The Garden at FACT
Arts space and cafe LEAF was included in Guardian Travel’s first "budget eats" guide to Liverpool, in 2008, and is still going strong, albeit at a new address. In the meantime, owner Natalie Haywood has branched out at the media arts centre, FACT, and at Oh Me Oh My, a weekday cafe in a grand, Grade II-listed property opposite Liverpool’s totemic Liver Building. LEAF and FACT are natural allies – way beyond their preference for upper case logos – and last year cemented their union when LEAF opened the Garden cafeteria at the centre. Its menu is broadly vegetarian, revolving around sandwiches, Ottolenghi-ish salads and daily specials executed with LEAF’s usual foodist rigour. For £3.95, I picked-up a "small" (in fact, quite substantial) box of mixed salads and focaccia that included a terrific riff on preserved, chargrilled artichoke hearts and a lovely honeyed parsnip and walnut coleslaw. All this is available to take away, but, on a clear day with the sun streaming through FACT’s glass façade, the Garden, with its fresh flowers and plants, and friendly staff, is a pleasant place to linger over lunch.
• 88 Wood Street, fact.co.uk. Open Mon-Fri 8.30am-9pm, Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10.30am-6.30pm, breakfast £2.95-£6.25, sandwiches, salads and main meals £3.95-£6.75
If you want to breakfast like a king – or The King, for that matter – head to this US-inspired cafe, which does a fine line in stacks of pancakes and waffles topped with bacon and maple syrup. Elsewhere, its extensive all-day breakfast menu runs the Stateside gamut from garlic- and cheese-laced grits, via a minute steak with homemade hash and eggs to the "Coney Island", a pulled pork-topped breakfast hotdog. Portions are large and ingredients first-rate. Service is cheery and obliging and the soundtrack (beards ‘n’ banjos, faux-backwoods Americana) fairly innocuous. Moose will open a third Liverpool branch (there’s one north of the centre in Crosby) on Hope Street, later this year.
• 6 Dale Street, moosecoffee.co.uk. Open Mon-Fri 8am-4pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm, breakfast £3.90-£9, salads and sandwiches £5.90-£8.50
From colourful tableware to sensational, fennel-spiked chorizo sausage rolls, there isn’t much you can’t buy in Peter Kinsella’s Spanish deli-restaurant. On my visit, the kitchen had even knocked up a Catalan take on Liverpool’s signature stew, scouse, in honour of Global Scouse Day. The daily lunch offer (three tapas and bread, £10.75) is good value. Alternatively, you can take away all manner of snacks and salad-y things, tortilla, cakes, as well as hot sandwiches stuffed with morcilla (blood sausage) or, say, Catalan butifarra sausage and fig chutney. Do not miss the patatas aioli, a creamy concoction of half-mashed, half-crushed potatoes loaded with garlic. Comforting, next-level stodge, I could eat it by the bucket load. Talking of great value, set-lunch deals, the nearby Salt House is another excellent, if less slavishly authentic Liverpool tapas joint.
• 18–20 College Lane, Liverpool One, lunya.co.uk. Open Mon-Tues 10am-9pm, Weds-Thurs 10am-9.30pm, Sat 9am-10pm, Sun 10am-8.30pm, takeaway snacks from £1.50, sandwiches £3.50-£5.25
Think of Bakchich as a Lebanese Wahaca or Barburrito by way of Beirut. It serves decent Levantine street food – meze, falafel and shawarma wraps, chargrilled meats – in a bright, buzzy restaurant at very keen prices. The advertised hummus in my lamb kofta wrap had, somehow, mutated into garlic sauce and I’m not sure how authentic it is to bulk out a Middle Eastern sandwich with chopped lettuce but the star of the show, the kofta, was delicious. A long, gloriously moist snake of meat, it had a nice chargrilled edge, a quiet heat and was packed with fresh herbs. For £4.95, it hit the spot. Just around the corner from Bakchich, you will find Club Pizza , a spin-off from the well-regarded Italian Club.
• 54 Bold Street, 0151 707 1255, bakchich.co.uk. Open Mon-Thurs 8am-10pm, Fri-Sat 8am-11pm, Sun 10am-10pm, wraps and large salads £3.50-£5.95, larger dishes from £6.95
Bold Street Coffee
Even in the best third-wave coffee haunts, the food is often an afterthought. Not here: a pot of fantastic soup (thick, creamy winter vegetable and pearl barley) comes with two slices of high-quality, generously buttered sourdough. At this level, that kind of attention to detail impresses. Likewise, Bold Street’s interesting salads sing with true, clear flavours. These could include purple sprouting broccoli, flagelot and hazelnut, or chickpea and olive with roasted peppers, mint and basil. It also serves posh sandwiches (say, salami, brie and homemade tapenade) and, at breakfast, appetising dishes such as homemade fruit loaf and apple-cinnamon French toast. With its hastily painted signage, low-hanging filament lightbulbs and deep house soundtrack, it might be thought a bit trendy by some but the staff could not be nicer. A sample flat white (£2.60) was very good: the texture silky, its flavours well-balanced.
• 89 Bold Street, boldstreetcoffee.co.uk. Open Mon-Fri 7.30am-6pm, Sat 8am-6pm, Sun 9.30am-5pm, breakfast £2.50-£6.95, sandwiches from £2.80, salads from £2.95
Hidden from the main road within the concrete confines of Beetham Plaza, this A1 Japanese restaurant is easy to overlook. It’s not a budget choice at night but, at lunchtime, it dispenses a variety of sub-£10 bento boxes. Served with rice, salad, steamed vegetables and a terrific tangle of sweet ‘n’ sour pickled cucumber, the pan-fried sea bass was excellent, its skin crisp, the lusciously thick ponzu dressing memorable. At the risk of repeating myself, Etsu’s staff were all smiles, too. Liverpool should be proud of itself. In popular tourist destinations, the service in cafes and restaurants is often jaded if not outright grumpy (with good reason, you might argue). However, Liverpool is an exception. Not since this series visited the equally upbeat Lincoln have I encountered such natural, chatty warmth from those waiting tables and operating tills.
• 25 The Strand, 0151 236 7530, etsu-restaurant.co.uk. Open Tues, Thurs midday-2.30pm and 5pm-9pm, Wed 5pm-9pm, Fri midday-2.30pm and 5pm-10pm, Sat 5pm-10pm, Sun 4pm-9pm, lunch £7.95-£10.95
Depending on which way you look at it, or walk into it, the Baltic Triangle is either a blossoming creative quarter or several grim streets of garages, industrial units and wholesalers. As a tourist, it is unlikely you would stumble across the Baltic Bakehouse, but it is worth the detour from Albert Dock. A coolly utilitarian artisan bakery and cafe, it is so popular that when I arrived at 1.45pm, there was just one Chelsea bun left on the counter. A humdinger it was, too. Cakes aside, the Bakehouse majors in quality sandwiches filled with, say, chicken, chipotle mayo and smoked Anglesey sea salt, or baba ganoush and grilled halloumi. A grilled cheese sandwich of mature cheddar and gruyère landed big punchy flavours, although it perhaps wasn’t the best way to appreciate the "unique and subtle flavours" of the Bakehouse’s 36-hour, cold-proved white sourdough.
• 46 Bridgewater Street, balticbakehouse.co.uk. Open Tues-Fri 8.30am-5.30pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4pm, sandwiches £3.50-£4
The Social and I didn’t get off to the best start. Ask for a half of Punk IPA at the bar, and you will get a schooner (two-thirds of a pint) priced at a whopping £3.80. That needs flagging up before the drink is poured, or narky old ale drinkers like me won’t be happy. Some above-and-beyond assistance with logging on to the Wi-Fi made me warm to the place, eventually. Which is good, as the food at this offshoot of Aigburth’s Onion deli is as impressive as it is competitively priced. The Social’s daily menu includes, among other things, various burgers and hot sandwiches (rarebit, homemade fish finger, BLT), alongside filling one-pots such as Moroccan chicken stew, or ace pork and chorizo meatballs with spaghetti in a clever caramelized garlic and fennel tomato sauce.
Like the Social, the nearby, much bigger Camp and Furnace, is a multi-purpose venue that is simultaneously late-night bar, quietly ambitious casual restaurant and arts/music events space. Its daytime menu includes a handful of sub-£10 dishes, for instance a spelt salad of butternut squash and wild mushrooms with salsa verde (£8), but budget travellers will be more interested in Food Slam Fridays, a weekly night of, "quality street food and drink, set against a deafening club soundtrack".
• Elevator Studios, 25 Parliament Street, thebalticsocial.com. Open Mon-Fri 9am-8.30pm for food (till 11pm for drinks), weekends 10am-8.30pm for food (till 2am for drinks), breakfast £3.60-£5.95, small plates and sandwiches £3.50-£4.50, mains £5.95-£9.50
Free State Kitchen
Fittingly on Maryland Street, just off Baltimore, the Free State Kitchen is Liverpool’s primary exponent of US "dude food": hotdogs, Reuben sandwiches, buffalo wings, chilli fries and, of course, burgers. Its cheeseburger is a vastly improved doppelganger for the McDonald’s classic, right down to the exceptionally light, soft but durable bun and (what tastes like a Kraft) cheese slice on top. Of course, the patty is much tastier than anything you will find on the high street: loosely packed, juicy, precisely chargrilled, it persuasively asserts its beefy flavour over the ketchup, mild mustard and onion. The rosemary fries I was less keen on, but at least the seasoning is kept to a sensible scatter. In summer, the Free State opens out on to an ivy-clad courtyard and lawn which, unlike its food, is quintessentially English.
• 1 Maryland Street, freestatekitchen.co.uk. Open Mon-Thurs 10am-10pm, Fri 10am-11pm, Sat midday-11pm, Sun midday-9pm, main courses £7-£10
If there was one obvious, significant omission from my original 2008 Liverpool "budget eats" list, it was MelloMello. Run by the Art Organisation co-op, this scruffy, brilliant veggie/vegan cafe and bar has, in the meantime, evolved into a key creative hub, over four floors of rehearsal rooms, studios, performance and exhibition spaces. Chandeliers and fading gilt, make the interior feel like some long-abandoned, now-tumbledown aristocratic pile. From cinnamon porridge to bowls of courgette and spinach lasagne, gnocchi or tomato and fennel risotto, MelloMello has most food bases covered and, judging by a wholesome split yellow pea and garam masala soup, packs in enough flavour that even carnivores won’t begrudge eating here – particularly if they like beer. In addition to a handful of keg and cask lines, MelloMello’s selection of craft and world bottled beers is tremendous, taking in cutting-edge brewers as geographically diverse as Odell’s in Colorado and Bristol Beer Factory. My pint of Four Of A Kind (£4.20) from Manchester’s Blackjack certainly delivered the promised hop explosion.
• 40-42 Slater Street, mellomello.co.uk. Open Mon midday-midnight, Tues-Thurs 10am-midnight, Fri-Sat 10am-till late, Sun 11am-midnight, breakfast from £2.25, snacks and sandwiches £2.95-£3.55, meals from £5.50
Follow Tony Naylor on Twitter @naylor_tony
Travel between Manchester and Liverpool was provided by First TransPennine Express More tourist information on Liverpool from visitliverpool.com
For more information, go to the Visit Liverpool website