Gerry Corner enjoys quality ingredients, skilled cheffery and smart presentation... just beware the molluscs
WE visited the neatly-named Skaus during that long unbroken run of cloudless, blisteringly hot days that we refer to as summer and scientists call the beginning of the end.
The weather proved significant, and more of that soon.
After a series of temporary incarnations, Skaus has popped up in more permanent form at Cains Brewery Village, former producer of award-winning beers, now a pleasing hodge podge of independent traders, bars and food providers.
Down past the buzzing Baltic street food market and the shop selling elaborate golden thrones, up the stairs above the Dockleaf bar and there they are.
Curing, smoking and pickling is to the fore in the two menus...
There is a rough-edged look to the place, which is no bad thing. There’s nothing rough-edged about the food, which, with one notable exception, combines quality ingredients, skilled cheffery, smart presentation and a few things you won’t be offered anywhere else about town.
On a sun-drenched day such as this, the prime location is the balcony, from which to watch the to-ings and fro-ings, and listen to a couple of Chilean sax players who are among a band dispensing refreshingly cool sounds at the end of the street.
It’s a small-scale operation: a single chef toils in a tiny kitchen and there is only one waiter who has his work cut out and at one point is enlisted to help with our oysters. Ah yes, the oysters.
Our man doing the serving manages to keep everybody happy, which is no mean feat, even taking the trouble to remove, one by one, tiny, barely visible fibres that had detached from his wiping down cloth, and which he spots on his way past our table. Such is his diligence in this matter, we have to tell him to stop.
There’s a good selection of beers and wine is divided into three categories, “decent”, “better” and “excellent”. They were all out of their excellent white, but a pinot grigio from the better category was perfectly decent, which is perhaps what they mean by better, if you follow me.
The food is a Liverpool restaurant’s take on Nordic (roughly Scandinavia and a bit more) food, hence Skaus, borrowed from the Norwegian for scouse, Liverpool’s most famous Nordic import barring Jan Molby. Curing, smoking and pickling is to the fore in the two menus, for brunch and dinner, the latter available at varying times.
We’re there for dinner. The menu is short, reflecting the size of their kitchen and a determination to prepare pretty much everything from scratch; so short that the only thing in the way of a starter, under “snacks”, is oysters (£2.75 each). We order half a dozen, along with the only other “snack”, Baltic sourdough with brown butter (£2.50).
The butter is brown because it has been softened and mixed with Marmite. I’ve no idea if Marmite is considered a delicacy among the Nordic peoples but I do know it is banned in Denmark and that scientists in Copenhagen have worked on an additive-free alternative made with juniper and apple which looks amazing.
Skaus’s Marmite butter might get a bit much after a while but in small doses goes very well with the sourdough, which, fittingly, is from the nearby Baltic Bakehouse, and happens to be outstanding, with flavour and structure, a spring in its step, and a gorgeous crust baked to the point where it disintegrates on contact.
The oysters were, I confess, a puzzle to me, having not come across the like before. Only back home, enlisting the help of a well-known internet search engine, did I realise these were almost certainly spawning oysters.
And if they were not, they shared precisely the same soft-and-creamy-but-not-in-a-good-way texture that spawning oysters display. In my confusion I had overlooked the oyster catcher’s maxim – avoid in months without an ‘r’ in them; warm waters tell oysters it’s time to procreate. There are no health implications but a spawning oyster does not make for a pleasing experience.
Other than that, the liquor, that precious juice contained in the shell, had been spilled in the shucking process, while chopped gooseberry and shallot added nothing to the effect.
Moving swiftly on, better times are just ahead. Dill-cured trout (£14) is a wonderfully fleshy fillet, with a fabulous flavour courtesy of the mineral-rich waters of its former chalk stream home and the delicate application of dill in the curing process. Accompanying remoulade is made with kohlrabi, a sort of cross between a turnip and cabbage. Here, it’s shredded, coated in oil and vinegar and spice, and sculpted into a small, perfectly symmetrical tower.
Chicken supreme (£14) doesn’t sound anything special but oh yes it is; a beautiful looking plateful, the corn-fed chicken as good as I’ve had; cooked bang on, meaty, yet tender and succulent. The supreme is the breast of the bird and strictly speaking skinless, but this would have denied my friend its covering, fried to a meltingly caramelised and lightly crisp finish.
Everything else on the plate is well chosen, well executed. Turnip puree smooth as silk; mushrooms, firm and tasting of the forest, their flavour heightened by pickling; and roasted radishes, which are a revelation – the heat of the oven beefing up the texture and adding an earthy tone that’s a world away from the raw.
Seasonal greens (£4) – summer cabbage, spinach and samphire – in seaweed butter are fine, if a little unkempt, gently steamed to retain their structure, while salad of beetroot and cottage cheese (£4.50) is, frankly, as uninteresting as it sounds.
A whole lot better are the hassellback chips (£4.50), essentially Swedish roast potatoes; small and unpeeled, half-way cut through into thin slices, then roasted to an oily, buttery crisp. A good dishful with finely chopped shallots, chives and cracked salt.
For dessert, chocolate cake (£6) rich and moist, served with creme fraiche, crushed pistachios and strawberries that are properly ripe.
We take a chance on cheese (£8), which an awful lot of places bungle, despite there being little in the way of preparation involved. This is a respectable effort, if slightly overpriced, with three wodges, two of them decent, and one – a Colston Bassett stilton, rich and creamy, tangy but not sharp – is excellent. To accompany, pickled carrot chutney is spicy and different even if it might not be to everyone’s taste.
First there was Scandi-noir. Now Scandi-nosh as interpreted by Skaus’s scouse owners Dan Cameron is winning a legion of fans. Forget about those shellfish, carry on like this and the world is their, erm, you know what.
SKAUS, 107 Stanhope Street, L8 5RE Tel. 07585 951980
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.
Bread and butter 9, oysters 0, trout 8, chicken 10, potatoes 8, greens 7, salad 5, cake 6.5, cheese 7
Eager to please