It’s been a culinary journey for one of the city’s rising stars. Having begun by washing pots and pans as a 15-year-old in a Childwall pub, Dave Critchley is now one of the region’s leading chefs – and foremost when it comes to Chinese cuisine.

As executive chef director at Lu Ban Restaurant in the heart of the Baltic Triangle, Dave is elevating Chinese cuisine in the city and nationwide with not one, but two appearances on the BBC’s Great British Menu series.

However, this son of Liverpool, is always on the go and there are more strings to his bow as we found out!


How did a Liverpudlian get to be head chef of a Chinese restaurant?


I was working in Manchester at the time but my heart has always been in Liverpool. I wanted to come back and live and work in the city as the vibe here is just so different. I got a call asking if I’d like to be exec head chef at a Chinese restaurant in Liverpool. My first reaction was ‘why do you want a Scouser running a Chinese restaurant?’ But I learned more about the ethos of the restaurant, which was to embolden Chinese food and elevate it through Chinese Culinary Art.


How has Lu Ban evolved since it opened?


We have had to evolve rapidly and many times over, primarily because of the pandemic. Menus have changed, style of service has changed and our systems have changed – mainly because of the challenges. However, I am really happy where Lu Ban is now as a result and feel we’re in a much stronger position.


The past couple of years have been a tough for the hospitality industry, so what does it mean to be recently named Liverpool’s restaurant of the year?


This was a huge icing on the cake for us. Winning was a huge credit to the team who have worked under some incredibly difficult circumstances. We’re still a relatively new restaurant and this is a very difficult award to win. We were up against some top, top well-established restaurants in Liverpool and this one is won on merit.


Most people won’t know, but you’re actually an apprentice Master Chef in Chinese Culinary Art. Tell us more.


When I joined Lu Ban, it also included the opportunity for me to become the first, and still the only, westerner to ever be given the opportunity to train as a Master Chef from the famous Tianjin School of Cuisine. It’s been a huge personal journey for me that has taken me to China and continues now. I am the final apprentice of my mentor Master Wu, which I am very honoured by. His teachings strongly influence my food. We had an official acceptance ceremony in Liverpool – it was due to be in China – where I was officially given my ‘Chef’s hat’ and did the symbolic ritual of drinking tea. It takes time to reach the level of Master Chef, and I am working towards that and should achieve it in a few years.


How did visiting China change your perspective of Chinese food?


When I started at Lu Ban, I was keen to get writing the menu but Mike Mounfield, one of the directors who I knew well, said wait until you’ve been to Tianjin. He couldn’t have been more correct as everything went out of the window after those first two weeks in China. I was taken all around the city to different restaurants to try the food and also to the Tianjin School of Cuisine to enhance my knowledge.

The food was incredible and like nothing I had ever tasted before. It was fresh, light and healthy and so different to what we think of when we eat Chinese in the UK. While I was there, I learned the skills and the importance of flavours cooking some regional dishes. I even had to do this live on Chinese TV – no pressure then!


Aside from your work in the kitchen, you’re involved in other initiatives for the good of the city. Tell us more.


I’m very committed to supporting the people of this city. During the pandemic I launched Liverpool Independent Delivery Service (LIDS), which was about helping those small businesses that just lost customers overnight. LIDS was a way for these small businesses to keep going and to keep selling their goods when we were in lockdown. I also work with the Well Fed Project and Knowsley Kitchen. These two projects support… and they are as important to me as my work at Lu Ban as they give me chance to give something back to the community I love and city at has given me so much. [Dave’s efforts earned him Business Hero of the Year award from Downtown in Business].


You’re an immensely proud Liverpudlian. We’ve seen that in your Great British Menu appearances. What is it about this city for you?


I am fiercely proud of my roots and this city. I absolutely love this city and it was why it was very much the focus when I was on Great British Menu. I could have chosen many things linked to the two themes, but I was representing Liverpool and wanted to showcase the city with my menus. The first time I shone a light on some of the great discoveries and institutions of the city, while the second appearance was highlighting those great entertainers like Cilla Black and Sir Ken Dodd, who are synonymous with the city and did a great deal for Liverpool.


What did you learn from your time on Great British Menu and how has it impacted you as a chef?


It taught me a whole new skillset in terms of camera and TV work, working under pressure. It was a fantastic learning curve for me. It put the fire back in my belly and push myself further and hopefully I can go back on the series again and go even further.


When Dave has a day off…where does he go to relax?


I head for tranquillity, the countryside and a day out with the family, visiting stately homes, animal parks, that kind of thing as being a city boy that appeals to me. Somewhere like Speke Hall or Delamere Forest, or if I’ve enough time, to the Lake District.


Finally, what are your favourite Lu Ban dishes?


Three dishes have been on the menu since day one and I don’t think I could ever take them off.

Five Flavour Cucumber. This is a dish that will stay with me forever as it was the first dish I was taught out in China and opened my eye to Chinese food.

Duck & pancakes. This has become almost legendary in the city and one the popular choices on the menu. The best duck and pancakes I’ve eaten outside of China.

The Cherry Blossom dessert. Which was developed just before the opening of Lu Ban and is probably considered one of our signature dishes.


You can enjoy Chef Dave Critchley’s Tianjin inspired food at Lu Ban Bar and Restaurant.

Dave’s first published cook book ‘Cherry Blossom’ was published in April 2022 and features his culinary journey into Chinese food and favourite Lu Ban inspired recipes. Available to order here.

Find out more about what is on offer at Lu Ban Bar and Restaurant on our blog here.


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Lu Ban Restaurant
Chinese
People at tables inside a restaurant with light walls and dark metal beams and lightly coloured wooden chairs.

Lu Ban, a stylish restaurant with private dining rooms is a hidden treasure in the Cains Brewery Village area close to Chinatown, serving beautiful dishes inspired by the Tianjin region of China by Executive Chef Dave Critchley, apprentice to a Tianjin's top level masterchef.