Restaurant review - The Art School Restaurant, Liverpool

PUBLISHED: 15:07 12 April 2015 | UPDATED: 18:33 07 October 2015

As you'd expect of a restaurant called The Art School, the interior is very stylish

As you'd expect of a restaurant called The Art School, the interior is very stylish

not Archant

Surely stardom beckons for Paul Askew and The Art School - Michelin stardom - says our reviewer who reports that excellence is on display at this stylish Liverpool city centre restaurant

Fillet of natural smoked haddock with Menai mussel and baby leeks with red vein sorrel sauceFillet of natural smoked haddock with Menai mussel and baby leeks with red vein sorrel sauce

Amid all the hype surrounding Manchester’s restaurants striving for the city’s first Michelin Star since the 1980s - can you imagine the ructions if Liverpool got one first?

Don’t bet against it. After lunch at the Art School, Paul Askew’s elegant fine dining restaurant and bar just across from the Philharmonic Hall, neither would I. This is, in every respect, A Very Serious Contender.

This part of Liverpool, which led the great port city’s ongoing renaissance, has a remarkable culinary pedigree. It was at 60 Hope Street - the smart thoroughfare linking the two cathedrals - that top-notch cooking first took root in a beautiful Georgian townhouse 15 years ago. It was followed - in the same street - by the highly acclaimed London Carriageworks, Hope Street Hotel and Host. And last spring, north west food champion Askew, former chef-director of the London Carriageworks and the Hope Street Hotel, opened his own high-end dining haven just round the corner in Sugnall Street.

Building work refurbishing the grand period terraces in the area was evident when our cab pulled up outside The Art School. We were greeted by a bowler-hatted concierge and led through the impressive entrance into a delightful bar, tastefully blending modernity and period grace. It boasted a fine wooden floor, tall green leather stools at a bar illuminated by drop lights; comfy sofas and a real wood-burning stove. From this vantage point we were able to glimpse inside the handsome 50-cover dining room.

Baked vanilla cheesecake with Italian meringue, mango and almondsBaked vanilla cheesecake with Italian meringue, mango and almonds

Opened in 1888 as a home for destitute children, the building later became part of Liverpool’s art school, hence the name, and the dining room, beneath a splendid glass atrium roof supported by wood and steel beams was once the studio where painters and sculptors worked with live models in perfect light. The room remains a work of art with the tables’ heavy white linen contrasting with chairs upholstered in bright red (what do Evertonians make of it?) set on the polished wooden floor. Walls are plain white save for the end one, sculpted in geometric shapes and painted charcoal surrounding a striking piece of artwork. Through the window to the theatre kitchen, surrounded by black slate, we could see Mr Askew himself at work.

We chose the Prix Fixe menu, available Tuesday to Saturday noon-3pm and 5pm-6.15pm (all the menus are table d’hôte; Market £45, Excellence £69 and Tasting £89) which turned out to be superb value at £29 for three courses or just £22.50 for three. We had three, or in actual fact four, for lunch began with a delicious amuse bouche of artichoke velouté poured from a doll’s house teapot over crispy pork with a drizzle of parsley oil. All the menus are littered with Askew’s credentials as a local food champion: ingredients including Barkham blue cheese, Ormskirk leek, Northup wood pigeon...all first rate.

I started proper with a beautifully presented lasagne of Lancashire rabbit with lamb’s sweetbreads, pied bleu mushrooms and thyme cream sauce; the flavoursome morsels layered with gossamer thin pasta to which the mushrooms added a delicious gamey subtlety. Mrs K began with fillet of Menai mackerel with blood orange dressing, ricotta, spinach dumpling and cubes of golden beet, a sublime collation in which the orange provided the fruity counterpoint to the fish. We mopped our plates with the oat rolls and fennel focaccia served with flavoured butters.

Having sneaked a preview online, I had promised myself the fillet of Peterhead hake, clams and morcilla for my main course, but at the last second, curiosity steered me to the pavé of Angus beef rump with crab bisque, buttered spinach, rosti potatoes, broccoli purée and chestnut mushrooms. Beef and crab bisque? The dish was outstanding and as Askew explained when he toured the tables afterwards, the roasting of the crab and langoustine shells tempered the fishiness and produced a fabulous, subtle, creamy sauce. Mrs K had a brilliantly inventive combination of duck breast sliced over spring greens with rhubarb, blood orange sauce and honeycomb enveloping foie gras, a wonderful expression of taste and texture. We drank fruit-laden Fiano from Puglia (£26) and glasses of house Cotes du Rhone (£4.75) from an outstanding list.

Picture perfect: The bar at The Art School, Liverpool city centrePicture perfect: The bar at The Art School, Liverpool city centre

The dessert plate for sharing provided a fitting finale; deftly crafted apple and cinnamon strudel, mini lemon curd and meringue tarts, white chocolate delice and praline macaroons. White-gloved service was exemplary and as we were about to leave, a member of the enthusiastic staff was warming Mrs K’s coat by the wood stove. Epic.

The Art School Restaurant, 1 Sugnall Street, Liverpool L7 7EB. Tel: 0151 230 8600.

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