Free State Kitchen, Liverpool

The more I’ve thought about writing this lately, the less I’ve wanted to really, and the more I think about it the less enthusiasm I can muster. It wasn’t that it was terrible. I’m not about to come over all scathing and Jay Rayner-esque about Maryland Street’s new eating addition. I believe if you have nothing nice to say then you shouldn’t say anything at all, and this is why I’ve been in two minds about writing this. God, I wanted to love it and perhaps I would have done if I’d ordered differently or if our waiter hadn’t been more attentive than a honeybee to a flower. More on that later.

The Hope Street environs of Liverpool are a great spot for a bar, restaurant, cafe. Especially this spot on Maryland Street, just 50 yards from one of the biggest University libraries (sorry Learning Resource Centres nowadays) in the city. It also sits between the two cathedrals and less than 100 yds from the front door of one of the busiest pubs in town. This is a serious piece of prime real estate if you want to open a restaurant. The building itself is light and airy. The day we went, shortly after it opened, it smelled strongly of fresh paint and drilled wood. And it’s beautiful inside, nice big tables, large booth seating, lots of blackboards and shelves with pots of American mustard and jars of pickles.

Our waiter was bright and enthusiastic and we had a long read of the menu, everything on it sounded amazing (burgers, clam sandwiches, buffalo wings) and the specials board included some things like mac’n’cheese with/without bacon and a pulled pork sandwich. We decided to share some buffalo wings with a blue cheese dip, Ant went for the pulled pork sandwich as a main and Stefan chose the burger and I chose a Reuben sandwich, which is a real favourite of mine and something I’ve eaten all over the place. Again, this may have been part of the problem.

Our buffalo wings arrived and they were delicious. Likely soaked in buttermilk to give the chicken a tenderness and with a great crispy, and not greasy, texture. The blue cheese dip was wow-eee tart but it was delicious and we ripped these to shreds within minutes. Our mains arrived a short while later and Ant’s was a large brioche bun, slightly scorched in the middle, and stuffed to the gills with pulled pork, coleslaw and rocket. On the plate sat a small handful of their ‘thrice-fried’ chips. Stefan’s burger was in the same kind of brioche bun, served also with chips. And then there was my sandwich and it wasn’t awful. I repeat this over and over but when something arrives and it looks uninspiring, you begin to feel that you may have made the wrong choice. The rye bread was nice, it really had a lovely texture, but it did feel a bit like something sliced from a supermarket, the thousand island dressing was good, really good, the cheese was a bit fridge-cold and plastic (but then that’s the nature of emmentaler type cheeses) and the pastrami was generous. It just didn’t go together. It felt like someone had forgotten to do something to the sandwich. The pastrami is homemade but it might as well not have been and the whole sandwich felt like it could have done with being toasted to at least bring the elements together. The chips were alright, not as crispy as you’d expect from something that had diced death with the frier on three occasions, and someone remarked to be recently that they tasted a lot like they came from a wholesaler and a freezer. They might not have done but they had nothing particularly to wow about them. Stefan enjoyed his burger but Ant said that the pulled pork was delicious but other than tomato, he wasn’t sure what it was flavoured. He’s the head chef of a restaurant that pulls its own pork and so his opinion is important, I think.

The homemade pickles though were excellent. I am a pickle fiend. I would eat pickles for every meal. I love pickles and I love that they brought a huge jar of pickles over to the table with some tongs to help yourself. I love pickles very much.

Since we went, I have seen SOOO many people waxing lyrical about this place and I’m delighted because it’s in a great spot and they are obviously really passionate about food and that’s great. I’ve also seen a few people with grumbles and I’ve heard some grumbles from friends and perhaps it was opening week problems, that said there are people who’ve been as recently as this weekend who have reported the same things. I think what I’m trying to say is that I may have chosen wrong, the waiter may have spent an hour removing plates as soon as we put forks down and while others were still eating, maybe because no one checked back to see if everything was ok, but as far as I can see there are better options for home-cooked, home-made, home-produced Americana food in Liverpool. Americana is huge at the moment, it’s the go to food for everyone, accessible, inexpensive, comforting and big portions but it does have to be good because otherwise you could just go for a Big Mac and be done with it..

Perhaps I’ll give it a month and try again. The opening of the garden that backs on to the Notre Dame Convent looks brilliant and will be such a boon to the area. I’m sure I could while away several evenings sat there eating wings. I’d also really like them to serve a Margarita. But then I am being picky! And I said I wouldn’t.

Go, enjoy, but maybe don’t have the pastrami.

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