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Orginally opened in 1907 as a cottage hospital and part of Lord Leverhulmes vision for the village of Port Sunlight, the Leverhulme Hotel exudes comfort and a welcoming ambience, and this warm welcome extends to the Riviera Restaurant at Leverhulme, the third venue for this year’s Wirral Young Chef of the Year competition.

Tonight’s young chef, Marcin Sielski, started his career at the hotel as a ‘behind the scenes’ kitchen porter, however on this showing he will undoubtedly become a headline chaser as a chef who cooks in glorious technicolour with an obvious Mediterranean culinary repertoire that is second to none!

The Riviera Restaurant at Leverhulme is a slick and professional operation, as you might expect from a hotel whose sister hotel is the Hillbark at Royden Park, which currently holds the title of the UK’s smallest 5 Star hotel! The greeting at the front door proved to be typical of the service offered at Leverhulme, warm, engaging and utterly focussed. The glass tables in the high ceilinged dining room with views into parts of the kitchen allows the diner to almost interact with the kitchen brigade, and the modern Meditaerranean  prints and impressive chandeliers, although appearing to have been ‘thrown together’ randomly, actually seemed to make a lot of sense in each other’s company…and so to the meal.

As almost a statement of Mediterranean intent, we were surprised to find a plate on the table containing six tomatoes, a lemon, some salt and a bottle of olive oil-apparently a precursor to the main event. This surprise however soon abated as our waiter swiftly introduced us to our appetiser, including suggestions on how to serve it, and this actually worked quite well, although could perhaps have been improved further with cherry tomatoes and a basket of some home-made artisan bread to soak up the dlecious olive oil.

And so to the starter, simply entitled ‘Seafood’, this dish was described on the menu as being Tuna Carpaccio, Octopus, King Prawn, Fennel, Shallot and Tomatoes. This delicate assembly of tried and tested Mediterranean seafod had been arranged in such a way as to perfectly accentuate the fantastic ingredients on show. It is really hard to fault this dish which had been so well cared for with the inclusion of a pronounced citrus dressing containing just a hint of fennel, a nod perhaps to how this versatile ingredient might be used in the cook-off final in April.

Imagining that you could ‘throw this dish together’ yourself at the weekend to eat whilst watching the latest episode of Casualty on TV would be the ultimate home cook’s delusion of grandeur! A terrific start to the meal.

Next the main event-Loin of Venison with Smoked Tea, Onion Ash, Apple and Fennel and Kale, slices of succulently sweet seared and roasted venison, perfectly pink on the inside and arranged on the plate in such a way so as not to disguise the other ingredients but to in fact allow them all to jump out from the plate-this was a Premiership winning main course if ever there was one! The smoky tea based accompanying sauce and vibrant serving of crunchy curly kale, served alongside a scattering of small cubes of apple clearly showed that the chef has a deep understanding of the importance of texture and flavour, and without a slate or piece of wood in sight, myself and my guests simply loved the execution of this superb plate of food.

We finished with Tiramisu, delivered to the table in two parts (classic and contemporary), a modern approach to this traditional Italian dessert. The ‘classic’ element of the dish was comforting and reminded me of my Mum, not bacause she was a good cook (she once tried to fry an egg in lime juice thinking it was oil!), but rather because Tiramisu was her favourite dessert to eat! Then came my favourite part (the contemporary element),  served in a glass as a vivid, soothingly light coffee liqueur ‘cocktail’, just how you imagined grown up desserts to be when you are growing up-naughty but nice! A great way to end the meal.

So what did we learn from this experience? Undoubtedly that in Marcin, the Riviera at Leverhulme has discovered a chef who is going places, a chef clearly passionate and enthusiastic about his profession and one who is undoubtedly a role model in terms of what can be achieved if you aim high and aspire to be the best at what you do.

Congratulations Marcin, and we look forward to welcoming you to the Cook-off at Wiral Metropolitan Colege on Monday 4th April.

Tony Boustead (College Manager for Hospitality & Catering)

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