So what does the Refinery bring to the table? It is an impressive and actually fairly comfortable space once you have taken the restaurant in, the long stretch of bar area is a good location for people watching, facing outward towards the Philharmonic Hall and down Hardman Street beyond the outdoor tables and manicured topiary. The main dining area has the air of a canteen about it, with the kitchen hatch opening into the ample dining space and the ambient noise giving plenty of atmosphere to the experience. The decor itself is something of a tick box exercise in what to use at the moment to coax people into a contemporary restaurant. Ropes with Edison bulb lighting, tick, some furniture looking 'reclaimed', tick, some brushed steel, tick, lots of glass, tick... and so forth. That's not to say it doesn't work however, it is very thoughtfully put together; I found it quite comfortable with plenty of room to manoeuvre despite a large number of tables and the lighting is quite soft, it balances the warm glow of Edison filaments with natural light.
The bar thankfully, unlike the rest of Refinery's sister restaurants, carries a beer selection beyond bottled mainstays. Upon this visit, there were six cask hand pulls present, though only three were operational, but carrying three local beers. Sadly, the staff may need some guidance on serving cask ale, as it was the Liverpool Craft American Red Ale was a bit warm and seemingly thin on this occasion, losing the rather soapy head within a minute and resultantly less enjoyable to drink by the end. Inspecting the menu pointed to the pleasing fact that the casks are going to be sourced for the bar locally, providing support to our local brewers.
The wine menu was a much more balanced proposition, with a good spread of grapes in both red and white selections along with a broad set of styles represented and all in a price range which won’t hurt the wallet too much at all.
The menu itself seems bit scattered on the face of it, with plenty of smaller cicchetti/tapas style plates, broken into meat/seafood and other (veggies, potato and eggs no less) along with a selection of larger dishes (nine on the Spring menu, with two vegetarian options). There are also bread, olives and bar snacks available along with meat and cheese platters, so plenty of options available for even the fussiest of eaters. There was a worry with the lack of focus within the menu and a suspicion that this is the groups' first foray into the 'small plates' territory, there may be some compromise in the quality of the output. Any such worries were laid to rest; everything was seemingly handled in an unfussy and timely manner.
The squid (calamari fritti) with lemon aioli and dusted with pimenton was crisp, forgiving and only had a hint of residual oil, not quite perfect but still highly enjoyable. The chips were stacked Jenga-style and served with a coronation-mayonnaise style sauce (curried aioli), though they were soft and fluffy inside there was a lack on crunch on the golden exterior. Onto the chicken and proscuitto 'lollipops', which actually were skewed and rolled chicken with a crisp layer of proscuitto outside; there was an odd gamey flavour here, slightly earthy but not unpleasant. The chicken may have been a touch overcooked, but it wasn't dry by any stretch, but the onion chutney served with the dish was a rather heavy handed touch and perhaps too sweet for the meat. The frittata was actually excellent, light, fluffy and seasoned perfectly working in harmony with the garlic mayonnaise, sweet pepper working tongue twistingly well with the salted feta.
The other dish of note on the expedition was the Devon crab tortellini, incredibly rich and tasty, the swamp of tomato and shellfish bisque was quite pungent and blotted out any delicacy that would have been purveyed by the crab. Texturally, the dish is bang on the money though and the broad beans and pea shoots add some lightly sweet verdancy, a mixed experience within one dish.
There is much to be pleased with at the Refinery, as there is some flair on display and no shortage of competency; the food was all presented very well and in the experience was good. The pricing structure of the food was much like the experience, good overall but ultimately mixed, the larger plates seem rather less value on the pocket compared to the smaller dishes, the drinks are very reasonably priced.
What the Refinery does well based on this visit, is the basics are pretty much nailed down and simple dishes are very enjoyable. Possibly a 'focussing in' on the menu, trimming a few dishes here and there may benefit the quality overall, though it is worth a return visit based on the potential once the Refinery team have hit their stride. Though I am still not sure what the ‘Social Dining’ thing is about.
Josephine Butler Building
Tel: 0151 294 3024