Restaurant review: Maray, Liverpool
Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* We review the new Allerton branch of the much loved Maray in the heart of Liverpool's independent quarter
Tony Naylor is a Manchester-based journalist who writes regularly for olive as well as Restaurant magazine and The Guardian.
Pamela Quinn is a beauty and massage therapist who lives in Wallasey, Wirral. She eats out twice a week and her favourite restaurant meal was at The Baltic Social
This is the second branch of Liverpool’s much-loved Maray – the first opened in 2014 on Bold Street, in the heart of the city’s independent quarter. It’s new bigger sister, in the more suburban area of Allerton, has more covers over two floors: the interior look, with beautiful marble-topped bars and an open kitchen, was designed by local architects Harrison Stringfellow.
Executive chef Sam Grainger’s menu is split into snacks (bowls of nocellara olives, goat’s cheese with cardamom and honey), sides and mains, and there’s a seriously good selection of vegetarian options. Try sprouts with medjool dates and lime; artichoke with miso and coconut; or a mezze plate of falafel, hummus and all the trimmings. Otherwise, experiment with octopus and pomegranate molasses; crab with bisque; or buttermilk chicken with plums and tarragon. For a cocktail, try chai old fashioned, made from chai-infused bourbon, wild flower honey and Angoustura bitters. maray.co.uk
Our pro says...
If Yotam Ottolenghi is a prophet from the Holy Land (and he is), Maray is a true disciple. This Liverpool crew is spreading the Levantine food gospel both in the city centre, at its dark and boozy Bold Street den, and now at this larger, suburban Allerton Road spot. It has an open-kitchen and hip music, but the smarter, brighter Maray 2.0 feels comparatively grown-up.
The service is all smiles, gracious tasters (of surprisingly good zesty, mineral Cypriot white wine, Tsiakkas Xynisteri), and the only real cock-up – the wrong salad – is ably rectified. We’re given it on the house and the right dish arrives promptly. *I was not recognised.
Our server looked a bit taken aback when I asked to order in waves, but it’s wise. Maray isn’t immune to the curse of the small plate restaurant: everything suddenly arriving at once. Rather than speed-eat from a crowded table, we wanted to linger over this food.
Supposedly airy ‘whipped’ goat’s cheese was, in fact, far too dense for the accompanying shards of deep-fried flatbread. A dish of salt-baked beetroot with orange and smoked blue cheese was a funky experiment I’m not keen to repeat. But, otherwise, the 10 plates we meandered through ranged from good – elegantly spiced kofta; yielding scallops with burnt spring onion sauce – to real keepers.
Those highlights included the steak with baba ganoush and preserved lemon. This is food of big and punchy, complementary flavours. Truffle oil-dressed raw tuna interleaved with hard-fried beetroot crisps and lardo (cured pork fat), was no less bold. The tuna is effectively a delicate palate-cleanser for the more guttural, salty elements on the plate. The star of the show, however, is Maray’s half cauliflower: cooked
in turmeric water then deep-fried, its interior is sweetly vegetal and its surface deliciously meaty. Slathered in harissa, herb oil, tahini and pomegranate, it delivers kaleidoscopic flavours.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is not an experience of the greatest finesse. Flavours are huge (and occasionally go awry), the tables are tightly-packed and Maray’s bright staff are busy. But minor gripes aside (the beer menu is poor), this is pretty much everything I want from a neighbourhood restaurant in 2017.
Total for two, excluding service: £103
Our punter says…
Our greeting at Maray was a little flat and the timings weren’t great. For example, we were told about the unavailability of certain dishes too late (when we were about to order), and the wine recommendations came after we’d already ordered a bottle – once more too late for our purposes.
Maray has a small plates menu and most of the dishes – lamb prosciutto, duck egg edamame wasabi – sounded intriguing to our table of three. Plus the prices were so reasonable that we didn’t hold back on ordering, picking snacks and sides to go alongside our mains. But don’t be fooled – despite the cost, portions are extremely generous.
Deep-fried whitebait was crispy, delicious and plentiful. The half cauliflower with flaked almonds, pomegranate, tahini, yogurt and harissa was an absolute delight (perfectly cooked, wonderful flavour combinations with creamy, well-balanced hummus), and we all enjoyed the falafel sharer from the vegetarian mains menu
– it came with yet more of that velvety hummus, tabbouleh, house pickles and flatbread.
Unfortunately, the scallops, served with burnt spring onions, were overcooked and in our opinion didn’t need the accompanying yuzu or milk. The duck egg, edamame, wasabi and za’atar had no discernible wasabi and I didn’t like the cold sous-vide egg yolk. We had far more luck with the tuna (light and perfectly seasoned) accompanied by white truffle, potatoes, mushroom and lardo; a well-executed dish and my favourite of the night. Likewise the smoked duck, golden raisins and pickled aubergine was perfectly pink and juicy inside, but the raisins made the dish too sweet for me – I couldn’t detect any aubergine.
Our table shared a dessert, which left us wanting. Baklava consisted of charred pastry, layers of roasted carrot and oversweet raisins; for me, a disappointing mock-up of a classic dessert. Wine was surprisingly expensive in comparison to the cost of the food.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Liverpool is awash with excellent independent restaurants, so Maray needs to up its game a little. Inconsistent food, only four beer choices and overpriced wine could all be improved. I would pop in at lunchtime, but it’s not a dinner venue for me just yet.
Total for three, excluding service: £141.90
Maray's Food Made Good rating:
Maray’s menu features an inviting range of seasonal veg, including the cauliflower and beetroot eaten by the reviewers. The beef and lamb chosen by the pro and punter are both sourced from farms in the Lake District a short distance up the M6 from the Merseyside restaurant. And if you followed their lead and picked the scallops you’d be reassured to know they are hand-dived – not dredged – from Scottish waters.
The one question mark left hanging over the provenance of Maray’s ingredients is the tuna. We established that it’s from Sri Lanka, but not how it was caught or what sub-species it is. With such a wide variety of seafood available from British waters, there are so many other sustainable options to choose from. British food lovers will be cheered by the organic whipped goat and smoked blue cheese on offer. Good to see that for those not tempted by meat, fish or dairy, there’s a vegan menu.
And if you want to leave the restaurant with a smile on your face and a warm feeling inside, go for lunch and £2 goes to Share Your Lunch a local charity providing meals for people in need.
Images by Hannah Cassidy