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Restaurant review: Gecko

All work and no play makes it a night of mixed fortunes for Angie Sammons

Written by . Published on February 22nd 2013.


Restaurant review: Gecko
 

IF you were thinking of sending your children to university and are struggling financially, remember this: they will only end up dressed as a bubbly Aero and handing out samples in Church Street for a living, or working in Poundland for nothing. 

Meanwhile, no matter what happens, the world will always need plumbers and haircuts. It will always need sustenance, too; look at all those food banks and restaurants that continue to open by the minute in Liverpool. 

Prawns pil-pil floundered in an ocean of oil so overwhelming that one half expected the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior to sail into view

 Two at the back end of Christmas: Home Canteen and Gecko. One determined to soothe us with food just like your mum made, the other setting out to remind you of happier times, when a staycation was a lifestyle choice – when you actually had a lifestyle

2013, and to the sun-washed Med Gecko whooshes us and, as Vivian Stanshall once observed, baby, that's one hell of a region. To Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Turkey, Morocco, A great big melting pot of cuisines. 

Gecko Liverpool %2832%29 %281024X768%29 

Gecko is a vast barn of a place, not unlike The Shining but with incessant Gypsy Kings.

To complete the landscape, the night we visited snow lay thinly around. We were the only customers, yet Gecko's tables, over two floors, can seat hundreds. 

Gecko Liverpool %2836%29 %281024X768%29
Like the Overlook Hotel, something of a shadow hangs around here. Back in the late 1990s, the massively successful L'Alouette ventured forth from Lark Lane, perhaps with ideas above its St Michaels Station. Occupying the same two floors of St John's House, on the newly developed Queen Square, even it, with its rep, managed to fail dismally. 



In its place came The Left Bank and of that we shall not even whisper. So let us look to the light with this new incarnation.

Gecko means lizard, a creature to be found skittling around on rocks in the baking midday heat of Gerald Durrell books. We would refuse to be disappointed. 

Right around the shores of the Mediterranean they do olives, here at Gecko they do 21 different kinds. It's a Eurovision Song Contest of olives. Stuffed, double stuffed, marinated, mixed, pitted and whole - “with stone” the seven-page menu informs the olive novice.

Gecko Liverpool %285%29 %281024X768%29Prawns pil-pil

They are included in the “Deli Range” section where there are stuffed this and nibbles that, several nods to popular European cheese production (biscuits, apple and grapes all available at a supplement) and a charcuterie range in which the stars include a 10-day cured chorizo, and a prosciutto - or “Italian word for ham” it says underneath. 



Second only to olives, the USP of the Mediterranean Sea is fish (clue in name and all that). Thus we turned our attention for the evening to the “main menu”. Here Neptune's bounty is amply represented: chilli mackerel, marinated, whole seabass, monkfish and chorizo kebabs. 

Oh indeed, we would be having some of that, we excitedly told our very helpful waiting operative.

We would not, they replied apologetically. All of that was off. 

Gecko Liverpool %2811%29 %281024X768%29Halloumi

How about a pizza (seven types) or pasta (three), or a burger?, they suggested, very helpfully. 

We were almost tempted to ask, how about we went to nearby ASK or Buffalo Jacks (Gecko's stablemate restaurant) who specialise in those things? But it was a fleeting and unkind thought which was instantly dismissed.

You see, it was the food of relentlessly hot climes we had in mind. We could still see buzzards circling and lizards basking and jousting in their Gecko arenas.

 

Gecko Liverpool %283%29 %281024X768%29Belly pork

It did not begin promisingly. Served with a slightly synthetic-tanged aioli came a starter of Prawns Pil-Pil (£5.95). Garlic and chilli king prawns sounded just the job, but they floundered in an ocean of oil so overwhelming that one half expected the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior to sail into view at any moment. 

One also might have been forgiven for thinking that a generous application of factor 70 had been bestowed on the grilled halloumi (£3.95), lest it colour up on the bars.  Rather than the Moroccan-spiced grilled vegetables we were expecting, these artlessly hewn lumps of cheese came in a good, piquant tomato salsa-type affair, which was a better idea, if truth be told. 

Onto “delicious braised belly pork” (£4.95), a trio of thick fleshy slices that offered almost as much resistance on the teeth as the three little pigs did when they were holed up in that brick house. Except the three little pigs of the fairytale probably had more colour and verve about them. 

Gecko Liverpool %2813%29A thick rind, which in another life, another cooking process, might have been transformed into appetising crackling, did nothing but frame their fat and frumpy form. Their only friends a heap of fizz-less, flat rocket and a black paper serviette which clung stubbornly to their underside. 

Neither the Greek lamb burger (£9.95) and accompanying sweet potato fries won any prizes for visual appeal or, indeed, on this occasion, minty, spicy expectation, but the burger had been given a decent flaying on the griddle and, as a result. was respectably charry on the outside and still moist within. 

Gecko Liverpool %2810%29 %281024X768%29
Served on a sourdough bun, with more halloumi, and a further big squeeze of garlic mayo, it gave my hesitant friend's jaw a further work-out. She gives up too easily, so I tossed her some of the white wrap from my steak kebab (it was that, a chicken version or more lamb) which did the task better. 

To the marinated rump skewer, then (£13.95), which, although bovine is not big on southern Mediterranean menus, wouldn't be on here if people didn't want it. To that end there are three different kinds of grilled steak (£14.95-£18.95) to sate the cautious.



Although the marinating process was evident neither in texture or flavour of this kebab, the lean cut was of a quality enough to hold its own: generous chunks of medium rare beef, with red onion and red pepper - all rather boring until rolled up with the very fresh roast vegetable cous-cous and tzaziki on the flatbread, the juices running forth in a messy satisfying way. 

Gecko Liverpool %2816%29 %281024X768%29Winner: Steak kebab

Desserts, Turkish delights, cheesecake and apparently fresh patisseries, would have to wait until another day. Had we imbibed, it would have taken the evening, with one bottle of wine (Traquilo Catalay, £15.95) to over £70 and a spin of Bamboleo too many.

Maybe next time, we told our server, as they asked if we would pass them our finished plates.

Gecko Liverpool %2818%29 %281024X768%29
Never letting anything go to waste, we held onto the pork belly in its own steadfast doggie bag tissue, which provided a treat, not for a big bad wolf but for another canine the next day.
 

Englishmen will always need sun, and for that authentic, passionate Med experience, there are plenty more fish in the sea. EasyJet, for example.

Gecko will appeal to the pre-theatre crowd and to larger parties with its jack-of-all, broad approach, and it is to be hoped it fares well to this end. There are far worse places on Queen Square to rattle around in on a wintry evening.

Perhaps this just wasn't its Shining hour.


ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. Critics dine unannounced and we picks up their bills - never the restaurant, never a PR company.

Rating:

11.5/20

Breakdown:

Food  5/10
Service  3.5/5 
Ambience 3/5

Address:

Gecko Mediterranean Kitchen & Bar
Unit 1, St John's House,
Queen Square,
Liverpool L1 1RH. 
0151 707 7780



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Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, British restaurants against other British restaurants etc. Following on from this the scores represent: 

1-5:     Get a doggy bag - for the dog
6-9:     Get the chippy 
10-11: It's an emergency!
12-13: If you happen to be passing
14-15: Worth a trip out 
16-17: Very good to exceptional 
18-20: As good as it gets 

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2013.

There is absolutely no reason - apart from venues' limited imagination and skill - why Liverpool diners should be patronised and deceived over and over again. If you catch a cheap Virgin ticket then go to http://www.wahaca.co.uk/ or (if you're not made to vomit by seeing the unspeakable Tory MPs who occasionally slither in) go to http://www.thedelaunay.com/
It's simple to do it properly - skill, joy, great food, enthusiastic staff, efficient management...

Stephanie LengFebruary 22nd 2013.

great entertaining review - I almost feel like I was there! Except, I have no intention of ever going. Those photos! Puts me right off my continental! By the way, what is a Bamboleo?

Derek HargreavesFebruary 23rd 2013.

,oH huLLO TheiR i as biN STuddyIN KnyAWrO-scIEnse sEnsE the erLY 1'930s buT eyE duN nO woT the heLLE it as tOO deW wiV MARGaRItA PEEtSERs//

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 26th 2013.

Dea

AnonymousFebruary 24th 2013.

Excellent job.

AnonymousFebruary 25th 2013.

Its depressing how many reviews end up with dinner for the Dog in liverpool. How these awful places keep getting financial backing is beyond me. That people actualy eat there just makes me sad.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Liverpool WagFebruary 25th 2013.

There are plenty of excellent restaurants in Liverpool that can give as good or better than anywhere in the North West. Your comment suggests a sweeping generalisation. Are you from Manchester, by any chance, and therefore unfamiliar with the city?

AnonymousFebruary 26th 2013.

Honestly Wag you miss the point, this is the third? review on livcon to end up with a doggy bag for the dog, and it depresses me.

There are good restaurants in liverpool but there are plenty of shockers which go on year after year full of customers who dont know better.

And as it happens I do think the rest of the northwest has it better than us but that doesnt make me a Manc

Cor LuvaduckFebruary 25th 2013.

Naming a restaurant after an insectivorous lizard seems a bit rum. I'd prefer to go somewhere called 'The Yielding Flesh' or somesuch.

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