A big fish makes waves in the Pool


60 Seel Street,

Liverpool L1 4BE


There are no fish on the menu at Liverpool’s Wreckfish. Which shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise, as there were never any pachyderms at London’s Blue Elephant, nor corvids in Whitby’s Magpie Café. Still, I’d somehow got it in my head that this was a seafood place, the piscine outpost of Gary Usher’s ever-growing empire. Not that it matters a jot.

Usher is a thoroughly modern chef. He opened Sticky Walnut near Chester in 2011, to rapturous acclaim. It went on to win AA Restaurant of The Year in 2014. He then moved on to Burnt Truffle, in Heswall on The Wirral, in 2015, using Kickstarter (the site where the public can invest cash in exchange for all manner of perks) to raise £100,000 towards the final cost of opening. A radical idea at the time.

The dining room at Wreckfish. The room is high-ceilinged, stripped back but comfortable

The dining room at Wreckfish. The room is high-ceilinged, stripped back but comfortable

He did the same with Hispi in Didsbury, where nearly £60,000 was pledged; Wreckfish, which garnered more than £200,000; and finally the upcoming Pinion, which reached its £50,000 total in under an hour. Remarkable, by any standard. But as he pointed out at the time, these sums weren’t enough to open the restaurants. ‘What it does is it gives us a bit of power for when we do go to the banks to say we have £50,000 backing us. The banks are a lot happier to get behind you when you have a bit of capital at the start.’

In a time when restaurants are folding like cheap suits, this Kickstarter model has legs. But in order to invest even £10 (which gets your name on the founder’s wall), you have to have faith in the restaurateur. And Usher has one hell of a following, who adore his sensibly priced, unpretentiously good food. Albeit with an assuredly modern touch. ‘Just a bistro,’ he once replied to a national food critic on Twitter, who tweeted her approval. ‘Please don’t travel to eat here… we are not worth the 400-mile trip.’ She did, and they were.

Wreckfish is more of the same. The room is high-ceilinged, stripped back but comfortable. A place to settle in for a long lunch, with an open, tiled kitchen, sections of bare brick wall and exposed ventilation ducts. Hardly original, but then Wreckfish doesn’t seem concerned with anything other than giving its customers a decent lunch. All life is here, the sign of a proper neighbourhood gaff – smart, older ladies sharing a bottle of wine, young, loved-up couples, family groups, shuffling students, and the slightly awkward tables of the forced office outing.


A simple salad is simply well dressed

A simple salad is simply well dressed (left). Warm marmalade sponge with chantilly cream (right)

Joe asks about the specials. ‘No specials,’ smiles our waitress, ‘it’s all special.’ Before telling us that it’s called Wreckfish because ‘we put it to the vote. And we liked Wreckfish’. The spirt of democracy flows thick through its veins. I eat the freshest, most fragrant of green gazpachos, with just the right kick of acidity. There’s a whisper of fresh mint, and a quiet chilli warmth. Good olive oil too. Simple, assured and verdantly satisfying.

Beef heart, that most mighty of bovine cuts, is cooked rare, like steak with supercharged moo. Neat cubes of apple stop things getting overly beefy, while radicchio adds its bitter bite. It’s both butch and beautifully balanced.

A main course of braised veal shoulder doesn’t quite live up to its older brother’s hearty allure. It’s a ragu, sat atop a pile of silken fresh linguine. But the sauce is a little bland, and a touch over-seasoned, lacking that rich, redolent, lip-smacking depth of the truly great. Not bad, just veering towards the bland. Still, a lippy splodge of parsley pesto adds welcome punch.

More pasta with the pork osso bucco, this time orzo, studded with red peppers, peas and chervil. A riff on saffron rice, and despite resembling something from the supermarket frozen section, it tastes wonderful. A glorious hunk of slow-cooked pork sits on top, hewn from a superior pig. Although it would take a surgeon’s skill to extract the marrow from the shin. Still, a dish of comfort and class.

We order hispi cabbage, crisp and buttery, along with new potatoes, with sharp capers and lemon. A simple salad is simply well dressed. There’s toasted porter ice cream for pudding, with salty peanut brittle, and plump, boozy prunes. And a sublimely suety marmalade sponge, light and lovely and drenched in a sticky mess of bittersweet sauce. Better still, these three courses of assured, often excellent cooking cost an incredible £20 per head. Take that, London. Throw in the warmest of service, and a decent, well-priced wine list, and you have local restaurant heaven. Little wonder that Usher is so adored.

If only every town had a Wreckfish. We can but dream. ‘There’s not a single day,’ Usher wrote recently on Twitter, ‘when I’m not fully aware nothing lasts forever. Every single day, I worry about the restaurants not being busy enough and closing.’ Take it from me, Gary. You build it, and they will come.

£20 per person

What Tom ate this week 


Good dinner of salumi, burrata with pepperonata and veal shin tortelli with my mother at Café Murano in St James’s.


Lunch at 45 Jermyn Street, for a change. Vegetables and red Sicilian prawns, then Dover sole.


To Australia, on Cathay Pacific. Chinese beef broth, stir-fried lobster with abalone sauce, and marinated bean curd and wood ear mushrooms.


Arrive in Hong Kong for a couple of hours. Congee and dandan noodles at the airport, before flying on to Melbourne.


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