Nova Restaurant, Heswall.
I’VE always been a fan of science-fiction, from watching the early episodes of Star Trek to being transported to worlds of imagination by authors like Asimov, Bradbury and HG Wells.
So it was with great excitement, one day, while fishing with a pal that I thought I saw a series of orange-coloured, banana-shaped spacecraft shoot out of the murky waters of Crosby Marina.
It was only the next morning, having removed my beer goggles, that I realised we had made the story up later, in the Doric public house.
Not only that, I had actually phoned up the Daily Sport to report this phenomenon and the incident duly appeared under the headline “Spacemen hooked by eel angler”. They had also got a quote from “top UFO boffin”, Arnold West, who said that there had been singular sightings of these strange craft, but to find several together was “quite remarkable”.
Titter ye not, I got £30 for my flight of fancy.
Which brings us to Nova. A nova describes a star that flares brilliantly but briefly before fading back into the cosmic background; a bit like that geezer Joe whatsisname who won X-Factor a couple of years ago and then disappeared into a black hole.
It is also the name of Charlton Heston’s beautiful but brainless female companion in the 60s cult sci-fi movie Planet of the Apes.
The Nova restaurant burst to life at the start of the year, fuelled by the vision and passion of husband and wife Moyo and Jana Benson and backed by a private businessman.
Moyo, the artist in the kitchen, has Nigerian roots, whilst Jana hails from Slovakia. An exotic mix, to be sure, but one that doesn’t feel at all alien in the affluent commuter township of Heswall.
And unlike Heston’s beguiling-but-mute dalliance, this venue has substance as well as style.
That’s just as well, for opening a new restaurant in January, with firework smoke barely whisping away, an economic stranglehold throttling the country and a VAT hike on the horizon….it’s either brave or barmy.
Sadly on this particular Tuesday lunchtime, online business guru Felix Clarke and myself were the only diners to trouble waitress-cum-owner Jana.
This is grown up food though. Evidence of this was immediate. Sprinting after the menus were the amuses-bouche, complimentary spoons of delectable potato gnocchi and wild mushroom paste designed to put a smile on your chops. Also served gratis was home-made soda bread and balsamic vinegar: a couple of nice touches that you would expect at somewhere comfortable and established rather than the new kid on the block.
Nova is located off Heswall’s main drag where it is attempting to muscle in on some very strong local competition.
Moyo is classically-trained and has worked with Pierre Koffmann in the past and was more recently executive chef at Wirral fine-dining venue Hillbark. Who
Despite his roots, the menu is modern English, offering the likes of venison pudding, caramelised belly pork and pigeon beignet. No trace of Stargazy pie, rocket salad or Mars bars though.
Clarkey admired the polished and chic dining room, the wooden flooring, and stripe-fabric furniture, but the big man had a keener interest in the cuisine, ordering a colourful carrot soup (£4) which seemed to be slurped at the speed of light.
My venison scotch egg was a Big Bang of a starter. In fact it wouldn’t have looked out of place on a strange planetary landscape. A large, spherical object, nestling among striking white fried noodles and sitting in a pool of redcurrant jelly. Knifing through the outer layer of meat revealed a sunburst of dazzling yellow yoke that oozed into the jelly creating a rich, orange sauce. The cosmic combo danced a jig of delight on the taste buds.
Clarkey used to live in Wirral and ply his trade in Liverpool but has since moved out to Cheshire and is doing business with wallahs in Wrexham – truly another planet. But I guess it’s tough wherever you do business these days, even in leafy Heswall.
In the sci-fi movies in days gone by, the usual was nutritional pills, althoughat the international space station Mir it was borsch, sticky rice with sweet bean paste and zero-g burritos that kept the astronauts nourished.
But if ‘you’re thinking of taking a trip to the stars, assuming you have the squillions for a space leisure flight, be warned that certain items such as salt and pepper are only available in liquid form – in a weightless environment the grains would merely float off like gold-dust.
Anyway, to more down to Earth matters. Jana informed us that the Catch of the Day (£12) was flounder, freshly plundered from the Flintshire coast.
This sounded like a much-needed healthy option for the big feller who relished the monster sized flat fish flanked by beetroot and potato croquettes. An appreciative noise akin to a pig snorkelling truffles accompanied the disappearance of the aquatic morsel whose only evidence of existence was a skeletal remain.
Meanwhile the second part of my set lunch menu (£15 for three courses) had also been delivered. A plate of braised ox cheek and mash with onion rings and gravy, just right for a cold February day. The meat was so tender it would have collapsed using a raw sausage never mind a knife.
I was told my consumption of the ox choice cut resembled that of a ruminating bovine.
A glass of house red Paul Bouchard (£4.25) was an ideal silky-smooth companion to this unpretentious melt-in-the-mouth mix of mash and meat.
The couple behind Nova say they are determined to stay true to the idea of locally sourced produce – too often a mantra that is merely paid lip service.
To be honest, this was enough for a lunch-time but in the interests of enlightening the reader it was only right to examine the dessert menu.
The home-made comfort dish of rice pudding appealed to cockney exile Clarke, while I took Jana’s recommendation and dissected a chocolate tart with a gorgeous, gooey interior.
Well, after all the space-age analogies, I’m bound to say that the gravitational pull of a return to this place is fairly strong. It will be interesting to see how it gets on.
In Liverpool city centre I think it would do a brisk trade at lunchtime, taking into account the attention to detail and love with which the food is prepared rather than churned out.
“That was proper food,” observed Clarke, “well presented, tasty, I’d definitely come back.”
On Sundays there is a set menu of two courses for £15 and three for £20 with the highlight being a roast chateaubriand to share.
The a la carte menu features sea bass, calves liver and a selection of grilled cuts.
The eating out trade, like many others, has suffered over the past few years and established businesses have been hit by discounting and cost-cutting.
Quality counts though and in that respect Nova should do well. By the way, this Nova is actually named after the Slovakian word for new.
Liverpool Confidential reviewers dine out unannounced and pick up their own bills.