LIVERPOOL Confidential is nine years old next week. In German Shepherd years that’s time for a prostate appointment.
“It involves going out. A lot,” they said; noting, with a whiff of misgiving, I thought, the two preschool chiidren at my feet, one being headlocked by the other.
“That will do me,” I replied, and within days had formed a bond with Delta Taxis and Merseyrail which, by now, ought to have earned me an invitation to their staff Christmas parties.
Instead, hundreds of their receipts have been impaled on the old newsroom spike and many thousands of pictures have weighed down various computer hard drives, a visual memoir of a 108-month prowl around the good and the bad and the ugly restaurants and bars of Merseyside with a clutch of loyal mates or even those now-gangly lads in tow.
The menu has to be printed off from a PC, the act of which later leads one to ponder if they know how good they are in here
Put the site into google images and up will come page after page of Thai fishcakes, mini sweetcorn and hard carrot batons (2007); ridiculous piles of rocket (2008-2012); filth burgers and pulled pork (2013+).
Happily the Liverpool restaurant “scene” has come a long distance since we put our first review up (60 Hope Street) in 2006.
At the time, Josh Moore would have been a schoolboy himself, just 15. Now he is 24 and, based on his solo performance, three weeks ago, in the kitchen of Cedar Gin & Fire there is plenty to be optimistic about. He leads a new vanguard of chefs coming onto the radar in a handful of venues around the city. They are all way under 30 and are frequently buying themselves stakes in places: with that comes the freedom to roam.
Success in any art or craft relies on technique, imagination and confidence and young Mr Moore is ably turning out the sort of promise, in the basement of the old Le Bateau nightclub, that the Confidential camera rarely gets to capture on its own manor.
It’s all about his Inka oven, we learn. Yes, his Inka oven. Moore owns and manages the venture.
It’s a piece of kit that’s the focal point of the open plan kitchen, offering all the drama of dancing flames, burning cedar wood chips and food seared quickly over charcoal for that smoky summer feel.
“Everything is in the rest,” Moore says. This sounds enigmatic and vaguely philosophical, but what he actually means is The Rest, the time meat takes to recover itself after a turn on the flame.
Moore keeps moving as he talks, redeeming a fat ribeye from the blistering hell and taking it to a safe, warm place on the counter where it will soothe and heal in the time it takes you to knock back a G&T.
Beef dripping garlic butter from Sunday's slow roast
In the meantime, silky, thick beef dripping, rendered and salvaged from Sunday’s slow roast of rump, is whipped up with garlic and presented on soft, home-baked bread.
Then a mini ox skirt steak tatare breezes by: raw and ready, gently bound with smoked capers and pistachios over a flourish of hot English mustard
Drinks-wise, the clue is in the name. Cedar Gin & Fire will offer you 30 of the juniper berry’s finest, in cocktail form, to pair with the food.
Rather, we request wine, which isn’t, so far, their big thing; they have just a handful of bottles and some Vinacerrada crianza (£18) is suggested. It washes down a superb layered construction of flavour packed pork belly and cheek and snappy crackling, offset by a biting Granny Smith puree (£7.50).
This from a menu which has to be printed off from a PC, the act of which later leads one to ponder if they know how good they are in here.
Pork crackling, cheek and belly
A crispy garlic butter and sourdough bomb waits for its moment to explode over a hearty bowl of earthy, wild mushroom soup (£4.50). In more pretentious establishments this would be served freezing cold, in a shot glass to polite applause. Here the only slick you will find is one of tarragon oil.
Which main dish wins the dinners? The ample and moist charms of Guinea fowl supreme and leg does it for me, smoked bacon spilling from a wrinkled parcel of savoy cabbage over whipped mash (£15.95).
The loyal mate insists it's the lamb rump: sweet and pink as a baby’s blanket on which to lay the boisterous flavours of red cabbage, swirls of pureed smoked aubergine, coriander and bulgar wheat (£16). It's a close call. Both were excellent.
Fries, if you must, come coated in salty Italian pecorino cheese (£3.50); glazed “local” runner beans with chilli, meanwhile, are as fresh as the field.
It is not clear quite who or where Moore gets all this potential from. The City of Liverpool catering college? The time served in the barracks of the London Carriage Works? A further stint as head chef at the Camp & Furnace? Or could it be the experience at the Michelin-starred La Bandiera restaurant in a tiny hill town in Abruzzo, Italy?
Desserts take full advantage of the season, a windfall of plums (£6.50) are roasted with rosemary and vanilla, and get walk on parts in raw, jam and sauce form. Sugared almonds and vanilla cream soften the blow (£6).
And pain perdu (£7.50), an eggy, Inka toasted, five spice brioche that comes of age with gooseberry jam, passion fruit syrup, firm glazed pears and thyme custard. A chilly muscat would go great. No chance, and against our better judgement we sip the nearest suggestion: chartreuse the colour of Shrek. It is Tuesday.
2015: Liverpool bars are boasting more spirits than Derek Acorah's speed dial and we are encouraged to party like it’s 1999.
Back in the actual 1999, my carefree, childless self did copious gin and jenever food pairing tour of Antwerp, its birthplace, and I remain to be convinced.
That was the night former Liverpool Echo Arts Editor Joe Riley flamboyantly liberated handfuls of chicken drumsticks from a buffet at the town hall and catapulted them over the grand balcony, not quite missing some startled Japanese tourists standing in the square below. The occasion was the formal launch - the very formal launch - of Belgium's international Van Dyck retrospective.
They don’t call it mother’s ruin for nothing.
NB: All scored Confidential reviews are paid for by the company, never the restaurant or a PR outfit. Critics dine unannounced and their opinions are completely independent of any commerical relationships.
Cedar Gin & Fire
62 Duke Street,
Liverpool, L1 5AA.
0151 708 0860.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: gastropubs against the best gastropuns, takeaways against the best takeaways, etc.
On this basis, the scores represent....
1-5: Straight into the dog bowl
6-9: Straight into the Iceland
10-11: In 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