It's hello to Röski and a three star ambition as Doug and Glen bid UK farewell
Michelin star chef Anton Piotrowski is to take over one of Liverpool’s best loved restaurants with a brand new name, and a new look, Liverpool Confidential can reveal today.
Doug Eglin and Glen Dumbell, who founded Puschka, in Rodney Street, 16 years ago, will be bidding farewell to the city and heading to France "while we still can", with the aim of transforming their successful brand to a high end B&B/restaurant.
Stepping into Puschka’s long shadow comes Röski, a 35-cover venture from the 2012 Masterchef Professionals winner who moved to Liverpool “for love” earlier this year and has spent much of the summer scouring the city for a venue for his project.
And Piotrowski, former executive head chef at the Michelin-starred Treby Arms, near Plympton, in Devon, is setting the bar high, vowing to bring not one MIchelin star to the city, but a very glittery three.
We want to say to our staff, ‘you are going to be paid way above the minimum wage, way above the average'. Nobody is going to come into this industry unless wages start going up
In order to get the ball rolling, Puschka will undergo a £150,000 refurbishment to transform into Röski – an amalgam of Piotrowski and partner Rose Allegra’s names.
At the same time, a £60,000 crowd-funder is on the go, which will ultimately bankroll a new kitchen and cellar. Its success, or otherwise, however, won’t affect the mid November opening, he says, and any Puschka staff who want to stay will be kept on. Bookings beyond the transition date and going over the Christmas period will be honoured.
Beyond that, customers at Röski will have to get used to paying for their dinner in advance - a business model that has already crossed the Atlantic to places like Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and The Clove Club in London.
The theory is savings on staff costs, waste and no shows, which make up 14 percent of restaurant bookings and can cripple a top restaurant. Drinks and tips are paid for at the end of the meal - in this case a set lunch menu (£25), and a five-course (£40) or eight-course (£70) tasting menu in the evening.
A Röski less risky - but there’s another motivation.
“Most pubs and restaurants are closing. As 40 open, 60 close,” he told Liverpool Confidential. “We’re not just doing it to cover our ass. We want to say to our staff, ‘you are going to be paid way above the minimum wage, way above the average’. And that’s going to be good for the industry because people in it will say ‘oh, well actually, he’s paying me 35 grand to be a chef de partie,’ and the reason why we’re going to do that is nobody is going to come into this industry unless wages start going up.”
While Piotrowski’s name might not be tripping off everyone’s lips in Liverpool right now, he is instantly recognisable among the city’s hospitality fraternity. One award-winning head chef recalls how, earlier this week, Piotrowski walked into his eminently respectable bar/restaurant.
“My blood ran cold for a second. I said to him, ‘Jesus Christ, Anton, you’re not eating in here, I hope.’”
It’s not just the renowned allure of a Liver bird that has worked its magic on Piotrowski. The city’s food heritage, and, namely, the signature dish of scouse - albeit a rather posh scouse - will play its part on the menu at Röski, which will change weekly, entirely influenced by the seasons and with “a trail of immigrant cuisine” - Polish, Indian and Jewish among them.
Thus the Scandinavian sailors’ best known import.
He says: “Rather than scouse being a one pot wonder, we will be breaking it down. So we will be taking a piece of brisket, aged for 100 days, from a local breeder, from Edge butchers, and will basically cook that down in a water bath, really, really intensely for a long time to get the maximum amount of flavour, balancing it up with all the Norwegian spices.
“Then we will serve the carrot and swede, all cooked on a barbecue, each using different flavourings and spices, smoked and stuff like that. On one side we will have beetroot and on the other red cabbage."
If we're all feeling rather dazed by now, he continues: ‘‘And then the beef knuckle with the marrow taken out and a marrow gravy poured back on to give it a real heavy richness. And maybe that will be the time when we have the bread on the table that’s proved and then it will get baked in the oven so when it comes out together you’ll get the smell of freshly baked bread and the hot smell of the scouse - and refine that kind of flavour but still have the memory of eating something so very familiar.”
Piotrowski is planing an experimental day, once a week, where diners can pay a nominal amount to be presented with whatever the kitchen rustles up from ingredients just in that morning.
If the crowdfunder goes to plan, Röski’s clientele can look forward to a “chef’s room” in the basement of the premises - out of bounds to the public until now - where between four and eight people can spend or finish their evenings sampling high end and vintage ports, sherries and wines (of the sort not normally available by the glass) from pre-pay machines. There will also be a bespoke cheese room down there and, elsewhere, a big emphasis on craft beers.
But three stars. Really?
“It’s very do-able,” Piotrowski insists. “Why aim low when you can aim high? I had a star for four years.”
Nevertheless, Röski is firstly about having a full restaurant, rather than “a name in a red book”, he says.
And yet, some words for those who aspire to the latter.
“Stop putting millions of things on the plate,” he says. “If I can put a piece of smoked eel and a piece of salsify on a plate and it’s fucking amazing, and the customer is, like, eating from the plate and going a bit crazy, for me that’s the food you do. You stop right there.
“The main thing anyone can do, those places that say ‘we’re cooking for a Michelin star, we’re cooking for a Michelin star’ is stop cooking for a Michelin star and cook for your customers.”