The name might be Gracias but it is us that should be thanking them.
Whether you’re a red or a blue, you have football to thank for such a restaurant. Some years ago, Liverpool FC nabbed the promising footballer Sergi Canos from the world-famous football academy FC Barcelona. Still so young, his family decided to move with him and bring some Spain to Smithdown. Apparently the sunshine would have been a murder to get through customs so they decided to just bring some of the best food we’ve ever tried in this city. Liverpool has got big love for little plates and we just had to find out what all the fuss was about.
We like to feel we’ve got our grips on this whole Liverpool thing now but every now and then, there’s a place that escapes the net. Rumours were circulating of a slice of Spain on Penny Lane and we just had to check it out. Authentic is a word thrown around with reckless abandon and truth be told, not many, really do it justice. So much has been anglicised that what we think to be authentic, couldn’t be further from the truth. Enter Gracias. Short of a couple of hours flight to Malvarossa beach in Valencia, we can scarcely imagine a more satisfying variant of Spanish food.
We sat down with one of the owners, Fran, as he wowed us with his charisma and enthusiasm. Gracias isn’t just a job to him, it’s his dream and you can see it projected onto the wall, through the menu and on the plate. These recipes have existed for hundreds of years and will exist hundreds of years after him and his team of chefs. They are just a treasurer, a gatekeeper of the ingredients and measurements that elevate seemingly simple dishes to realms we’ve never travelled. Penny Lane is famous in near enough every part of the world and the area is becoming a little foodie hub. A place to eat all over the world with the likes of Portland St 350, Tribeca, Spire, Neon Jamon and more all rustling up dishes to keep the area exciting, decades past the Fab Four.
Like we usually do, we asked the chef to send out the best dishes that they think represent them. Within minutes the table for four was full with fresh breads, tomatoes and a thick and shiny alioli that we would have tried to drink if it wasn’t for society’s norms. A sixteen hour slow cooked premier league lamb cake came out the kitchen, adorned with tempura asparagus, parsnip crisps and a mustard sauce. You know when a plate of food is so good you have to just sit there for a second and think about it and thank everything that led you to it? Yeah, it’s one of them. Fran then brought out a medley of croquettes, from lamb to mushroom and spinach and their beloved ham. The asymmetry was a sign of handmade and of quality and a testament to Gracia’s mantra of making everything fresh in house on that very day.
The paella, much like the chocolate fondant, is a temperamental so and so riddled with haunting stories of going wrong. The anglicised version is stodgy. A volcano of rice, all varying degrees of cooked with an overwhelming amount of ingredients. Gracias was very, very different. Fran told us that in Northern Spain the rice should only be a thin layer so it can evenly cook and the dish is mainly about the rice, rather than anything else. We asked them to put their squids where their mouths were and opted for the seafood paella which leapt out of the plate and punched us so hard it could have been done for GBH. The paella formed the perfect soccorat, the delicate crust that makes the dish so special and let us tell you this, if there had been a pattern on the plate we were eating it off, there wouldn’t have been by the end of it.
Spain isn’t a region particularly famed for its desserts but Gracias are single handedly changing that. The chef’s twist on a chocolate fondant had us moaning, as did the chocolate and toffee mousse. All that eating ended up being thirsty work so we opted for the Saffron gin and tonic, a drink becoming increasingly popular in Spain and after one sip we can see why as it was incredibly smooth. As embarrassing as it is to admit this, at this point we were incredibly full (please don’t judge us) and there wasn’t any room for a cheeseboard but we’ve tried it before and it’s worth visiting just for that alone.
Over the course of the meal we drifted between eating, talking to Fran and watching him interact with anyone that came through the door. The line between customer and manager was lost within that very floor. The interior is minimalist, but it’s purposeful. They’re from the school of thought that believes people aren’t going to return for ornaments hanging off a wall, it’s for incredible food and even better drinks. We agree and we’ll be back.