HERE’S a question for you – who does the best tapas in Liverpool?
Now a few years ago that might have been like pondering over the identity of Everton’s current best striker or the least annoying cod-reggae shitburst by East Coast George Osbornes Vampire Weekend – essentially a moot point.
These days though it’s a live issue, with plenty of places serving up variants on the theme either as their main offering or as part of a wider menu.
Given we’ve something of an affinity for all things Spanish at Anfield it’s great that the city now offers some decent options for patatas bravas and the like.
The Echo once breathlessly reported a sighting of Dani Pacheco at La Vina on North John Street, a fairly straightforward restaurant offering the kind of mood lighting which has helped Gary Neville father two children.
You’re obviously pretty unlikely to be seeing Dani in there anytime soon, but it’s worth a look if you’re in town, as is Lunya in Liverpool One, offering a Catalan take on the tapas blueprint.
I’ve not given Salt House Tapas a go but have heard some decent things, while La Tasca isn’t too bad as soulless chain efforts go.
Further afield, Esteban on Lark Lane swallowed up much of my disposable income in the summer of 2009, but now its mighty midweek wine and meal offer seems to have been dropped for ever it’s probably not worth getting on the 82 bus out of town when there’s plenty of other, handier options.
There’s plenty of other places that offer tapasy bits and bobs on their menus, and probably a load I’ve forgotten or not yet stumbled across.
Before you point them out or make recommendations, let me tell you this – they won’t be better than Cafe Porto on Rodney Street.
Ok, they might. Na, bollocks, they won’t. Sorry.
You couldn’t exactly describe Cafe Porto as tucked away, given it’s on one of the most famous streets in the city centre, but it manages to seem inconspicuous among the private health clinics and the bright lights of nearby Puschka.
If you’ve missed it, imagine the average point the queue for the HSBC cash machine on the corner stretches to on a decent Saturday night. That’s about where Cafe Porto sits.
Recently a sign’s appeared on Hardman Street pointing the way to the place – a good thing if it means it keeps it going, a bad one if it means you can no longer wander in at 8pm on a Saturday night and have the room to yourself.
Such are the contradictions of capitalism (and my autistic desire to avoid human contact wherever possible).
As the name suggests, Cafe Porto serves Portuguese tapas, not Spanish, though many of the staples seem pretty similar to my untutored eye.
It used to be very much bring your own bottle, but these days a great wine list is worth skipping a trip to Bargain Booze for.
Everything I’ve had a go at on the standard menu is great, and some of the dishes can be beefed up into a main meal-sized portion if you don’t like sharing. The specials seem to depend on what ingredients they’ve got knocking about and what they’re inspired to put together on the night.
Aside from the amazing food, the best thing about Cafe Porto is the informality of the place and the slightly ramshackle feel.
It’s a million miles away from the synthetic atmosphere of La Tasca, more reminiscent of someone’s front room than a ‘proper’ restaurant.
On my last visit the chef presented our chocolate cake dessert with the words “it looks disgusting but I promise it tastes beautiful.”
Refreshing honesty combined with insouciant confidence. Some people may hitch up their skirts like Victorian aunts at that and insist on eating elsewhere. They are bad people and you’re best off rid of them.
Cafe Porto – get down there, support a proper, authentic, passionate little business and head off to one of the cracking pubs in the vicinity while you’re at it.