Paul Askew draws inspiration from his personal history and local ingredients to create something worth studying, reports Katie Pathiaki
Paul Askew regards high-quality, seasonal ingredients as "crown jewels" and sometimes spends weeks sourcing the best in the region. As a proud champion of the quality produce of the North West, he tries to keep to a 20-mile radius around his Liverpool-based restaurant, the Art School.
"We use the green belt around Liverpool, from North Wales and the Wirral across to Lancashire and Cheshire, and there's not much you can't get," he says.
"I love using local ingredients in a dish you would associate with, say, France. For instance, red mullet makes me think of fish soup in Provence." One such dish replicating the flavours of the Provençal speciality is a riceless potato risotto featuring local potatoes, Southport potted shrimps and red pepper purée to symbolise the rouille. The dish is topped with red mullet, which is grilled to crisp the skin.
s well as a standard tasting menu at £89 for eight courses, Askew offers pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan tasting menus (each also £89 for eight courses), along with a prix fixe and a vegan prix fixe menu. He believes it is important to offer a choice of menus for customers and has to cross-reference them so his mise en place isn't huge.
Alongside focusing on the best produce, the well-travelled chef also pulls on the experience of his global trips, especially to the Middle East, Far East and North America. One dish on the vegetarian menu features tofu marinated in a sauce Askew first tried in Singapore, made from soy, garlic, chilli, lime and coriander. It's served with vegetable spaghetti and nuts.
He explains: "Tofu is one of the most tasteless ingredients, but if you add a strong marinade, you can create something really interesting. Customers now travel to us specially for our meat-free dishes."
Askew's cooking is classical and he avoids sous vide, dry ice or what he refers to as "smoke and mirrors". A meal that looks simple on the plate but takes hours of preparation is his popular dish of hogget (year-old lamb) prepared in four ways, which was presented to Daniel Clifford during the most recent BBC Two series of Great British Menu. The shoulder is used to produce a pressed terrine by braising the hogget for four hours in lamb stock, after which the meat is shredded and pressed between two sheets so it resembles a "log of pure pressed shoulder". The loin from the saddle, which is coated with a seasoning of rosemary, fennel seed, garlic, thyme, cracked black pepper and salt, is pan-fried and rested, then carved and set with a roasted carrot purée.
skew's favourite part of the animal is the rump, and for the hogget dish he hay-roasts it with rosemary and thyme sprigs. Pan-fried sweetbreads complete the dish, along with seasonal vegetables. On Great British Menu
"Many people asking for the dish have cried because they knew the significance," he says. "The pearl barley reminds me of my mum. After a Sunday roast, she would use the leftover meat and put it in a pot with vegetables and pearl barley on a Monday. People go mad for the pearl barley. As a chef, I think you have to put a little bit of your heart on each plate."
With a recent refurbishment under its belt, the Art School has expanded to include a 30-cover private dining room which has its own kitchen and bar, a 60-cover cellar bar, offering more than 300 wines coupled with small dishes, canapés, cheese, charcuterie and freshly baked breads, and a 10-cover private tasting room, all in addition to the original 48-cover restaurant, which serves 350-400 covers a week.
skew says: "The bar has made it a bit more accessible, so people can come in and just have a glass of wine and there's no pressure. The idea is to make people feel comfortable. I think the additions have made us complete and now we need to focus on polishing and refining and to keep moving forward."
From the menu
•A glass of Charles Heidsieck Champagne with a selection of seasonal canapés
•Pan-roasted fillet of halibut with Filey crab, cucumber pearls, mousseline potatoes, and wild mushroom beurre blanc
•Seared king scallop with butcher's wife black pudding, Granny Smith apple, golden raisin pureé and Romanesco couscous
•Pepper-crusted breast of corn-fed Goosnargh duck with golden beetroot, sweet potato, charred chicory and Tales of the Orient red tea sauce
•Mr Ward's loin of "Red Deer" venison, with girolles, black truffle, cavolo nero, parsnip purée, pink peppercorn and damson jus
•Assiette of Cox's apple and caramel: confit apples, salted caramel ice-cream, dulcey crémeux and caramel pastry crunch
*Tasting menu £89, per person. Optional wine flight, £55 per person* 1 Sugnall Street, Liverpool L7 7EBwww.theartschoolrestaurant.co.ukRecipe of the week: Mr Ward's loin of "Red Deer" venison >>](/articles/523378) [Book review: *Onwards & Upwards: 40 signature recipes from the Art School restaurant* by Paul Askew >>
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