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Restaurant review: A Spire to greatness

Does the cooking at Matt Locke's restaurant live up to the hype? Angie Sammons finds out what the fuss is about

Written by . Published on May 23rd 2011.


Restaurant review: A Spire to greatness

Terry Durack, a man who eats restaurants for breakfast (and lunch and dinner) is the Independent on Sunday's restaurant critic.

Not long back, he gave his usual stamping ground of gastropubs and Notting Hill a miss, jumping an awayday up north to bask beneath the blue suburban sky that is the cliche of Penny Lane.

Joint owner Adam Locke beckons you in and makes you feel like you've just sat down in his own house

National newspaper reviewers don't get out of London much, and when they do you'd better watch out. Standards are capital, in every sense, and they don't take any prisoners home as a souvenir.

Who, in Liverpool catering circles, did not shudder in a “there-but-for-the-grace-of-god” kind of way when the Sunday Telegraph's Matthew Norman delivered a stinging put-down of one famous restaurant which fancied itself a bit too much a few years ago? And not least because he memorably rechristened Albert Dock, Albert Tat Dock.

But Durack seems a more affable chap. He had come here to find out about Spire. It's next to the barbershop in the Beatles' song, on a block that has been good for restaurants for years.

Durack, I suspect, didn't know this. Nor that Spire stands on the hallowed ground of the much loved Left Bank, whose owner, Mally, has long departed for Birkdale to open Crystals (well worth going to if you're up that way).

Instead, he wrote about everyone in Liverpool sounding like Cilla and Stevie Gerrard (his boss is Janet Street Porter so perhaps it was music to his ears); was quite complimentary about the grub, which he enjoyed with his wife, The Times cookery editor, Jill Dupleix, and then he got off again. Phew.

Spire were chuffed.

We went last Monday. As the wind howled around a spent and empty city centre, so the post-weekend party is in swing in south Liverpool restaurants. Spire is packed and they've turned 20 people away. It's prix fixe night, an unbelievable bargain at £14.95 for three courses, but even so.

Our greeter, joint owner Adam Locke beckons you in and makes you feel like you've just sat down in his own house. Given that his brother Matt (ex Carriage Works and Metro's national Food Hero of 2006) is in charge of the kitchen, they might have been a whole lot stuffier. That they don't is a good start indeed..

There is only one chef on. It must be at boiling point back there, but no one is visibly quaking. We are plied with a reasonable bottle of pinot grigio, warm Italian bread and a wonderful home made basil oil, trusting that eventually it'll all come right.

And come right it does: It is a small menu on Monday but there is a heap of imagination. My friend has smoked chicken in an aioli dressing that tastes straight out of your blender, with a mango salad. It is surrounded by crisp, intact leaves of baby gem; so easy and quick to do, and a world away from the mixed bags of bitter leaves that lazy chefs will tip onto your plate, and will nearly always get away with because you, dear diner, let them.

Confit of duck leg is a drumstick that hits the mark with a thwack. Encased in crispy skin over a small bed of noodles and a Moroccan salad of spiced pulses, the meat is intense in flavour owing to its long, advance preparation. A real treat then, and the whole dish is as moreish as it is Moorish.

In recent forays out, on your behalf, things have gone so badly downhill at the main course stage that I'm starting to expect it. Thankfully not tonight.

Seabass fillet has been panfried with skill, its skin crisper than a Mediterranean suntan, while the plentiful flesh has a just-landed texture and mildness of flavour. Its accompaniments, petite ratatouille and a tomato and basil vinaigrette, nod to a hotter clime too, but everything you see is English and seasonal, zinging with summer and freshness.

Cumberland sausage is curled like a sleeping boa constrictor on a perfectly fitting round mattress of mash, and there is a red onion and balsamic sauce too, chipping in with a sweet and sour tang. The banger is as hearty as they come and washed down with a bottle of Chateau Lamothe 2005, Bordeaux (£18.95), chosen by the host from a long and considered list, is a pleasure to polish off.

Creamed garlic courgettes with parmesan are the most outstanding side order I've come across in a long while. The chunky chips weren't great, but you can't have everything.

Fruit trifle, a huge and creamy creation that comes in its own glass is met with warm approval, as is the selection of raw farmhouse cheeses with pear chutney, lots of fresh, crunchy celery and green grapes. A good cheeseboard (and this is) doesn't sound so hard, so how come it defeats so many restaurants?

I was sorry, in a way, that we didn't sample the a la carte another night. It also turned out that the chef who executed this so ably, was the sous, Dave Butterworth, and not Matt Locke. That's two good reasons to go back.

Luckily we won't have to go as far as Terry to sample Spire's food next time, or to hear Cilla soundalikes where'er we walk. Step inside, Love.

Rating: 17/20
Breakdown: 8/10 Food
4.5/5 Service
4.5/5 Ambience
Address: Spire,
1 Church Road (Penny Lane roundabout),
Liverpool
L15 5EA.
0151 734 5040.
Liverpool Confidential dines unannounced and picks up all its own bills.

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Lindsey HeskethJuly 20th 2007.

Well spotted! I've been going to Spire since it opened about a year ago and can't fault it.It is like your reviewer says, a very homely welcoming restaurant and the food is some of the best in Liverpool. I recommend it to all my friends as such and will be going again soon, thanks to this reminder.

DebsJuly 20th 2007.

What an insightful review! Spire is an absolute jewel in Liverpool's crown (just down the road from us) and I only hope that all the publicity won't go to their heads. Another half dozen like Spire and it will start to look up nicely in Liverpool

McGuiverJuly 20th 2007.

Sounds the biz. I want to go

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