Sunday, 24 February 2013

Red Fort, Lark Lane, Liverpool

In my quest for recession-friendly dining, it recently come to my attention that a forgotten favourite of mine, the Red Fort, does a Sunday deal of 3 courses for £10. How have I not seen this before? I had not been to the Fort since 2008 and was not overtly impressed due to the sub-zero temperature in the restaurant, a veggie vindaloo which resembled an Asda special and a lack of real coffee. However with a bargain on offer like this one, it was high time that I gave them a second chance.

Lark Lane is a hive of activity on a Sunday, with all the eateries vying cheek by jowl for customers, all offering a similar priced deal as the Fort. Sunday lunches and little plates of tapas can become humdrum and sometimes all you want is a massive curry to spice up your weekend. The Fort was unusually empty with only 3 tables taken but at least the Carnivore and I had the pick of tables, opting for the cosy booth-style arrangement at the back. The staff were friendly and attentive without being intrusive; although the Fort is spacious, it still offers a degree of privacy so you don't feel like your conversations are being eavesdropped.

To start, we had popadoms- fresh and with the right amount of satisfying snap- and a bountiful pickle tray. Top marks for the Lime Pickle- the Red Fort's offering is a smoother, easier-on-the-eye offering and less oily than the usual chunky, greasy one that most restaurants have. A welcome change. For the second course, the Carnivore was kind enough to opt for veggie samosas so I could try them- delicious and bursting with fresh veg, home made as opposed to the cash-and-carry frozen that Master Chef and co offer. I liked the sound of Aloo Pakora, the starchy brother of the Onion Bhaji if you like.

The Aloo Pakora made a welcome change from bhajis, a fine batter filled with a lightly spiced fluffy potato, comparable to a fancy savoury cake. These were served with a chili dip and a yogurt. So far, so good and hopefully not too full for the main event.

The mains consisted of one pilau (coloured-yippee!), a wonderfully fluffy naan, a veggie madras for me and a lamb madras for the Carnivore. What a feast! The Carniovre devoured the Madras and I was overwhelmed at the amount of veg in mine. As you know, my pet hate is restaurants that use tinned veg or those frozen bags for 79p from Iceland. Full marks for the Fort, providing me a veritable feast of okra, spuds, mushrooms and aubergine, heightened with coriander.

Curryholics, I believe the UNI has been toppled from its throne as Liverpool's best curry house. All hail the Red Fort.

Red Fort on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Casa Italia, Stanley St, Liverpool

As regular readers may have noticed, I'm living back in Liverpool and keen to rediscover old favourites that I've forgotten about. With the advent of glitzy Z-list celeb haunts like San Carlo and its ilk along with the increase of faceless chains like N*ndo's, not to mention the seemingly constant regeneration of Liverpool city centre, it's hard to keep up with what restaurants have survived the double threat of recession and the opening of Liverpool One. Casa Italia is one old school eaterie that has survived and it's not difficult to see why. For years, it has had three main rivals in the rustic Italian genre- Buca di Bacco (now closed), Villa Romana (demise in food quality) and Franco's (massive price hike). Casa Italia is a survivor, a strong competitor on Liverpool's food scene. With word of mouth popularity, no flashy advertising and no need for special offers, Casa often has queues out the door and never has a problem filling up of a lunchtime despite the obvious absence of meal deals. I visited on a Monday at 6 and it was heaving. Full of Italian homeliness, the restaurant has all the essential ingredients like checked tablecloths, an open plan kitchen and the typical wall display of empty wine bottles. Casa has been a mainstay for around 40 years and was one of the original celebrity restaurants- back in the day, rumour has it that Cliff Richard was turned away as he wasn't dressed smartly enough!

To start, I had the Minestrone soup for £2.95. Like a meal in itself, it was full of celery, beans, pasta and was served with a huge hunk of rosemary foccaccia. Delicious.

My main course was my staple dish- penne Arrabbiata which came in around £7.50 (all pastas are between £7-8). Fiery and potent, it was the perfect winter warmer, a ray of sunshine in the freezing February temperatures. This picture doesn't do it enough justice as the portion was HUGE!

The two carnivores with me chowed down on Polpette, a Spaghetti and meatballs dish, and Amatriciana, a spicy bacon penne. Empty plates and full stomachs all round. Sadly, there was no room for dessert but I spied my favourite Cassata ice cream for £3.95 which I felt guilty saying no to! We settled for coffees- Irish, Americano and a Cappucino. The coffees were a bit pricy, £2.10 for an Americano but when the food and atmosphere was this good, it was a small price to pay.

Casa Italia on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 16 February 2013

P&D Italian Deli, Williamson Square, Liverpool

I just thought I'd make your mouth water with my new favourite antidote to that afternoon drowsy feeling! P&D's Italian Deli breathes a heady rush of caffeine and la dolce vita into the previously depressive surroundings of Williamson Square. The Americano is £2 for a small, a bit pricey compared to its city centre rivals, but when the staff are as hunky as theirs, they're worth it! Cakes are around £3.50 but for those watching the waistline and the pennies, they come in miniature form for £1 like mine above. I've not eaten Cassata since my trip to Malta last March, so it was a much deserved treat to find it in my hometown. The only minus point about P&D's is the temperature- the heating is always on full blast and gets rather uncomfortable. Never mind, there's always the outdoor seating area too.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Christakis, Smithdown Rd, Liverpool

Smithdown Road seems to be the new foodie haven of Liverpool. Underrated and overlooked by some, the area is sometimes viewed as student central and home of the raucous Finch and Firkin or whatever they call it these days (I'm showing my age now). Christakis is a ray of Mediterranean sunshine, occupying the site that us 1980s babies knew as Suzy's Cafe. Little did I think I'd be revisiting my much-loved greasy spoon 15 years later, albeit reincarnated as a Greek taverna!

In stark contrast to the city centre Christakis, famed for its hen night antics, this is a more civilised affair, perfect for solo diners, families and couples alike. After my most recent Greek experiences in Liverpool which were disappointing (Zorbas and Romios), I was hoping this would fit the bill. I can't afford to keep going to Manchester's Kosmos for my Greek fix!

To start, I had this delicious Melitzanosalata, my staple diet. This was served with warm bread. Top marks for not charging for the bread, unlike some eateries.

After much deliberation over the main event, I settled for a veggie Moussaka. All mains are served with beautiful fat chips which are like roast potatoes, a Greek salad (and I mean horiatiki with huge hunks of feta, not limp lettuce!) and rice.

What can I say? Christakis ticked all the boxes. Huge portions, friendly staff, value for money, spacious surroundings and the cutest tropical fish I have ever seen as the central focus in the dining area. Liverpool has a new Greek temple.

Christakis on Urbanspoon