent, carved properly in thin slivers, each morsel delivered an intense flavour that was somehow both deeply savoury and sweet at the same time. The fat was rich and creamy, slowly melting on the tongue to release layer upon layer of flavour. This in combination with the cold, dry, slightly salty tanginess of the sherry is just perfection. I sound like I'm getting a bit carried away here, but it really is that good.
Once I'd stopped salivating over my ham, I did eat some of the other food that had arrived. A piece of mackerel with piquillo pepper sauce was excellent. Spankingly fresh and cooked accurately so that the skin was crisp and the flesh soft, moist and sweet. The portion was perhaps a touch stingy, I know it was from the lunch menu, but it was mackerel which is usually cheap as chips.
Which leads me on to fried potatoes with bravas sauce, which are basically chips of a sort. This was the only duff note of the meal. The potatoes were fried nicely, but the bravas sauce was a bit bland, having only a very mild tomatoey flavour. Something with a bit of chilli in it, or at least a more concentrated tomato taste would have been better.
A cos lettuce salad was simple and perfectly pleasant, it came dressed with olive oil, manchego cheese (I think), and a couple of anchovies. The sourdough bread with oil and vinegar was also fine.
I still had some ham left after finishing the other dishes, so I ordered a Mahou lager and sat back sipping my icy cold beer, nibbling on bits of ham, feeling the warm sun on my face and generally thinking I was in Madrid. I wasn't of course, but on Saturday afternoon Liverpool made a very fine substitute.
A great meal topped off by what turned into great service. After the initial hiccup my waitress became increasingly chatty and turned out to be a lovely Liverpudlian lass. This little conversation we had as I paid the bill made my day:
Waitress (hands me the card machine to enter my pin): Here you go.
Me (no option to leave tip on the machine): I'm not sure if I have any change, do you still get the tip if I add it on here? If so can I add it on here?
Waitress: Yeah you can, but you don't have to give me a tip.
Me: No that's alright, I want to. I've enjoyed it.
Waitress (not taking machine back): Nah, don't be daft I haven't done anything special, I don't expect one.
Me (entering pin then checking wallet for change): I used to live in London, I'm used to places adding 12.5% whether they deserve it or not.
Waitress: Well that's out of order that, I think it should be up to the customer if they want to leave a tip. I'm just doing my job.
Me (finds coins, leaves generous tip): I agree, I'm leaving a tip though 'cos it's been really good.
Waitress: Aww, cheers.
As far as I can recall that's the first time the staff in any restaurant I've been in have tried to turn down a tip!
In total the bill was £23 not including service. Good value for top notch ingredients and a generally high standard of cooking. Service was friendly, efficient and completely lacking in pretension. Highly recommended.