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Restaurant review: Brave New World

Valparaiso has built a small but loyal fan base down the years. But does traditional cooking from the old country stand up against the newer kids on the city's dining scene? Angie Sammons goes along

Written by . Published on January 2nd 2007.


Restaurant review: Brave New World

It was on the Liverpool restaurant scene before there was a restaurant scene. With its promise of heart-warming Chilean food, served by warm-hearted Chilean folk, Valparaiso blew in like a seed on a gulf breeze, putting down straggly roots in Hardman Street almost 20 years ago.

Its founder, Julio Arellano, arrived on the Mersey tide first, fleeing dictator Pinochet via a merchant ship. And, long before it became the media’s favourite phrase of fear and loathing, Arellano was one of the city’s first asylum seekers. A former trade unionist, his plight, and his fight to stay, amazingly led to an “everybody out” strike by dockers, and the socialist Jack Jones. He was eventually given leave to remain by the old-Labour Callaghan government.

Merchant Seaman Arellano is firmly anchored in his own kitchen today, in a restaurant named after Chile’s biggest port. He did it with help from the unions here. He has many more fascinating and sometimes gruelling stories to tell but perhaps, with that old Chinese curse in mind, he is glad that life is now a little less interesting.

The Yankunian put Valparaiso on her wish list of places to eat when she breezed in, not from Chile, but Chorley, last week. She was joined by Helen, wise woman of standing from Standish.

They each have a thousand things worth hearing, too, and so no supercilious waiter is ever going to silence them, nor is a plate of exhibition food. Thus with its cheery Latin music and inviting glow, Valparaiso was rightly deemed a place for good banter, good wine and some good food thrown in to make up the numbers.

The prices at this place are as modest as the ethos and the native cuisine, but what does the average Joe know about Chilean food? Well, it’s not about chillies. Corn and advocados are big and, because Chile is a narrow strip of 2,000-mile coast, fish and seafood are never far away. They like to chuck a chuckie egg on top of things, too, and move things along with a couple of bottles of the finest domestic wine on Earth.

“People don’t want to eat too many authentic Chilean dishes,” bemoans the owner whose Brave New World of food has been reined in with many nods to the Anglican palate. As Chile’s Honorary Consul in the city, he represents a dwindling community of just 30 countrymen. For Liverpool FC’s Mark Gonzalez, however, Valapraiso is a shining light in a dark world where his mama’s cooking is far away. He ate there three times in one week recently, and nothing is too much for him or anyone else who requests something off-menu from the homeland (“just call in advance”).

And the homeland is a place where men are men. Senor Arellano does all the butchering and cooking at Valparaiso, makes his own sausages and boils stocks from carcasses he has dismembered by hand. It wouldn’t be wise to do a runner from here.

The Yankunian’s asparagus, in balsamic, lime and honey, was verdant and crisp, a whole bunch of spears arranged in a beacon formation. Only Joan of Arc was missing from the top. As the local restaurant critic for a free morning paper, the Yankunian is deterred from ordering steak on the job. So she seized the moment to attack a beast-sized slab of Aberdeen Angus fillet, itself respectably seared at the stake and served with green peppercorns.

Two helpings of mushrooms in garlic and white wine were almost enough in themselves, especially when subsequently challenged by Corvina, a huge fillet of wild sea bass in oyster and saffron sauce, full of strength in texture and flavour. Wild thing, you made my heart sing.

The wise woman of Standish gave authenticity the break it deserved and pronounced the Porotos Granados (a dish of cannelini beans, corn, pumpkin and peppers in basil salsa, served with rice and tortilla chips) a discovery definitely worth writing home about.

I had forgotten about those small dishes of very al dente julienne carrots, broccoli/cauli florets and new potatoes, but here they unashamedly and undeservedly live on, in that place called Vegetable Afterthought World.

A couple of bottles of Tierra Alta Sauvignon blanc from the Curico region were as cool and steely as a wheel-clamper at speed dating. The desserts, from a not-too inspiring list (a banoffee pie, a mango ice cream and a huge plate of cheese and biscuits) were well received, too, although a query about the latter initially wasn’t.Were those cheeses pasteurised? One of our number needed to know. “Pasteurised? Oh no!” insisted the waitress shaking her head vigorously before doing a double take, then enquiring: “Er, how d’you mean?”

Although their life is their restaurant, the Arellanos have moved from above the shop to a simple house down by the docks. Not because that’s where it all started for the sailor, but because Senora Arellano craved a garden.

And for one Liverpool player the door is always open and the family have taken Gonzalez, no stranger to immigration troubles himself, to their own kitchen and their hearts.

Passionate people with a passion for food, maybe. But one thing’s for sure: At Valparaiso they never could resist a good Red left-winger.

*Valparaiso, 4 Hardman Street, Liverpool L1..
*Dinner for three, with wine, £115.

Angie Sammons

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