When Grace Dent came to praise Belzan, arguably Liverpool’s hottest new eaterie, it was surely the first time The Guardian had sent anyone to Smithdown Road to review a restaurant.
Those with longer memories might boggle at the very idea of a restaurant on the busy South Liverpool artery (we’ll skip over Zains, OK?), but Smithdown’s swift regeneration has been capped off with this crowd-funded bistro from the people who brough you the city centre’s Filter+Fox.
As students move out and young professionals with more money to spend one things other than pre-drinking and takeaways, Belzan has joined the likes of Evil Eye, Craft Taproom and Handyman Brewery in leading a startling food-and-drink based recovery for Smithdown – a part of Liverpool that looked good only for the developers a few years ago.
Belzan is small but perfectly formed, with barely a couple of dozen covers. That’s very much to the benefit of the food, however, with a rotating menus based on simple, seasonal food, good wine and cocktails.
As a result it’s rare to see Belzan with much spare capacity at any time of the day: Brunch is served 9am-3pm, dinner 5-10:30pm; bar snacks are served 3-5pm.
The Belzan ethos is pretty simple: they use local ingredients ‘when it makes sense’ and prepare as much in their home as possible. They also provide a selective vegan-inspired menu.
We’ve been there for brunch and for an evening meal, the first is very much a mix-n-match affair with all the ingredients you;d expect from any greasy spoon, plus a few lesser-spotted Full English items. Fancy halloumi or the ubiquitous ‘smashed’ avocado with your snags, black pudding and eggs. We went for a Croque Madame on our visit, two slices of thick bacon and béchamel with a poached duck egg, slathered in a zingy basil oil.
Later meals are rather more similar to tapas, with a wealth of small plates you’ll have problems choosing from. Think traditional English fare brought bang up to date with some eye-catching flavour combinations: Scallops with braised lentils, mango and masala; green beans with lovage, strawberries, ricotta and tomato; barbecued pork loin with tonkotsu, roast peaches.
For our dinnertime meal we chose a handful of plates including buttermilk-fried rabbit – popcorn-sized bites of deep fried bunny with some pickled fennel and apple. Perhaps the best fast food, in a very literal sense, you could try in Liverpool. We added peas with ricotta and parsley flowers, asparagus with pea mayo and butterbeans with beef dashi and parsley cream. If we have a criticism it’s that the seasoning hasn’t always as precise as it might have been.
Fancy a snack? Sure, there are olives, bread and all that jazz. But what about confit duck croquettes with sour cherry or roast bone marrow with oyster aioli? Certainly knocks your tube of Pringles and bowl of KP Nuts into a cocked hat.
At the time of writing dessert consist of the likes of strawberry frangiapane tart with chaff cream, Tonka bean rice pudding with Lillet Vermouth spiced pear, Bananas and custard, cheese, and finally Sgroppino: Grapefruit sorbet topped with moscato d’Asti. All are around £6-9.
— Liverpool Underlined (@lpoolunderlined) June 19, 2018
As for prices, well that rather depends on your outlook and maybe that’s between you and your wallet. We’ve found some dishes very reasonable and we’ve thought some overpriced, but on a menu where some dishes that are notionally similar cost a fiver and others are £13 that’s probably understandable. Though we’ve eaten bad takeaway pizzas that nudge £20, so who are we to criticise? For what it’s worth the vegan plates are a fiver or thereabouts.
There are semi-regular events featuring mixologists, chefs and drinking clubs from around Europe too.
What the people behind Belzan have done bears some repeating. A knackered old Liver Laundrette on Smithdown Road, beset by diesel-belching buses and double-parked Range Rovers, became a laidback, independently-owned European-style bistro serving superb food of the kind you can’t find anywhere else in Liverpool.
And the genesis of Belzan is also significant. Just shy of 200 people committed over £20,000 to bring the quality of Filter+Fox to South Liverpool. If that’s not a vote of confidence in Smithdown Road and Belzan, we don’t know what is.