REVIEW: Röski, Liverpool

What we were eating in the 1980s

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.

My Brexit Journey

The author, on the day he bought his car

LAST summer, after years of getting the bus, I decided I would buy a 2007 Volkswagen Eos. The intersection of the Venn diagram of people who understand the implications of that statement and those who are keen opponents of Brexit is quite small. In fact, hello, Jeremy Clarkson. Nice jeans.

For those of you who are unaware, a VW Eos is a hard top convertible car, which was discontinued a few years ago for reasons which will become clear.

I had always wanted a hard top convertible because owning one is like owning a Transformer. All one has to do to put the roof down or bring it back up again is press a button, and then 17 individual motors whirr and fold or unfold the several components into a little package which is deposited in the boot. Can you think of anything more cool than that? No, you cannot.

But people said to me when I was considering my purchase, “Gary, you are an idiot. It’s older than your youngest child, and she goes to Big Big School now. You’re counting on 17 individual motors to work? You don’t even have T-shirts that old and T-shirts don’t have moving parts.

“You will regret this, you total nincompoop. Buy a normal car, which will get you from A to B, and which will not cover you with water every time it rains and you brake suddenly.”

I pooh-poohed all of them. They were just being massive spoilsports.

I marched to the second-hand motors dealer and spent an amount of money I will never see again on this car. There’s a reason why they call the people who sell cars “dealers”, isn’t there? You don’t call a greengrocer a “melon dealer” or a butcher a “mince dealer”. But we do refer to arms dealers. And drug dealers.

And, for the first couple of months, all was more or less well. This is because I bought a convertible car in July. When the rainy season came, all was more or less unwell. The seals between the individual parts of the roof which keep out the rain did not.

I went on to the internet to try to find out why this was happening, as if I did not know why it was happening. Even so, there was an expensive oil I could buy which would lubricate the seals. And so, every few weeks, I would lubricate the seals, a job not even a zookeeper has to do.

It did nothing to help, and so, every time it rained for more than 38 seconds, water would fill a channel, waiting for the moment that I would brake, at which point a tide would empty over my trousers, and run down my seat, gathering in a pool in which I would sit.

And then I lost my job. Well, “lost” is a bit too much. What happened is that I intentionally mislaid my job in exchange for some money. But it meant that I had enough cash to have the seals replaced, just as soon as I got round to it…

It appears that I have a tremendous tolerance for mild liquid inconvenience. Besides, I discovered that if I took the roof down for a moment, the water would drain away. I got used to this solution.

So, after a morning of heavy rain, I went to my car and took down the roof. And when I put it back up, one of the 17 motors gave up the ghost. The sun roof refused to close, and the rain started again.

I drove six miles to my nearest VW dealership as the rain came down and asked them to please make brum brum good again. They would definitely be able to fix it. But they couldn’t do it for another six days. Luckily, the motor came back online, and I was able to close the sun roof.

I went back six days later. A mechanic who specialises in the Eos and its ways took a look at it. “Yeah,” he said. “We need to replace this seal.”

“Thought so,” I said, smugly.

“Thing is, if we replace that seal, we have to replace this one as well,” he continued. “Basically, we have to replace all the seals.”

“Oh,” I said, less smugly. “That’s bad, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Also, they don’t make the seals anymore, so we’ll have to source them from somewhere.”

I did not like the sound of this. “H-how much do you think it would cost?”

The mechanic quoted me a figure that was roughly equal to the amount for which I had bought the car eight months before.

“We could do the work,” he said. “But it’s not worth the bother.”

I don’t go out to work anymore. I don’t really need a car, I thought. I’ll just test the promise made by webuyanycar.com to destruction.

I was given a quote which was nowhere near half the amount I paid for the car, but was enough to let me walk away with some dignity, and I made an appointment to take it in.

But it had been raining on the morning of the appointment. I went to my car to take it on our last drive. And, before I thought about it, I pressed the button to lower the roof and drain the channel. And when I pressed it again the sun roof refused to close.

So I drove in the rain to see the webuyanycar.com man. He noted the condition of the sun roof, and reduced the offer by three-quarters.

I walked away with a tiny fraction of the cash I had splurged on the car, and something even more horrible occurred to me – I had just experienced a Brexit metaphor.

I was fine taking the bus everywhere before. It wasn’t perfect, but at least I didn’t have to insure my bus, or pay road tax.

And when I decided I wanted the independence of a car, I didn’t go for something sensible, I went for a teenage boy’s ideal car.

And when my friends and family told me of the pitfalls of convertibles, I dismissed their warnings as Project Fear. They were talking down unnecessarily complicated midlife crises.

And then, when things went wrong, I blithely kept calm and carried on. There was nothing structurally wrong with it, after all. It still got me from A to B. All it needed was a bit of grease on the seals. And so what if I had to sit in a pool of water? Ducks do that all the time and they’re happy enough.

And, when I finally faced reality, having chucked away a load of money, the car was so utterly fucked that I walked away with little compensation and even less dignity.

And the German automotive industry failed to come to my rescue, because it turned out they could very easily do without my business.

Books, though

SO, a few weeks ago, I released the third volume of my columns, Massaging A Ghost. You’ve probably forgotten that I used to write a column. I rarely mentioned it.

It is totally still available from Amazon, by the way, if you want it. It’s in paperback and on Kindle because that’s what people like and I am a people pleaser. In theory. Technically, I am what they call an aspiring people pleaser.

Anyway, these columns went up to the beginning of 2006. But my column finished at the beginning of 2009. That means there were three years of columns still uncompiled. I don’t know about you, but I reckon that state of affairs simply cannot stand.

So I am delighted to present to you, the largely indifferent public, the fourth volume of my columns, Accidental Gravy.

An out-of-focus picture of a book

Just like its predecessor, it is available in paperback (£7.99) and on Kindle (£3.99). “Why is it so much more expensive in paperback, Gary?” I hear you ask.

“Well,” I reply, “printing things costs money, and putting things online costs less money, and that’s basically why they don’t print The Independent any more.”

Anyway, buy it. I don’t mind which format you use. It’s none of my business.

COLUMN: January 3, 2019

A jug with too much milk

IF anything epitomises my ability to self-sabotage, it is my love of a nice cup of tea.

First, you have to bear in mind that only about one in six cups of tea could possibly be called nice, because people’s taste in tea, far more than in coffee, is a subjective thing.

This is why I am not in the tea round in the office. I would find it an administrative nightmare if I were making the tea, and intolerable if I were receiving the tea.

There are charts, for instance, of ideal tea colour, which are fine as far as they go. But they don’t take into account the amount of milk that people like. You could ask for a 4B on the Tea Colour Scale, but that could be stronger in the brewing stage and more lavish in the milk addition stage than you like, yet still be the correct colour.

And every tea bag is different. Every kettle of water is different. Sometimes they react in subtle ways to each other, meaning you can have a transcendent cuppa, or you can have something that tastes like Katie Hopkins sounds.

The point is that I am drinking five cups of average-to-poor tea for every one satisfying cuppa, even if I am making it myself. If tea were a football manager it would be sacked before Christmas.

Second, tea makes me look like a loser when I am attempting to look like a sophisticated man about town.

You see, the sophisticated way to finish off a meal is a coffee. I have no idea how we came to decide that. Presumably somebody thought the best way to finish off a beautifully cooked, balanced, and seasoned meal would be to destroy the taste buds with the bitterest substance known to man.

Just because I refuse to abandon tea for this upstart, waiters give me that look when I ask for tea, the international symbol for “Technically, the customer is always right – I’ve been on a course – but I’m looking at you now and if I owned this joint, not only would you be barred, but I would see to it that no restaurant in this town would admit you in future. And I would set fire to your trousers.”

So they bring me a small pot of tepid tea, a jug with too much milk, and no biscuit, even though my companion, who is unaccountably drinking coffee like a traitor, gets one. And I drink it, because it’s one of the five-in-six and increases my chances of getting a good one next time.

Third, I work a hilariously stupid shift, from 1.30-10pm. It means I usually get home just before 11pm. In order to get enough time in the morning to do something practical, or merely enjoy the moments that I am not at work, I should really go to sleep around midnight.

But what I actually do is walk through my front door, and put the kettle on. Because I am programmed to wind down by having a cup of tea. I am northern. It is what we do.

And when I get to bed, just before midnight, that is the moment when the caffeine in the tea kicks in, along with all my brain’s synapses. A potentially sleepy person is transformed into Dynamo, The World’s Widest Awake Man.

This is when I wonder things like which brave soul first decided that you could eat blue cheese, why they invented parachutes before they invented aeroplanes, and if Top Cat would now live in a wheely bin.

It means I never get to sleep before 1.30am, which is why I’m tired all the time. Either the tea or the job has to go.

And it’s not going to be the tea, I’m afraid.

I have been writing this weekly column in some form since 2009, but all mediocre things must come to an end. I’d like to thank the people who have made it possible – especially Charles and Eddie, MD and Figgis, and Rihanna and the estate of the late Sir David Frost. And bus drivers.

I’d like to thank the people who supported my column, and those who are no longer with us, especially my mum, and my good friends Suzi Moore, and, heartbreakingly recently, Simon Ricketts.

And finally I’d like to thank all my readers, even the ones who write to me about Brexit. Please buy my books. I have a tea habit to maintain.  

COLUMN: December 27, 2018

The Bee Gees

I’M HAPPY to announce the first annual Gary Bainbridge Column Awards Of The Year For Things That Are A Bit Sub-par – the GBCAOTYFTTAABS, or Geebees, if you’re in a hurry. These, of course, are not to be confused with the Bee Gees. In fact, you would be a total idiot to get them mixed up.

The Geebee for Missing The Point goes to the people who the BBC keep finding on the streets of Britain who say, “I don’t understand why we can’t just get out”, when asked their views on Brexit. Simply put, if you don’t know why we can’t just do it, you shouldn’t have been allowed to vote for it. Or you’ve resigned as Brexit Secretary.

The Geebee for Being In The Right Place At The Right Time goes to the man who was in my lift last Tuesday, who stepped forward when we got to my floor, leaving me in no doubt that he was exiting, then stopped, blocking my path, and allowing the doors to close.

Special mention should go to the man who tried to blow up a cash machine near my home – I heard the explosion at 11.45pm and assumed it was a firework, which, frankly, is an argument for conscription.

This man did not realise that if you want to set off an explosive device, it is sensible to be as far away from the blast as possible, and was therefore witnessed absconding from the scene blackened and smouldering, like Wile E Coyote after the failure of a Road Runner/firework rocket scheme.

The Geebee for Supportive Opposition goes to the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP. The Prime Minister’s greatest asset, he steps in ably whenever she is in trouble and yanks her out.

Mrs May is having the sort of bother with Brexit negotiations that would sink most leaders on the morning of Prime Minister’s Questions? Mr Corbyn will ask six questions about buses and libraries. There isn’t a ball rolling gently in front of an open goal that he won’t send ballooning over the crossbar and into Row Z.

The Geebee for Unsolicited Decoration goes to birds. This is probably not all birds. We can probably dismiss emus and penguins. This year, partly owing to my purchase of a car, I have been plagued by birds, and, specifically, their droppings. I was attacked, for instance, on my way to a swanky book launch.

But also there is a parking spot on my road which I had noticed was always clear, and I wondered why nobody ever parked there. Then, one night, I came home from work and the road was packed. So I parked in the spot.

Next morning, my car looked like Worthy Farm after the Glastonbury Festival. I assumed it was just one of those things and took my car to be washed.

But the next time – the number two time, you might say – I parked in the spot it happened again. The spot is underneath a tree, yes, but there are many trees in my road. I can only assume that this tree is the lav-a-tree.

The Geebee for Dawdling goes to the two mums who brought their sons to my barber when there was only one barber on and when I was in a hurry. Both of these mothers kept getting the barber to do a bit more.

The gall! I have only once in my life asked the barber to do a bit more after being shown the back of my head and even that turned out badly. These women did it three times each and they didn’t even look embarrassed.

Even worse, the barber had Basic FM on his radio, which made the wait feel even longer, and they played the Take That cover of How Deep Is Your Love? instead of the Geebees version. Imagine having access to all the records in the world and playing that version instead of the original.

Other winners of Geebees this year include people who think Jacob Rees-Mogg is clever because he’s got glasses and he’s got an O Level in Latin, people who use the term “umami” without thinking of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, busking accordion players who only know one song, slow walkers who stop suddenly, dog owners who say, “Oh, he’s only being friendly”, waiters who call your party “guys”, and long-running newspaper columnists who don’t know when to call it quits.

Must do something about that. Maybe next year.

COLUMN: December 20, 2018

An empty cinema

EVERYBODY has perks of their job. Teachers get 30 presents at Christmas. Binmen have people chasing them up the street at this time of year with money instead of rubbish. Window cleaners get to judge strangers’ wallpaper without having to wait till they have the big light on and the curtains open.

Even journalists get perks. We get free green eye-shades. We get to shout “Hold the front page!” and “Stop the presses!” And occasionally we get invitations to swanky events at which we will be comfortably – or uncomfortably, in my case – the least swanky person in the room.

Most of these invitations we have to turn down. Most functions occur during the time that newspapers are actually produced, as well do many of the people who work in public relations know, as they have jumped ship from journalism. They are poachers turned gamekeepers, or gamekeepers turned poachers, depending on your point of view.

We can always tell, by the way, which PR people have never worked in journalism, or, indeed, have never read a newspaper, as they will ask us when we finish for Christmas. The short answer to that is “We don’t.” The longer answer to that is unprintable.

Anyway, I had had quite the week, personally and professionally, when an invitation popped into my email. Would I like to go to a screening of an upcoming film in an unspecified venue in the West End the following week? It is a film I have been looking forward to seeing, was being introduced by a writing and performing hero of mine, and would be followed by a question and answer session with the writer and director of the film.

Would I like to go to that? What do you think? I booked the day off, RSVPed in the resoundingly positive, and went online to buy the cheapest train tickets I could find.

The PR person who had invited me replied to me asking if I would like a “plus one”. Now there are people in London who dislike me less than most people. I would probably be able to rustle up a more or less willing companion. So I replied that I would.

Two days later, a different PR person from the same agency contacted me to ask if I would like to go to the screening. My word, I thought, these people are very keen to ensure that beloved columnist and wit Gary Bainbridge is at their event to lend it a touch of class. This, I thought, must be what it is like to be Rihanna, or was like to be the late Sir David Frost.

I said I had already accepted, and asked how it was going with the “plus one”. The new PR replied that she had checked, noted my request for a second ticket, and would get back to me. That was a bit rum. It was hardly a request. If somebody asks if you want a ginger nut and you say yes, you haven’t requested it.

Anyway, my mind was at rest. These people definitely wanted me there. In many ways, these people were going to be my new friends. It was safe, therefore, to book a hotel…

The day before the event, I still had not received details about where the screening was, or confirmation of my “plus one” ticket. I emailed the original PR for clarification.

Two hours later, and less than 24 hours before I was due to catch my train or check into my hotel, the PRs’ manager emailed me to say that there had been a change in ticket allocation, and that my request for tickets had been declined. “Apols for the confusion”, said a man who was so sorry he couldn’t even write the word “apologies” in full.

I pointed out that telling me less than 24 hours before my train or hotel reservation meant that I couldn’t get a refund, and that I did not request tickets, I was flipping well invited.

Then, in a rage, I cancelled my tickets and reservation. There was no point in going to London and spending more money if I wasn’t seeing the film.

Mr Apols emailed back. It turned out that they did have a pair of tickets available.

I told him not to bother, and banged my head on the desk a number of times.

The PRs won’t be reading this, of course. They’ll be on their Christmas holidays. It’s a perk of their job.

COLUMN: December 13, 2018

I used to be Prime Minister, you know?

DAVID Cameron was on the television the other night, after the latest calamity at that point to befall the Brexit process. There were probably three or four more calamities that followed that night, and there will be about another dozen between the writing of this column and your reading of it.

Anyway, a reporter asked him if he regretted calling the EU referendum and he said he did not because he had promised to have one in his 2015 manifesto, before jumping in his car and being driven off, ignoring questions about whether we should have a second referendum now that we know what the Brexit deal looks like.

One has to wonder what it is like inside the previous Prime Minister’s head. He spent years agreeing, presumably for political effect, with the rabid right wing press and his rabid right wing backbenchers, that the European Union was an absolute shower of bounders obsessed with giving us straight bananas and time off work when we have a new baby.

Then he pulled the Conservative MEPs out of their natural grouping in the European Parliament and put them in with the harder-right head-the-balls. He pandered to Ukippers over immigration – Theresa May was at the Home Office, for goodness’ sake.

Then he went to the EU to get a better deal for the UK, despite the fact that the UK had a pretty cushy deal from the EU anyway. We’re not in the Schengen area, which means EU residents still need their passports to enter our country, we’re not in the single currency, and we get a massive rebate despite the fact we’re one of the richest members of the EU.

And, of course, when he came back with a mildly better deal, there was no way it would placate his backbenchers or the Daily Mail, because it was an article of faith with them that the European Union was as bad as the Nazis.

He could have come back with the political equivalent of you finding a £20 note down the back of the sofa, and they would have still complained that he didn’t find a £50 note, and, besides, the sofa was lumpy.

So he spent years doing the European Union down, mostly because it was politically expedient. And then he announced the referendum and put himself down in the Remain camp.

Why did he do this? Because he expected to win. He thought he would be able to settle the issue in his party for a generation, and stop his backbenchers from banging on about Europe, because people like him always expect to win.

What he did not realise is that he had played his entire professional and political career up to that point on easy mode. He went to Eton and Oxford, he got a job at Conservative Central Office after a phone call of recommendation from Buckingham Palace. He was handed a safe seat in Oxfordshire.

His smooth manner put him in prime position when the Tories finally realised they needed a Blair-like character, rather than an oddball, to win elections. And then he was lucky in his opponents, a tired Tony Blair himself, a grumpy Gordon Brown in the middle of a global financial crisis, and Ed Miliband.

And this would be the third referendum he would fight, after the voting reform and Scottish independence polls, which he won convincingly. Because he had the overwhelmingly Tory press behind him.

He still had the Tory press behind him for the EU referendum, but this time they had knives. They were overwhelmingly pro-Leave, pumping out anti-EU propaganda for decades. They were never going to help him. He didn’t stand a chance.

I’m going to assert that nobody who voted in that referendum voted intentionally to make this country poorer or to close factories or to destroy jobs. Nobody who voted Leave did so thinking that it would be a disaster.

That’s why what people on my side of the debate call Project Reality was dismissed as Project Fear by people on the other side. Because, really, if things were going to be that bad, there was no way a sensible PM would put it on the ballot paper.

No. A sensible PM would not have done that. So, if David Cameron is telling the truth, after we crash out with no deal, or limp out backwards, bowing and scraping, with Theresa May’s deal, the only one who won’t regret it is the one who is to blame.