For Christmas this year Ben & I decided to do presents a bit differently.
Rather than buy each other a gift, we decided to each book a surprise mini break for each other. I chose Liverpool.
Having been to Liverpool for a work conference around four years ago when I worked at the paper I’d had a glimpse of the city and it seemed like a lively place, a cross between the historic (the Albert Docks) and the modern (the Liverpool One shopping centre). I’d been itching to go back and get a chance to explore properly, and I had a feeling it was the kind of place which would be perfect for a little city break. It turns out I was right…
How to get there?
We decided to drive up, as it works out quite a bit cheaper than the train. It took around four hours from Berkshire, which was fine, although the way back took an epic 5.5 hours due to roadworks – gah! We’ve done a few road trips like this now (including Edinburgh), where our hotels/apartments haven’t had parking so we’ve stayed in town centre car parks. It worked out at £13 a day, which isn’t too bad either.
Where to stay?
We stayed at the gorgeous Malmaison hotel near the Docks. We’re both big fans of Malmaison in Reading, (although we haven’t actually stayed there we got a sneak peak of rooms during Dante or Die’s I Do theatre production) and we love popping in for a few drinks. Malmaison always feels soothing – I think it’s the dark walls and dim lights, it just makes you feel relaxed. Our room was a good size and it had a huge bathtub plus a walk in monsoon shower, which is always a bonus. It was a great location too, just a 10 minute walk to the Docks or the town centre.
What to do?
Liverpool is ideal for a two day visit as it gives you enough time to explore the culture (and do a bit of shopping!). Our first stop was The Cavern Club, home of the Beatles. Although we’re not super Beatles fans as such, you can’t help but be in awe of the venue, and enjoy hearing their music played live. All the greats have played at The Cavern and there’s just so much history. We had a beer and listened to some Beatles covers and it was the perfect way to start our trip.
It’s also well worth taking a walk along the Albert Docks which have little shops and restaurants nestled around them. There are some impressive boats moored there, and it’s also the home of Tate Liverpool. We popped in as I wanted to see the Tracey Emin/William Blake exhibition they had going on, and we found ourselves wandering around for a good 90 minutes. The gallery had a really nice mix of work, including a quirky robot play which was taking place while we were there.
And of course, there’s the shopping. Liverpool One has all the main high street players, and there are a few other little streets/shopping centres to find too.
Where to eat?
Being mostly driven by our stomachs, food plays a big part in any mini break we go on, and we discovered some complete gems in Liverpool (pretty much due to Ben’s sixth sense for picking a good restaurant!). We tend to look at TripAdvisor (although you do have to take the reviews with a pinch of salt), and then have a look on a restaurant’s website/Facebook page. Here are the places we tried:
- The Salt House. Such. good. Tapas. Ben spotted this while we were walking through the town centre looking for somewhere to grab a quick bite to eat after arriving in Liverpool. They had a set menu which offered three tapas dishes and bread per person, and it was just the right amount. One of my dishes was a cauliflower risotto which was wonderfully creamy, and the pan-fried pardon peppers with flakes of salt were delicious with a hint of bitterness.
- Mowgli. We rocked up for a table at 7pm but it was so busy we were told we wouldn’t get seated until 9pm. No problem, we thought, we’ll just do our night in reverse and go for some drinks first. What’s the harm right? The harm is that alcohol skews your judgement and you end up ordering the entire menu. (I lie, it was the whole menu but it was A LOT of food!). Mowgli was superb. It’s an Indian street food menu with things like Bhel Puri and roti flat breads alongside lots of different curries and street meats. We had the Yoghurt Chat Bombs which were incredible – they kind of pop in your mouth and you have all these spices and flavours alongside the cooling yoghurt – and we went for ‘a Tiffin box for one’ each, which is like a curry roulette. You get three curries and a rice, which are delicious but it was way too much – just go for one between two.
- Lox and Caper – We very nearly didn’t find Lox and Caper as it’s tucked in with the Merseyside Youth Association. The MYA reception desk is at one side, and the cafe tables at the other. We popped in for brunch and the menu has loads of awesome things including several different variations on Eggs Benedict. I had the traditional which came with super thick ham and a creamy Hollandaise, and Ben went for the Oscar which came with brisket. A no-frills, super good food kind of place.
- Bacaro – More tapas I hear you cry? I know, but we were SO full from over-doing it at Mowgli we decided to go for small plates for our second evening. Looking at the website, we think Bacaro may be linked to the Salt House, but it felt more like an evening venue, with twinkly lights and super friendly staff. Everything was delicious – the fluffiest mozarella, crispy deep fried gnocci with pesto, slithers of beef carpaccio. And a lovely prosecco.
- Castle St Townhouse – You can see a pattern emerging. Tapas. Brunch. Tapas. Brunch. Castle St Townhouse was a comforting place to stop and refuel before heading home. Our waiter brought us some cucumber water to start (refreshing) and then we sipped tea and coffee while tucking into baked eggs with chorizo (Ben) and a black pudding hash topped with a poached egg (me). The menu was slightly more interesting than most brunch venues and the food was lovely.
Where to drink?
We went on a mini bar crawl while waiting for our table at Mowgli and ended up trying a couple of cool places.
The Underground Gin Society – It just sounds fun, right? Set down a little flight of steps, so you could totally walk by and not even realise it was there, the Underground Gin Society is a cosy, dark little bar, with ALL THE GINS. We tried the Liverpool Gin (when in Liverpool eh?) which is served with a slice of watermelon. It was light and tasty but the barman put in way too much tonic so it sort of swamped the flavour a bit. Less tonic, more gin please.
The Alchemist – Breaking Bad meets cocktail bar. Think Long Island Ice Teas which cloud with dry ice, or cocktails served in those triangular laboratory flasks. It’s achingly cool, but doesn’t feel too pretentious. I had a Peaches and Cream (Briottet peach and pink grapefruit, lemon, prosecco) which was just the right amount of sweet.
Malmaison – It would have been rude not to have a nightcap at Malmaison. The bar wasn’t busy but it felt cosy and relaxed and we sipped a warming whiskey to finish off our night after Bacaro.
And that is how to fill 48 hours in Liverpool. Well worth a visit if you get the chance.