A new little cafe in Liverpool lives up to its street's name, boldly going where not enough have gone before and creating an atmosphere where it's easy to segue from pre-work cuppa to late lunch, to Friday night drinks
For this writer, only a couple of places in the Northwest get that distressed-but-homely, rustic but not nostalgic thing right – North Tea Power in Manchester, with its communal benches cut from healthy slabs, and now Liverpool's Maray, a focused but still versatile offering on Bold Street that seamlessly segues from morning coffees to lunchbreak stop-offs to evening dining. It modestly proffers 'Falafel x Cocktails x Small Plates' and delivers just that (well, and a bit more) in an unfussy environment of blues, ecrus and umbers that's softened by dumpy ice-water jugs, pot plants, classic filament lighting and slim sprays of fresh flowers. We will concede that, yes, the table bases are fashioned from a certain piece of vintage textiles machinery – but one can only assume that, along with All Saints' preferred method of burglar deterrent (latticing its windows with 463 of the things), the boutique eaterie is responding stoically to continued pleas for help from the Home for Singer Sewing Machines.
Open only two weeks when we call in, it's clear the staff – who, on the day we visit, are also the owners – know the importance of a warm welcome. We are greeted by a round of cheery hellos, shown to a comfortable perch against the exposed brickwork, and are recommended a new beverage they've just received their first batch of that morning – a Duke's Cold Brew coffee from a local independent brewer, presented in a stout bottle and ready mixed with almond milk. (Keep an eye out for this stuff – the aforementioned NTP are also now producing their own cold brew, and we've heard word of a couple more outlets starting their own lines; put out in small batches with only a few weeks' shelf life, cold brews are more considered, crafted alternatives to your standard iced coffee, having been made with the intention of being served chilled rather than just muddled with ice at point of purchase.)
Though we're here early for a weekend (midday), the light, airy wedge of canteen soon fills up – it's obviously already made an impression, perhaps partly due to its amenable prices for what turn out to be significant portions. The lunch menu is pleasingly limited – you may choose flatbread, flatbread, flatbread or flatbread (or soup), meaning the concentration is on the fillings (falafel, houmous and feta, slow cooked lamb, or marinated chicken). At first, the lamb flatbread appears somewhat naked – the salad is limited to mainly lettuce, tomato and cucumber – but this turns out to work in its favour (or should that be flavour?); rather than being slathered in sauce, its subtleties are allowed to emerge gradually and contrast with the sweet bite of the fresh-sliced (not jarred) jalapenos, which are our pick of the extras, along with a chunky tabbouleh. Those who prefer a veritable jamboree of ingredients in their wraps, however, may find the selectivity a little too... well, little.
Another visit one evening to sample the dinner menu yields a creamy, al dente aubergine risotto; cute and compact falafel balls, and tangy fish goujons, which our dining partner can't get enough of – though she isn't so sure about the sweet potato with fig wedges, a rich-sounding combination that she finds hard on the teeth.
Unfortunately, our pre-payday budget doesn't stretch to cocktails, but word on the tweets is that the margarita is particularly punchy; their twist on the Bloody Mary, meanwhile – that's, yes, a Bloody Maray – takes in mezcal and green chilli sauce. Oomph. With its familial décor, splashes of colour and a truly unique USP, Maray has the feel of a 'local' rather than a stop-off – and will surely become a haunt in no time.
If you liked Maray, try:
Little Beirut (inside Mr Chips, serving falafel at lunchtime), Liverpool
Armenian Taverna, Manchester