Paul Askew - the man behind Liverpool’s hottest new dining location
PUBLISHED: 18:47 28 April 2015 | UPDATED: 18:47 28 April 2015
© Brian Roberts
Janet Reeder discovers why chef Paul Askew is risking it all to up the ante at his Arts School restaurant in Liverpool
Like Lynx for Men, could Liverpool be toning down its image? Witness one of its newest restaurants. The discreet entrance marked only by a bowler-hatted concierge, a French Maitre d’ and dazzling starched white tablecloths. This could be Richard Corrigan in Mayfair or The Ivy but it is Paul Askew at the Art School and it’s in the heart of a city that was once famed more for WAGS than its fine dining.
Paul is a familiar figure on the local restaurant scene. He was at The London Carriage Works and Hope Street Hotel but it is this new venture which is causing a stir further afield. There is talk of a Michelin star for a brigade who pride themselves on menus to savour long after you’ve departed the chic dining room.
Such is his faith in the changing tastes of the north that he’s mortgaged his semi to help fund the restaurant which is based in what was once the university’s sculpture and life drawing room on Sugnall Street.
‘Of course for me it’s about turning the room from fine art to culinary art,’ says Paul over one of the many cups of tea that get him through the day.
‘We’re embracing the history of the building but putting a different spin on it. And we are still finding out about the famous alumni. There are rumours that John Lennon spent time in here. I’d love to find some hard evidence of that!’
His father was a Merchant Navy captain so Paul got to experience life away from his home city of Liverpool.
‘Without doubt it was travel that got me into food,’ he explains. ‘When you think in those days Britain wasn’t a great place for food. We were the laughing stock of the world. I trained at Carlett Park on the Wirral and even then we were making prawn cocktail and Black Forest gateau.’
He worked his way up from the bottom - his first job was at Thornton Hall and this he says gives him an insight into every level of the job. It means his staff are well treated and many of his team have been with him for several years.
‘Front of house are all new. What I think we need in this city is the service. The food has been knocking on the door of greatness for a long time but the service has been atrocious because what happens is all the good ones end up going to London or New York and they don’t want to come back to Liverpool because there’s nowhere to ply their trade.
‘My thing is to create these places where people return and work in their home city at the level they want - this is a level that wasn’t there before. This is when you start building a culture of service.’
He’s also building a culture of fine dining which he views as important to the regneration of any city.
‘Of course as soon as people see a tablecloth they categorise you as fine dining,’ he laughs. ‘But yes. We do come in that category. My favourite places in the world have always been where you get great food, great service but they have conviviality, theatre, a little bit of fun. You shouldn’t feel a fine dining restaurant is so formal you can’t kick your shoes off under the table.’ The atmosphere in The Art School certainly fulfils those expectations with its charming Maitre d’ and helpful staff.
The food is very good indeed. The Menu Excellence at £69 is great value, starting with a glass of champagne and exquisitely made canapes and amuses bouches, before moving through dishes such a Risotto of Roast Lancashire beetroot with caramelised onions, Jerusalem artichokes and parmesan crisps and a superb combination of Calum Edge’s St. Asaph winter lamb; pan roast loin, slow cooked crisp belly and hay roast rump with puy lentils, carrot and tamarind purée and curly kale. n