I went to Röski, and, when the waitress poured gravy into my sherry, I understood why the restaurant’s name contains a shocked-face emoji.
Röski is Liverpool’s latest attempt to bag a Michelin star. On the surface, there’s no reason why the city needs one – Manchester hasn’t got one and you can’t move for gourmet Yorkshire pudding joints and Thai burger places there – but, on the other hand, Manchester hasn’t got one.
So MasterChef: The Professionals winner Anton Piotrowski has installed himself inside the former and much-loved Puschka on Rodney Street, changing the warm interior into a sort of duck-egg minimalism, and switching on his “Behold! I am very clever” beam to attract the right sort of attention.
This is fair enough, he is very clever, and we’ll get to that, don’t you worry. But the reason Liverpool has failed to trouble the Michelin guide is not so much about food as it is about service. It’s the Scouse Waiter Problem.
The thing about service in a Liverpool restaurant is that it’s great. It’s really friendly. And that’s the trouble. Scouse waiting staff tend to treat you like you’re their friend. I’ve even been called “mate” a few times, despite my studiedly stand-offish demeanour. I mean, how dare they? How bloody dare they?
Basically, there’s an informality about the proceedings, bordering on laissez-faire, and if there’s one thing the Michelin inspectors are not hoping to encounter, it’s that.
Röski is very different. The front of house staff – led by Piotrowski’s partner, Rose – treat you like guests. They’re not going to ask you to be their Facebook friend. These are professionals. There’s warmth, obviously, but they know why we’re there and we know why they’re there. They noticed our table was wobbly about four seconds after we did, and scurried over with a wedge three seconds after that, which is showing off, quite frankly.
Why are we there? Well, it’s not for the playlist, which was a mix of Motown and Stax that Saturday night, familiar as a hug from an auntie. It’s the food. It’s always the food.
The normal menu is suspended on Fridays and Saturdays, replaced by a tasting menu, which begins with incomer Piotrowski’s tribute to a scouse chippy tea. A cheesy chip is triple-cooked and glazed with Lincolnshire Poacher, and dribbled with a Wagyu gravy. Served on a katsu curry sauce slick is a breadcrumbed Wagyu beef nugget. Wagyu beef features heavily on the menu. I can only assume Piotrowski made a mistake on the order and put an extra zero on the end. And then there’s a Bovril butter to be spread on sourdough from Baltic Bakehouse.
Oh, yes, the Wagyu gravy. Glasses of fino sherry are served “at room temperature” with the meal. “We’re going to pour some gravy into your sherry,” the waitress tells us. “You’re bloody not,” my head says. “OK,” my mouth says. A drop of gravy drops into the glass, and the waitress swirls it round, turning the perfectly good sherry into a sort of 50s milky coffee.
Fair enough, Piotrowski knows best. The gravy brings out that umami taste that makes a good sherry, and the sherry somehow boosts the beefiness of the gravy.
He’s built up enough trust now. Bring it on, we think. He does.
Next up are gin and tonic crab, a clean-tasting crab mayonnaise with cucumber and papaya, and, in a frothy burnt butter sauce, a scallop which could be eaten with a spoon.
Asparagus with salad cream, and langoustine with wasabi were well executed, but only memorable because I pinched a copy of the menu.
“What Came First?” gets us back on track. A riff on a chicken and mushroom pie, it’s a powerfully-flavoured chicken velouté , covering wild mushrooms, served in an egg shell, and accompanied by a pile of bay leaves covered in dry ice, which atomises the herb, turning it into a perfume.
The Wagyu beef returns, because of course it does, in the form of a tartare served with burger mayonnaise – imagine McDonald’s special sauce with a touch more poke – and sliced gherkins. He’s having a laugh, now, is Piotrowski, gold put to the use of paving stones, and still not losing its lustre. Along with the tartare is a hoi sin duck, crispy on the outside, and tenderly pink inside.
And then we come to the red cabbage bolognaise. It’s a pile of what looks like a bog-standard ragu, served on top of a stone, and dusted with some Parmigiano Reggiano. And it really does taste like mamma used to make, specifically my mamma.
But there is no meat. Somehow, Piotrowski makes red cabbage and tomato taste like beef. Wagyu beef, probably.
It is as brilliant as it is pointless. If you’re going to show off how good your meatless ragu is, it’s got to be the the best ragu I’ve ever had. Honestly, Anton, I could give you my mum’s recipe (“Ingredients: mince, jar of Dolmio…”) and save you hours in the kitchen.
A squab pigeon comes next, on a wild garlic sauce. It’s a rosy breast, and a beautifully rendered leg. There’s not much meat on the leg, obviously – you’ve seen pigeons – but there’s a Chinese proverb which says “The closer the bone, the sweeter the meat” and you can’t knock the Chinese. Not after the Huawei contract.
Puddings start with “1980s”, Red Leicester attached by a cocktail stick to compressed pineapple with a Red Leicester custard, and end with “pina colada”, a coconut cream with pineapple sorbet. In between is a bit of chocolate crème fraîche nonsense with shards of cep-flavoured caramel. It’s magical.
There’s a decent short wine flight, by the way, including a grapefruity Chenin Blanc from Devon, of all places. I think it was a Chenin Blanc, I wasn’t paying attention at that point. I was too busy making sure the waitress wasn’t going to pour gravy into my glass.
I don’t know if Röski is going to break Liverpool’s Michelin duck, but if it does I won’t be wearing a shocked face.
Röski, 16 Rodney Street, Liverpool, L1 2TE. 0151 708 8698. roskirestaurant.com. Open Tuesday-Saturday. Tasting menu only on Friday and Saturday. Tasting menu: £75. Short wine flight: £40. Premier wine flight: £65.