Gerry Corner boards the Slater Street gravy train
THE chief surprise about Caribou Poutine is that a place entirely given over to a post-drinking fast food classic took as long as it did to reach Liverpool.
As an owner of such, you wouldn’t want to be negotiating the bank loan in French: the rough meaning of poutine is said to be “hot mess”, and may not sound the best prospect to your local Business Relationship Manager.
However, it does describe rather well the combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds that French Canadians have been using to mop up after a night out in downtown Quebec since the 1950s.
Without the assistance of alcohol, polishing it off became a small challenge
Like many other so-called street food, poutine has been adjusted, made over, poshed up and generally remodelled in the mould of a hundred countries’ cuisines.
Strictly speaking a Québécois speciality, an almighty row blew up when Canada claimed it as their national dish, with headlines such as “The dark side of poutine” accompanying accusations of cultural appropriation, though personally my concern on either side of the argument would be more about my nation’s cuisine being defined by a carton of chips, cheese and gravy.
It’s pronounced poo-tin, by the way, not poo-teen. As in Putin, at least as the Americans would have it. Indeed, feed poutine into Google Translate and it will suggest the name of the Russian president, but that’s a whole different sort of mess.
At Caribou Poutine, there is even a nod to the Kremlin on the menu, with their “Vladimir Poutine” featuring “honey butter chicken”. What, you may be wondering, does honey butter chicken have to do with the main man in Moscow, but then you probably would have asked the same about novichok twelve months ago.
The original opening hours included a 3am finish on Friday and Saturday nights (it’s 1am now), reflecting the food’s popularity among merrymakers seeking to sate their hunger in the early hours. It’s open Sundays serving hangover poutine (£6.95) with bacon, sausage and a fried egg.
Exotically named, Caribou Poutine’s Slater Street home is in a row of pretty functional retail units; likewise, the interior is neat and tidy but basic, suggesting the emphasis is on takeaway rather than sit-in.
Food is served in, and eaten with, what appear to be recyclable materials and they should be applauded for that. Likewise, those who serve it, who we find to be unfailingly welcoming, helpful and efficient.
Thin-cut fries, cheese and gravy comprise the original poutine “recipe” (£4.50) and provide the base on which all other dishes are constructed. The gravy is home made and has depth and enough body enough to hold it all together.
The curds (by-products of cheese-making) at Caribou are creamy Lancashire, but you can have the more traditional cheddar if you prefer. We tried both, the former melting into the dish like your average cheese for toast; the latter squeakier, as tradition demands, and gently oozing over the rest in a rather satisfying manner.
It’s then a matter of the topping of your choice; in our case good slices of rump steak, cooked a perfect medium rare, with garlic butter (£8.25); the above mentioned Vladimir (£7), the meat tender, succulent and honey-glazed; and shroom (£6.50), a piquant pile of mushrooms, two kinds of onion and garlic, and a choice of meat or veggie gravy.
This is food that transmutes during the course of its consumption; at first each element is separate, but as you work your way down, the hot, crisp fries, steaming gravy and slowly disintegrating cheese meld into each other, altering the textures and flavours along the way.
Because some of us are prepared to go the extra mile, we tried poutine under both cold sober conditions and after an aperitif or three, and it definitely slipped down more happily with a drink down us.
Without the assistance of alcohol, polishing it off became a small challenge, narrowly failed. I swear I could feel my stomach expanding, the extra lead in my tread.
Dereliction of duty it may be, but you’re going to have to make your own mind up about this one. There’s no dodging this is a lot of stodge, but, one late night soon, you might just end up deciding this is the best thing you’ve ever eaten.
Caribou Poutine, 6 Slater Street, L1 4BW. No phone orders. (See website for delivery details)
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.
Vladimir 6.5, steak 6.5, shroom 6, original 5
Poutine the customer first