Apparently a sloppy burger bun once made Vicky Andrews cry. So how did she get on here?
From the rooftops of Melbourne to the dive bars of Vegas, nothing comes close to the great British beer garden for me. The problem with good ol’ blighty is that it’s impossible to predict what summer is going to throw at us. Rain? Shine? Thunder? A plague of socks? I spent last weekend at LIMF wearing an all-weather combo of wellies, zip-off trousers, gilet, hat and sunglasses. You know those ‘street fashion’ features in the local paper? Rip it up and imagine a drunk shoplifter in TK Maxx. You’ve got the picture.
a rugged saucepot of medium-rare beef, smothered in melted applewood smoked cheddar, caramelised onions and baconnaise
If the sunshine is cracking the flags when you read this review, grab the opportunity to discover Liverpool’s best kept al fresco secret. Little has changed on the Free State Kitchen menu since it opened in 2013, but the back garden has since bloomed into an urban treasure, a beautiful suntrap surrounded by vined walls, lush greenery and trees.
You’ll find Jesus here too; religious statues from a time when these grounds belonged to Notre Dame Convent. The nuns have long flown the nest and you’re welcome to sample a wide variety of alcoholic spritzes, cocktails, bottled cider and IPA, gin balloons, or just a (holy) spirit and mixer. Amen to that, sister.
A beer and a burger has always been my guilty pleasure and on this sunblessed evening it was good to be back in the habit. And on a Monday too; grab those golden moments when you can. I’m all for meat-free days and alcohol-free mornings, but sometimes living your best life means sacking off spinning class for a cheeky jug of Pimms.
The food menu at Free State Kitchen waves the star-spangled banner for flavours of the Mid-Atlantic, with a contemporary twist on American classics like fried clams, hot dogs, deli sandwiches and mac ‘n’ cheese. The easy option is to go straight for those big burgers, but you’d be missing out on some stellar appetisers. The buttermilk marinated Buffalo hot wings were obviously popular and flew past us in their droves as we enjoyed a couple of cold bottles; a sweet and malty Brooklyn lager (£4.40) and a rare find with a gluten-free Estrella Galicia (£4.25), a pale golden beer with a crisp and light finish.
Maryland Street might be the new Lord of the Wings but the Maryland crab cakes had me hooked (£6.25), a smooth combination of seasoned crab claw meat, red peppers and celery in a light seared batter, served with a chunk of lemon to squeeze and a creamy tiger sauce with a pinch of cayenne fire. I polished all three of them off in less than six bites, a ratio of growling approval. Sweetcorn fritters (£5.50) were more of a tough competitor and looked as if they might have served some extra time with the chef for bad behaviour. The filling was sweet and savoury but tipped more towards a spongy pancake and had me pining for some melted butter or maple syrup rather than the spicy dip it came with.
Burgers are what Free State Kitchen does brilliantly and no messing about. A good burger is harder than you might think; a juicy flame-charred beef pattie cradled in a toasted bun that you can rely on. (The bap fallout from one ‘gourmet’ place actually made me cry once.) Boasting lip-smackers like the American classic, double deluxe and double French onion burger, the only problem you’ll have here is deciding what to order.
The barbecue cheeseburger (£10.75) was a rugged saucepot of medium-rare beef, smothered in melted applewood smoked cheddar, caramelised onions and baconnaise. Herby chicken burger (£10) was more coy, delivering a fragrant and fresh flavoured patty spiced up with garlic and thick drizzles of mayo. Matched with the best fries in the world (think crunchy chip-shop scraps covered in salt and rosemary) and a wicked apple slaw sharer on the side (£4), both burger meals were a delightfully sinful triumph.
But who on this earth can resist an Oreo cheesecake? (£5.25) Well, my dining partner did, opting for a refreshing affogato with Amaretto (£6.75) as I dug my way through decadent layers of crunchy chocolate and vanilla velvet, like Augustus Gloop at the last supper.
A hidden gem among the hustle and bustle of the Georgian Quarter, there is a caveat to this glorious garden hotspot though, as outside tables are only available if you’re eating. Quite right too. Grab your shades and dig in, no wellies required.
Free State Kitchen, No.1 Maryland St, Liverpool L1 9DE
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Crab cakes 8, sweetcorn fritters 5, barbecue burger 8, chicken burger 7, Oreo cheesecake 8, affogato 7
Growing on me