Liverpool is a city of constant change – and on her most recent visit, Johanna Payton discovered that Duke Street in the Ropewalks area is not only a great base for tourists, it’s also the latest hotspot for hipster coffee, cool cocktails and fabulous fried chicken.
When I booked an apartment at 136 Duke Street in Liverpool, it was hardly a gamble. My favourite UK city, I’m no stranger to Liverpool’s geography and have made hotels on Seel Street and Hanover Street my home-from-home on many occasions. This time though, I wanted to try out apartment living (I have half an eye on buying my own place in the ‘Pool) and found a very reasonably priced serviced apartment that is a member of the Base portfolio.
The office for Base is just off Duke Street, in the same apartment complex we were staying at, so picking up keys is easy peasy. The apartment was modern and smart with heating throughout – much-needed in chilly February – two flat screen TVs and a well-equipped kitchen. My 11-year-old plumped straight for the double bedroom with an en suite shower room, but the master bedroom and bathroom are next to each other at the end of the hall, so the apartment is perfect for two couples or a family. Best of all, the apartment had a balcony and views across the city including the iconic Radio City Tower and Metropolitan Cathedral.
At the top of Duke Street, the apartment is on the quieter end of the street, but Liverpool One, with its myriad shopping, eating and entertainment offerings, is a mere 10 minutes away on foot. Closer to home, the apartment complex itself houses four fabulous dining options: Savina (Mexican), Il Forno (Italian), Sapporo Teppanyaki (Japanese) and Mayur (Indian). Although we were very tempted by the cooking stations in the centre of every table at Sapporo, we only had time to try two of the restaurants.
At Mayur, we ate elegant Indian dishes including char-grilled tiger prawns with saffron, lime and fresh coriander, slow cooked lamb shank with cumin-flavoured potatoes and perfectly prepared chicken pasanda with yogurt, chilies, cumin, peppercorns and garam masala.
Incredible Mexican food was on the menu at Savina where we savoured marinated chipotle chicken breast burgers, gourmet burritos and the simply sensational rump steak skewers marinated in adobo sauce and served with salsa verde and warm tortillas.
It might sound like we overdid it with our cake-holes (well, we did), but we only scratched the surface
If you prefer a pub for dining, award-winning The Monro, billed as Liverpool’s original gastro pub, is a short stroll down the road at number 92. It’s a smart affair, so you can don your glad rags if you’re heading there in the evening, but the atmosphere is typically Liverpudlian (read: unpretentious and welcoming) and the tasting menu that’s debuting on March 11 2016 could be the first of many.
Right at the top of Duke street (and tantalisingly visible from our apartment floor to ceiling windows) is Yardbird – and this hipster chicken joint must not be missed. We’re talking posh fried chicken, delicious doughnuts, spirits served with fresh sours and heavenly hardshakes. It’s worth going in there for the creatively curated menu alone (“Biggie Smalls fat-assed fried salty chicken n’ gravy”, anyone?) We had a lip-smacking lunch of Helter Skelter chicken with curly fries and to-die-for chipotle gravy – and spent the rest of our trip trying to resist the urge to go back for another calorific hit.
There are even more places to indulge your culinary mojo – and quench your thirst – at the bottom of Duke Street. We liked the Brunch Club so much we brunched there twice: the first time was on a Tuesday (every Tuesday is pancake day at the Brunch Club) and we tackled huge stacks of American-style pancakes with scrambled eggs and salmon (me) and lashings of Nutella and fresh banana (11-year-old). On the second visit, Duke Street eggs (scrambled and served with smashed avocado, grilled tomatoes and broccoli) and signature eggs Benedict were sampled with good coffee and enthusiastically thumbs-upped.
And for a more intimate breakfast experience (or late night cocktails in cosy surrounds), get your booty to Filter & Fox. Here, hip ladies and handsome lahs (with impressive facial furniture) serve a wicked cup of coffee with a simple brekkie menu. As the day progresses, the Duke Street “hideout” takes a turn towards the booze-tastic with a fine cocktail menu that includes the epic-sounding Ritten in Blood 7, made with Rittenhouse rye, blood orange marmalade, Campari, lemon and grapefruit. As a teetotaller, I didn’t partake (but not to worry: The Brink – a funky “dry bar” on Parr Street – is only a few feet away).
It might sound like we overdid it with our cake-holes (well, we did), but we only scratched the surface. As soon as you step off Duke Street there’s a string of chi-chi bars and eateries on Hanover Street, or – in the opposite direction – Chinatown is at your disposal, Seel and Bold Street are a stone’s throw away and, next time I’m in town, just try to stop me overdosing on upmarket tapas at Liverpool’s second branch of Neon Jamon, just around the corner from the apartment on Berry Street.
Face-stuffing aside, the Duke Street apartment Liverpool is well-placed for all the tourist attractions; Albert Dock is minutes away and Mathew Street, the same. The Anglican cathedral is practically next door, with Hope Street (where you’ll find the beautiful Philharmonic Dining Rooms), another swift walk away.
You’re also on the best side of town for heading out to the 235-acre Sefton Park. A £6 Uber took us from Duke Street to Lark Lane, where we wandered past vintage stores, a fantastic pie shop and tea rooms. Then we ambled through the park, past the bandstand (said to have inspired Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) and Palm House (a beautiful building that George Harrison quietly helped to restore). Exiting at the opposite side of the park, we were soon marching up Penny Lane, finishing our Beatles-themed day with a haircut (for my other half, not me) in the very same barber shop that McCartney immortalised in the song. A very nice haircut it was too.
Liverpool is fab: it’s a fact. This was yet another wonderful trip to my bestest place. But discovering everything Duke Street has to offer, as a base and a destination in its own right, was a brilliant twist in this particular Liverpool tale.
How to get to Liverpool without flying:
Johanna travelled with Virgin trains direct from Liverpool Lime Street to London Euston in just over two hours. The city is well served by the M62, local train lines and buses.
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground
Pictures: Johanna Payton / Yardbird