It’s no secret I love Liverpool, it’s my home city and nowhere brings out such joy and affection in me than spending a happy day strolling the streets of the place where I grew up. Since winning Capital of Culture eight years ago, Liverpool’s city centre has changed dramatically. It has still kept the pride, optimism and sense of humour it’s always had, but the shopping and restaurant scene in the city is growing week by week, there are so many new places to try I genuinely can’t keep up when I go back for a weekend.
I recommend Liverpool to all of my Brighton friends (and pretty much anyone I meet) and it always amazes me how many of my southern colleagues and friends haven’t been. How have you not been to the docks? Taken a ferry across the Mersey? Had a brilliant scouse night out? Been to the Bluecoat, the Walker Art Gallery and the Palm House? The mind boggles.
Bold Street is a popular street crammed full of independent shops (News from Nowhere and Utility are two of my faves), and more recently, a tonne of brand new independent restaurants serving amazing, creative food in the city. I used to know the street well, be it working at the now defunct Kookai store as a student, or toddling down the street in my high heels looking for a kebab after a night out. Now I’m more likely to be caught buying a Danish candlestick in Utility, stocking up on artisan sourdough in East Avenue Bakehouse and eating some of the best Middle Eastern food the city has to offer at Maray.
If Liverpool is on your list to visit, or you live there and haven’t been to Maray yet, put it on your list immediately. It opened earlier this year and has pretty much been fully booked weeks in advance ever since. On the Sunday my friend Jenna and I strolled in (pre-op, of course) we got a seat in the window immediately, but I’m glad to hear they have just opened a second site in the lovely suburb of Allerton so more people have a chance to eat at this temple of deliciousness. The Bold Street branch is compact, with exposed brick, exposed lightbulbs and jaunty art on the walls but it’s the food, not the décor, that makes you know you’ll be back.
They are a fully paid up member of the small plates club, but to be honest, they’re some of the biggest small plates I’ve ever seen. The menu changes season to season, and uses local meats and local, sustainable fish (except on Mondays when they bring out the all veggie menu). We started with a cheeky Sunday night Aperol Spritz which are 2 for £10 on their Spritz Sundays, a movement I’d gladly see other restaurants follow. Much of the menu feels Ottolenghi inspired, but the odd American influence thrown in for good measure. The ‘FHT’ – falafel, harissa hummus, summer tabbouleh was beautiful, crispy on the outside, soft and packed full of flavour on the inside. Sometimes falafel can feel heavy, this was anything but. Deep fried whitebait with chillis were copious (I barely managed half the plate!) and the smoked aubergine, red pepper, capers and mint was another assembly of ingredients you’d never put together yourself at home, but it works so damn well.
They don’t mess about with their side orders either, these sweet potato wedges, tahini and balsamic reduction were like a meal in themselves, and really made me think about how lacklustre sides can be in other places. They’re just as part of the meal as anything else, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be show stopping. Clearly a thought the chefs had when they made this gorgeous concoction.
The real star of the show was the half cauliflower, flaked almonds, pomegranate, tahini, yoghurt, harissa and fresh herbs. Normally that accolade is reserved for a steak, or a beautiful fish dish, but honestly, I could eat this cauliflower dish every day. Who knew cauliflower could taste this good?!
Every dish is about £6 and you only need about 2-3 each to have a hearty meal. We were so full from dinner we didn’t manage to try their desserts, but Jay Rayner did when he stumbled across Maray in the summer and gave high praise for their deconstructed cheesecake so I imagine they’re as good as the rest of the menu. If it’s good enough for Jay, then the rest of us food muggles are in for a treat. It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday night catching up with one of my favourite friends from home and I can’t wait to go back.
Maray, 91 Bold Street, Liverpool L1 4HF (0151 709 5820)
57 Allerton Rd, Liverpool L18 2DA (0151 709 5820)