Pop-ups in Liverpool: Popularity of short-term eateries
It’s boom time for Liverpool’s restaurant scene with a stream of high-quality venues springing up at a seemingly unrelenting pace.
At the heart of this foodie flare-up is the city’s pop-up offering, which has provided us with some of our most memorable eatery experiences.
So what is it that makes these short-term eateries so popular and what appetising additions can we look forward to next?
Words by Lawrence Saunders
When a man hailed as one of the UK’s most influential chefs chooses Liverpool to open his first pop-up restaurant, you know there must be something happening here.
All 170 seats for Gary Usher’s ‘Wreckfish’ temporary eatery in a former 19th Century watchmaker’s workshop on Slater Street were snapped up in just 10 minutes, giving some idea of his pedigree.
Gary, the creative force behind acclaimed Heswall eatery Burnt Truffle and Chester’s Sticky Walnut, used to work near the workshop so he was well aware of its charm when a friend mentioned its redevelopment last year.
Despite the building’s renovation there is still no running water or electricity on the ground floor, and visitors to the pop-up are being told to expect a ‘rustic’ experience.
When it comes to the bill, diners will be invited to pay what they like, with every penny going towards a crowdfunding campaign’s £200,000 target to get Wreckfish properly up and running.
Just 34 lucky diners per sitting will get to sample the new concept over its five-night run.
Despite the success of his previous restaurants, Gary insists he was still surprised with the interest Wreckfish has generated.
“I couldn’t believe it – I was shocked by the support it got,” he says.
“I don’t think we have a massive support but what we do have is a real loyal following that will always back us up.”
A stone’s throw from the soon-to-be opened Wreckfish is one permanent venue with its own pop-up offering in place.
The Merchant, which sprang up in the former home of veggie café MelloMello last year, embraced the phenomenon from the get-go with a purpose-built space for a revolving range of restaurant residencies.
“Food is really cool at the minute. Young people aren’t starting record labels or club nights anymore, they are starting food brands and restaurants.”
Co-owner of the Slater Street venue, Lewis Boardman thinks the rise in popularity of pop-ups is in part down to the increased trendiness of eating out in general.
“Food is really cool at the minute and has been for a few years,” he says.
“Young people aren’t starting record labels or club nights anymore, they are starting food brands and restaurants.
“We are about to launch our own food market with local independent traders and have big plans for our next food concept.”
The Merchant’s next food focus will replace FINCA, which has recently spent four months serving its Cuban street food menu to the masses.
Previously housed in Botanical Garden during the summer, FINCA comes from the same team behind another of Liverpool’s most popular alternative eating experiences, Secret Diners Club.
Set up in 2013 by chefs Michael Harrison and Daniel Heffy, and later joined by marketeer Joe Earnshaw, Secret Diners Club’s guests are treated to fantastic feasts in unexpected locations across Liverpool with the whereabouts and menu kept under wraps until the day of the event.
Joe, promoter of Secret Diners Club and FINCA, thinks the rise in popularity of pop-ups can be attributed to a change in diners’ habits.
“People are looking for something different,” he says.
“It’s gone from going to have food before you go on a night out to food being the main event.”
According to Joe, the team is now hoping to secure a permanent spot for FINCA after receiving plenty of positive feedback from the public.
“FINCA isn’t going to stay as a pop-up or keep travelling around the city – we’re going to do some stuff on the road this summer then look at getting somewhere permanent.
“Pop-ups are a nice way to test a different area of town or try out a new concept. If people are into it then you can go for it and make it permanent.”
Another venture which has found a temporary home in the city in recent months is the intriguingly named Xiringuito (pronounced chi-rin-gito).
The brainchild of friends Conor Sheehan and Jackson Berg, the travelling eatery drew inspiration from Spanish chiringuitos – provincial beach bars which serve tapas and drinks throughout the summer.
Moving from Liverpool to London in their teens, Conor and Jackson worked their way up through some top restaurants in the capital before deciding to go out on their own.
Instead of jumping straight in with a traditional bricks and mortar venue, the pair came up with the idea for a moveable restaurant.
Enlisting the help of award-winning architect Asif Khan, who designed a giant white marquee to house the ‘posh pop-up’ as Conor calls it, Xiringuito opened for business in a disused car park in the shadow of Margate’s Dreamland amusement park last year.
After spending the summer just a short hop from the beach in Kent, Xiringuito opted to relocate to another up and coming venue in the shape of Liverpool’s Cains Brewery.
“While we’ve been away we’ve noticed a huge difference in the city’s food offering,” says Conor.
“The place we’ve got in Liverpool could easily be a permanent restaurant.
“We’ve got everything a normal restaurant has but we haven’t had to pay a premium and we’ve got the freedom with it to see different places around the country and test it out.
“What we’re trying to do is be a proper restaurant but in a unique setting.”
“The fact that we are seeing a lot of pop-ups proves we have an interesting, vibrant and innovative scene.”
A short walk from Cains Brewery on Greenland Street, Texan-born chef Sean Paul Redding is back in Liverpool at Constellations – fresh from cooking for Kate Moss on her birthday.
Following his sold-out Love Lane pop-up in the city last summer, Sean has devised a Middle Eastern-inspired menu for his second Liverpool venture which is an homage to the uncomplicated cooking methods of celebrated chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi.
“I’m excited to be in Liverpool with its growing independent restaurant culture,” says Sean.
“It’s good to see the diversity of eateries and not only in the city centre. The food offering here is exceptional and I’m delighted to have been approached to add to it.”
Constellations has confirmed to Your Move that although Sean’s pop-up is for one night only in February, depending on its success it could become a regular event.
Elsewhere in the Baltic Triangle, eclectic eatery Maray has also recently joined the pop-up party with a new residency at Camp and Furnace.
Maray, which has permanent Liverpool restaurants on Bold Street and Allerton Road, is testing new dishes every Friday evening as part of the Nightgarden event, which brings together food, music and live performances against the backdrop of an indoor forest.
One of Liverpool’s most respected chefs believes the influx of pop-ups is a good sign for the city’s blossoming restaurant scene.
“The fact that we are seeing a lot of pop-up restaurants in the city, with the possibility of more to come, proves we have an interesting, vibrant and innovative scene that they want to be a part of,” concludes Paul Askew, chair of the Liverpool Restaurant Association and chef patron of The Art School.
“I think there’s no better way for new entrants to trial concepts than pop-ups and it adds to the variety of the city’s restaurant scene and that can only be a good thing.”