by Nadia Alkahzrajie - Saturday November 18, 2017 8:11 pm
Liverpool scouse brings to mind gloopy brown stews splodged from a ladle onto a dented tin plate. Not that there’s anything wrong with stews mind, especially as the eerie half-lit days of winter pull us towards Christmas. It’s my least favourite time of year; starved of warmth and vitamin D, I’m often glad to fill a pan with meat, root veg and stock and leave it bubbling while I attend to more important things, like the onset of SAD.
Believe it or not, scouse isn’t on my stew repertoire, mine would be more of a hot pot, maybe with crusty herb dumplings, or a cheat’s hash made with Heinz vegetable soup. If I’m going Eastern, it’ll be bahmia with tomatoes, lamb and ochra, those pointed and vaguely pointless ladies fingers that I feel obliged to add for authenticity before sqishing to one side of my bowl.
It’s quite some time since I’ve found myself in this neck of the woods. These days the mixture of Victorian and post-war architecture suddenly looks shiny and eclectic, the result, no doubt, of its it’s 2008 Euro facelift, which has also resulted in later shopping hours and open air venues like Modo, in concert square, where Liverpool’s trend setters avail themselves of the shisha while flashing a bit of obligatory bling. Hannover street, where I’m staying, is just minutes from Liverpool One, but it feels more traditional and stately with hybrid venues like the Hannover Street Social offering all day eating.
My bulky brownstone Novotel might not have Beatles themed rooms, but not being someone who’s ever craved a record shaped headboard or mop-top shilouettes boogying across my wall, I welcome the soft-lit roominess and the views from my wall-to-wall 11th floor windows that make it seem like I’m going to get poked in the eye by radio city tower whenever I open my curtains – in a good way.
Scouse features on the menu at the hotel’s Ropewalk’s restaurant, a laid-back loungey space where they also serve a good breakfast with hash browns and herby sausages. Following a simple but fresh tasting goat’s cheese salad, my stew arrives aloft a wooden board. At least they haven’t adorned it with a sprig of parsley. Scouse or “lobscouse” meaning “a good ladle full” was popular in seafaring ports as far back as the 1700’s. Old recipes use fatty cuts of lamb or sometimes just lamb bones with crumbled ship’s biscuits to thicken the gravy. Thankfully, the restaurant’s version seems biscuit free and also uses beef instead of lamb, which many recipes now substitute; there’s also squash or sweet potatoes among the roots.
The flavor is of long, slow cooking and a good bone stock, the meat tender and toothsome and the veg still holding together; the red cabbage on the side is nice enough but more relevant to a mouthful of fatty lamb. The only real criticism is that I detect some kind of thickening agent in the gravy, which makes it slightly “gluey”. Salmon with puy lentils is nicely cooked, the star of the dish being the soft, rich lentils that have been simmered in stock. Desserts are classic crème brulee and Italian chocolate fondant; both well made but mysteriously cool for puds that should be served warm to sing. Other dishes on offer include an interesting sounding oriental tiffin box and a super food salad with pomegranate and halloumi; it’s a well-judged menu that just needs executing with a little more gusto instead of paying homage to streamlined hotel dining. NB, I like my stews and brulees singed and dangerously lip-sticking.
After dinner we wander around town and into a cocktail bar where the bartender makes us pudding cocktails in a blender while an unselfconsciously enthusiastic girl gyrats to Peter Andre under a heat lamp. Liverpool One’s iconic Christmas tree is being hoisted into place; a towering cone of pink love hearts it’s camp and kind of hideous, but that’s the thing about Liverpool, it moves to the beat of its own drum and doesn’t give much of a shit about anyone else’s. When the hearts lights up, one or two of them not working, you’re struck by a strange kind of innocence.
500g beef like chuck or flank cut into chunky pieces, 1 tbsp plain flour, 3 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more if needed, 1 large onion chopped, 4 carrots cut into chunks, 350g turnip cut into chunks, 250ml bitter ale, 250ml chicken stock, 2 bay leaves, 2 thyme sprigs, 2 beef stock cubes, 500g potatoes cut into chunks, pickled red cabbage or cooked beetroot to serve (optional).
Toss the beef pieces in flour and season well. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large flameproof casserole dish over a high heat. Working in batches, brown the beef on all sides, adding more oil if needed, then set aside on a plate. Turn down the heat to medium and pour in 2 tbsp oil, tip in the onion, carrots and turnips, add a pinch of salt and cook for 8 mins until softened and coloured. Return the meat to the dish along with the ale, stock and herbs. Crumble in the stock cubes and season well. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, sitting the potatoes on the top of the stew. Cook for 2 hrs until the meat is tender and the potatoes are soft. Serve with pickled cabbage or beetroot, if you like.