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Restaurant review: Back doing the business

Delifonseca might be a young new outfit, but they know how lucky they are to have a stalwart like Martin Cooper in the kitchen

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Back doing the business

There is a chap called James Kane who runs a very pleasant tearoom in Stafford Street, down the side of TJ Hughes, in Liverpool.

In a world of tat and fabric shops and wholesalers, Mr Kane knows his toasted teacakes and chilli con carne better than most, and does well. But what really sets him apart is his hobby: in his spare time James Kane makes it his business to eat at the world's finest restaurants. He and the wife like to treat themselves big style, now that the kids have gone, so they take themselves off to The Fat Duck and Claridges, and are not averse to the odd transatlantic flight to sample the skills of the Michelin-starred elsewhere.

So when we got onto the subject of Delifonseca recently, and the man in charge of the kitchen there, Mr Kane merely sighed: “Ah, yes. The godlike genius of Martin Cooper.”

Martin Cooper has been around the butcher's block a few times and anyone who has eaten out in this city for a long time will know either him or his food. He came from the south as an architecture student. However he liked his night time job in the Everyman Bistro kitchen so much that he soon swapped stanchions for Sabatier knives and was on a roll.

As owner/chef at one of Liverpool's finest and most popular restaurants, The Armadillo, Cooper went on to cook for Martin Ainscough at the Number Seven in Falkner Street, served time at the Cafe Tabac, and latterly ran the Brasserie kitchen at the London Carriage Works.

But he's not interested in awards or accolades, so today he is doing his stuff for Candice Fonseca, owner of the eponymous Stanley Street deli, around the corner from Mathew Street where he made his name.

Delifonseca is a fantastic shop, stashed with treats for food lovers, and the footfall can now take a break in the restaurant up the stairs.

Its owner has a simple plan - literally. She sees a gap in the market for people who want to eat out, yet can't work up the appetite or budget to get dressed up for the top end of town, yet, are similarly unwilling to part with cash on the anonymous offerings of a chain.

So “peasant” food, grub from other cultures and people who stayed close to the land, is the order of every different day in Delifonseca, and Cooper is happy to oblige. There is a blackboard menu of hot specials, and a set list packed with substantial salads, platters, and lots of side orders of dips, olives and pates, which they will sell you downstairs. There are also thumping hot sandwiches served with the most wonderful looking chips I have ever seen.

Click here to take advantage of our great offer at Deli Fonseca. Get a free deli platter worth £11.95.

Now chefs seem to have fallen out with french fries and frites, and nowadays every place does “chunky home made chips” which are generally no less an affront to the senses.

I've never known Cooper do chips before, but if he'd been turning out these buggers for the last 20 years, he'd be a millionaire by now.

It is lunch and there are places to be, so we hit the main courses immediately. My hurrisome, worrisome friend calms down when he starts on the substantial chicken, bean and lentil stew (£9.95). It comes with a cous cous which is, in turn, sweet and savoury, served by fat chunks of aubergine, courgette and pepper. The stew gets its colour from turmeric, its fragrance from cumin. And, despite a slow sensation of fire, the chicken stands its ground (probably because it's free range and can stand) and the flavour wins out. The beans and lentils are tender and flavoursome, there is a garnish of fresh leek, and he spends a long time over it, vowing to come back for the recipe.

Lancashire hotpot (£9.95) is soothing food at its best; in this version, dices of lamb, stewed leek and carrot hide under a hat of crispy, golden potato. There is the right amount of stock: Too much and it would swim, too little and it would dry the meat which has endured a long and slow braise to take on all the flavours of the vegetables.

Puddings, and the hot chocolate brownie (£4.95) is an excellent sliver of light sponge loveliness, with a deep cocoa content. Custard, cream or ice cream? I chose the latter which was the perfect foil.My erratic friend takes leave with his treacle tart (£4.95) in a container and later reports on its delight, having enjoyed it in a solitary midnight feast.

They are keen for people to know that they are not just open for lunch. You can while away the evening in slow mode (and we will) accompanied by an extensive beer list and wines from all over (buy bottles from the deli and drink them up there).

Cooper isn't the only one who knows his stuff. Get Ms Fonseca on the subject of the eating habits of the city, and the nation, and she'll throw her degree thesis at you and talk all day. It's all food for thought indeed.

Overall rating: 15/20

Delifonseca, 12 Stanley Street, Liverpool. 0151 255 0808. Open 7 days till late.

Angie Sammons

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