I was looking forward to this one. I really was. Opened in December 2017, Roski is the latest restaurant by chef Anton Piotrowski (former winner of Masterchef: The Professionals as well as a previous Michelin Star holder) and sits neatly in one of the nicer parts of central Liverpool. I'm always thrilled to see a restaurant with this kind of potential open in the North West and having read a number of positive things since launch, I was looking forward to giving it a try.
But to be honest, the real reason I was so excited to eat here was that I ate at the Treby Arms not long before Mr Piotrowski officially left and absolutely loved it (as per my review). The thought of a meal that good within an hour drive of my front door left me salivating, so I duly booked and made the trip with my good wife for lunch on a glorious April Saturday.
As you'd probably expect, there's no parking attached to the restaurant (on road parking is available if you're lucky) but there are a number of substantial car parks a short stroll away, all of which seem to be fairly reasonably priced too which was a bonus. On arrival, we were warmly greeted by owner/manager Rose and seated in the window which I'd say is a nice spot. I really liked the decor and feel of the restaurant; the music is kind of loud but in fairness I either got used to it or they turned the volume down as the restaurant got a bit busier.
On offer were a three, five or seven course tasting menu alongside a reasonable wine list. It had to be the seven courses for us and I opted for the wine flight too. Before we kicked off I had a gulp of a nice G&T (sadly they'd run out of Hendricks) but unfortunately the non-alcoholic selection for my wife was pretty poor. I think she threw our poor waiter Sam a little bit by going straight in with the "do you have any non-alcoholic cocktails" request (I have told her before not to be so damn ambitious) but in the end the best they could muster was some cloudy lemonade. It was nice though and this is far from the only restaurant we've been to that struggles in that regard.
It was a very short wait before the first glass of wine arrived, a bit too short to be honest as my G&T had barely had time to touch my lips, but at least the wine was poured at the table which is always a plus. And so our lunch began with the snack courses. First up, mushrooms and parmesan cheese. It was an OK little dish I thought, good mushroom flavour, nothing complicated but I enjoyed it. This was followed by a garlic frogs leg bonbon; this was a decent piece of work, quite a delicate garlic flavour but it was nice enough.
Last of the snacks was a little piece of wagyu beef on top of a little potato essentially. The beef was tasty although not particularly memorable, the potato had nowhere near the flavour I'd been hoping for and of the accompanying dips, the barbecue sauce was nice, the other green sauce didn't really taste of much at all.
At this point I was still reasonably content; yes, I would have loved some great nibbles at the start of the tasting menu and these were not that, but I knew the proper courses were still to come. First of the main dishes was a dumpling based dish called 'Polish Roots'; I've eaten and enjoyed a lot of Eastern European food in the past few years so I was really looking forward to trying this. Unfortunately, it was a bit of shocker. My dumpling was dense, overly watery and generally unpleasant; my wife's had well and truly been cremated on the underside. But the real problem was this; I genuinely cannot recall eating a tasting menu dish that was so completely devoid of flavour. The dumpling, the miserable green sauce, none of it really tasted of anything whatsoever. The only parts of the dish that emitted anything your taste buds might possibly detect were the tiny blocks of 'Black Bomber' cheese, which were nice, but you can't call that a dish.
Things improved slightly with the next course which was basically a king prawn in a hot Thai green curry sauce. The prawn itself wasn't great, the cooking was fine but it lacked the lovely prawn flavour I'd been hoping for. This wasn't helped by the strong sauce; it did indeed taste like Thai green curry but the flavour was really one-dimensional, there was no depth there at all and the whole dish tasted of one thing.
However, I knew (I just knew) there had to be a good course in here somewhere and praise be, that duly arrived with the next bowl of haddock with kohlrabi risotto in a lovely sauce. The fish, although tiny, was beautifully cooked and the sauce was great also, the added texture of the kohlrabi providing a much needed bit of crunch. It was really a top piece of cooking and a welcome antidote to what had gone before. It was around this time that some decent sourdough bread arrived complete with a generous portion of flavoured butter (enough to warrant being offered a couple of additional pieces of bread, which we graciously accepted).
I was starting to feel a bit happier and the next course of smoked eel (again, a tiny little piece) wasn't bad either. Yes, the accompanying asparagus was a bit wet and limp but the eel was flavoured nicely. The final savoury dish was chicken; once again it was a mere slither of a piece of meat. I expected quite a lot more from this course; there were some nice elements but as an overall dish, it wasn't great. The main culprit was a very lacklustre ketchup like sauce, with my wife remarking it would have been a better dish if they'd just tipped on some Tesco Finest. Harsh, but I'd have to agree.
Would desserts be better? Well, in short, not really. First up was a lemon slice which although accompanied by bit of smoky presentation (which I'm still quite partial to) was a pretty uneventful dish. Finally from the main tasting menu was a small cube of chocolate and caramel titled 'Roski's Gone Nuts', a dish based on a Snickers bar (or Marathon, because I look old enough) complete with a bit of silver leaf. I really liked the concept of the dish but again, and I hate to keep repeating myself on this, the flavours were lacking. It was perfectly edible but far from a flavour sensation.
Now, you may have noticed I've mentioned the size of the portions quite a few times in this review. Normally when I see someone write that, my first thought (maybe you're having the same thought now) is that they've never had a tasting menu before and just don't get it how it works. Believe me when I say this; I've eaten a lot of tasting menus, and these portions were tiny. Like, really tiny. It felt like I was eating my way through the 'maximum possible gross profit' column of an Excel spreadsheet.
What's even more weird is that I've seen pictures of the dishes from other reviews and the portions of key elements have been literally twice the size. I mean, what the hell is that about? How can you serve some customers a reasonable portion size and others, who've paid exactly the same, far less? I'm sorry, but however much I admire a chef and however much I want a restaurant to do well, that's just not right.
Our meal wasn't done however. I'd (perhaps stupidly) told them, even when booking, we'd be having the 'Roski's Gone Carrots' carrot cake extra course. Why? No, not because of a sodding TV show, but because I'd had this dish at the Treby Arms and absolutely loved it. I remember it well, it came in a carte sized pottery plant pot, complete with glorious smoky theatre and it was absolutely bloody delicious. For the record, it cost £10.
My wife had eaten an alternative dessert in Devon so I was keen for her to try this taste sensation too. It duly arrived, with a whimper of smoke, in a much smaller plastic pot. However what I found truly unforgivable was the bottom carrot cake layer was stale, bone dry and at least a day old I would say. And yes, you might have guessed, it cost £10. Now look, I appreciate restaurant costs vary wildly depending on a huge number of factors but to even serve me such a poor version of what I know should be a fantastic dish, let alone have the nerve to charge such a price for it, is positively rage-inducing.
Fortunately, that was pretty much it for the food. Service throughout was good, the menu pacing was fine and the wine pairings, although far from generous measures, weren't bad either. Our waiter Sam even did a pretty decent job of selecting me an extra glass to go with the final carrot cake dessert. We opted for coffee and to be honest, the best part of the meal then followed. Accompanying our coffee was a very nice (and perfectly moist!) little cake with a chunk of honeycomb and this was followed by the offering of an impressive box of petit fours, full of chocolates and treats. I was still pretty hungry so had one of everything; they were all very tasty. I really appreciate restaurants that go to the effort of providing a decent p4 experience and Roski certainly does that.
We did then seem to be forgotten about somewhat, but after a long wait we were eventually able to get the bill (complete with 12.5% service charge) and close the door on what was a pretty disappointing experience.
Maybe it was just a bad day in the kitchen, maybe they'd run out of ingredients, either way something isn't right here. Only four tables were in for lunch but that's no excuse for serving dross. I noticed the owners had to leave before the end of service, I'm sure it was for something important but I did feel sorry for the table next to us who poor Sam had to inform couldn't have their cake with coffee because "the chef has left"! Never, ever have I seen anything like that before in a restaurant aspiring to a high standard.
The more worrying option is that it wasn't a one off and that following some decent early reviews, there's already the complacency and belief that they can serve whatever they like and people will keep banging down the door. They won't, they really won't. I'm a bit gutted to be honest as I know this has the potential to be a really great restaurant and I was so excited to see such a place open in the North West. I really hope they take a long hard look at the approach to the food being served and that things improve. I'd love to be proved wrong on a future visit, have a stunning meal and walk out with a smile on my face, but in truth, there's little chance of me risking £300 again to find out.
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