Restaurant review: Free State Kitchen

Among the weeping angels, Angie Sammons finds much to like in Hope Street's new Americana joint

Written by  Angie Sammons | Follow @twangeee | Friday, 3 May 2013 16:30

NOT to put too fine a point on it, it wouldn't do to be abundant of arse and find yourself falling in love with Free State Kitchen.

This is not because a generous rump is wrong. Nor does it have anything to do with the fact that gorging on their burgers, dogs and homemade pies, cakes and brownies will make a heavy situation, well, heavier.

No. It's the way they pack 'em in.

Free State Kitchen is not for those who like to practise that cruel sport of swinging cats - you simply can't.

It reminds me of my old favourite London
pub, The Ship in Wandsworth, crossed
with Doctor Who's weeping angels'

The bright, open plan interior is bijou, in estate agent speak. But that hasn't stopped them lining up as many tables as a Bradley Wiggins thigh-breadth will decorously allow.

So a warning: Mind the narrow gap or you may find yourself inadvertently dancing cheek to someone else's cheesecake.

 Now, let's put all that behind us and speak of it no more.

Free State Kitchen Liverpool %286%29 

Luckily, on my first trip to FSK (there will be more), I was accompanied by an ectomorph whose natural frame borders on anorexic. It was also early enough not to have to ask too many seated diners to "excuse me, we're coming through".

What its interior lacks, space wise, it makes up for outside. FSK has, possibly, the biggest beer garden in the city boundary. But more of that in a bit.

Taking its name cue from its Maryland Street address, (Free State is Maryland's nickname) FSK is all about the US eastern seaboard from Maine down to Florida – lobsters, clams, mud pies and all.

Free State Kitchen Liverpool %2815%29Buffalo wings

Its chef, Dan Jones, is more used to catering for people in bands - the sort who no longer have to pull up the van outside a kebab shop after a gig.

Jones has cooked, on tour, for The Wanted, The Jacksons, Girls Aloud, One Direction, Alfie Boe and Alice Cooper - and he's worked as the personal chef of Tori Amos. Herself a New Englander, one would imagine she and her crew know a good, authentic, home-style burger when they see it – and the ones coming out of Free State Kitchen won't disappoint.

Chicken wings are something I'd expect to expend few words on, but, on recommendation, came Buffalo hot wings (£4.50 small/£6.50 large). They aren't afraid of a little bit of fire in the Free State Kitchen, and the gentle heat and spice coating on these plump, moist beasts was tempered beautifully by the the sweetness of a buttermilk marinade. They were really top flight. They were only chicken wings.

Free State Kitchen Liverpool %2814%29Crab cakes

Maryland crab cakes (£4.50) were big, roughly-shaped pillows of nothing more than soft crab meat, mixed peppers and onion. Eschewing standard fillers like potato,  they were as soothing and familiar as home.

One can only guess how much a humble plate of these might remedy the loneliness of the long distance roadie - long after the more traditional rock n roll delights have been left, calling a cab, in a motel 50 miles back.

Americana music, Americana food, is big news in Liverpool this year. Where London leads, Manchester follows and we absorbs the sonic, honky-tonk wave several months later.

Thus at FSK we have several kinds of burgers and sandwiches: double deluxe, seasonal garden, The Scooch ("Baltimore’s No.1 sammy" – Italian deli meats, Prima Donna cheese, sweet peppers, roasted red pepper, olive oil and balsamic on a griddled ciabbata roll). Not forgetting a sandwich that boasts home-made pastrami on artisan rye bread, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and house thousand island dressing).

Free State Kitchen Liverpool %2817%29Classic Ameican cheeseburger

As such, they all come wrapped in paper, US-style, and chips are thrice fried.

Warning number 2: it can all get very messy around now.

The Classic American cheeseburger (£7) was a respectable enough 5oz pattie that had been seared and charred to perfection on the outer. It was cooked medium, as they all are, “to show off its flavour”.

Contained in a brioche bun whose softness absorbed the delicious griddle residues of the meat, and the ketchup, mustard and onions, it also proved to be an easy pick-up (to end the roadie analogy now and forever).

Free State Kitchen Liverpool %283%29Home made pickles 

It was topped with a slice of that American cheese-food which has little point other than its duty to serve burgers, and then a nice touch: home-made bread and butter pickles from a Kilner jar.

We were impressed, they ought to sell them. "Why not?" agreed co-owner Kate Hughes, "They're dead easy to do."

A very posh fish butty by the name of a Clam Sam (£8.50)  brought brief, unwanted visions of the Prime Minister's wife to mind.

But then a soft white roll reveals generous, perfectly executed clam, squid, and shrimp fritters with a hot and creamy, homemade Tiger sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion. The first crunch of crisp, light batter - you know, that one - was immeasurably satisfying. Eventually the roll collapsed under the weight of its contents, and no amount of napkins could make it pretty. Remember that warning?

Free State Kitchen Liverpool %281%29Clam-Sam

A dish of coleslaw (£2.50,) in a mess tin, was a US-sized portion too. Made with apples, peppers, celery, red cabbage and yoghurt, it was crisp, clean and wonderfully fresh. A stand-out.

And then a little trip to the Sunshine State for some Key Lime Pie (£4.50). Expertly made by Jones, this dessert was everything it should be: citrussy, sweet and creamy. Do Make a note to order this, but perhaps not after two massive courses.

Free State Kitchen Liverpool %2811%29 

Bear this in mind too: while the inside of FSK might be designed for a game of sardines, outside you could get several teams of rounders going. If you could still move to first base that is.

FSK lies in the grounds of a former convent on Hope Street and there are still one or two holy statues around. It reminds me of my old favourite London pub, The Ship in Wandsworth, crossed with Doctor Who's weeping angels.

“Go and do a recce of that,” I suggest to Kate.

“I may well do,” she reples without blinking.

Already there is a ship's container plonked on the grass, which will serve as an al fresco bar, if it ever gets warmer, and they plan to grow their own veg. Once they have sprinkled the place with fairy lights it will look like a starry Lourdes grotto.

So prepare to peel off the Spandex and breathe out - in what is set to be the city's most desirable back end of 2013.

Or, you might say, the rear of the year.





Food        7/10
Service     4/5 
Ambience  3/5


Free State Kitchen 
1 Maryland Street,
Liverpool, L1 1DE. 
TEL: 0151 708 5005


Free State Kitchen Liverpool %284%29The teamVenues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, British restaurants against other British restaurants etc. Following on from this the scores represent: 

1-5:     Order of the dog bowl
6-9:     Get a chippy tea
10-11: Only in an emergency
12-13: If you happen to be passing
14-15: Worth a trip 
16-17: Very good to exceptional 
18-20: As good as it gets