Sunday, 16 June 2013

Peas please me do

The first harvest
And so to Liverpool for a week’s conference work. It’s not a city I’ve spent much time in – the last time I was here was during Euro ’96, for a group match between Italy and Russia at Anfield, marvelling at the sight of Gianfranco Zola bringing a ball down out of the air, apparently stuck to his boot, before haring off on a run.

Then afterwards, being ticked off by a very young policemen at Lime Street Station, as I swore with frustration on learning that my train had been cancelled for some reason or other, and two trains worth of us were crammed into one for the journey back to London.

But before then, late on Friday afternoon, pottering in the potager, I harvested three pea pods. There’ll be many more to come, but those were not going to wait for a further week.

Oh, the smell from those pods, freshly picked. Just a few hours later, the aroma had faded somewhat.

But by then, the few tender, young peas were being podded into a pan to blanch for just a moment, alongside asparagus and courgette.

There were few enough of them, but enough to experience the extraordinary taste.

Some people think that growing peas is a waste of time – you need loads, after all, the podding takes time, and the frozen variety are excellent.

I’d certainly be lost without frozen peas – but they are a different beast; a very different taste.

And podding peas is as enjoyable as scraping new potatoes. Or, for that matter, podding broad beans, of which you can also get quite decent frozen ones.

Oh, but the taste. Freshly-picked peas really do please me. And after a completely failed harvest last year, this is already looking good.

The potager is so full of life now: chard, lettuce, radishes, spring onions, the pot of various salad leaves, turnips and carrots are all, finally, on the way.

The blackcurrant bush has produced it’s first fruit. There won’t be a lot, but it’s a start.

The peas are producing many more flowers and already some baby pods. The broad beans are producing many beautiful, delicate black and white flowers. And the runner beans are running away up the wigwam.

On the patio, nasturtiums are finally growing, and the vine is close to seeing us start to train it along the fence. The pyracantha has burst forth with delicate, creamy flowers, and the belis and sweet William and violas add vibrant colour.

Hopefully, it’ll all be even further on when I get back later this week.

In the meantime, Liverpool.

Our hotel restaurant was rammed by the time we went looking for food. Forced, then, to wander a little, we were equally unfortunate as we ambled into the Liverpool 1 area and tried to see if there was any chance of getting in to Jamie’s Italian.

Fortunately, around another corner, we found a Bistro Franc – and thoroughly decent it turned out to be.

As a general point, each place that we checked out was not only busy but so noisy that you’d have had to shout to make your dining companion/s hear you.

Bistro Franc was perhaps not quite as loud.

First lesson: get to know your waitor/waitress.

We were served by a delightful French woman from Toulouse, who was tickled pink that I, entirely coincidentally, was wearing a limited edition Olympique Lyonnais top.

They had a monthly menu – a point that The Other Half pointed out as something impressive.

I started with a chicken liver parfait on onion toast, with a small salad. But I couldn’t resist one of the side dishes on offer – pan-fried frogs’ legs, so that I had that alongside.

For my main course, I opted for confited leg of duck with an orange and cointreau sauce. The Other Half had the bourguingnon, and we were given a substantial side dish of assorted vegetables.

Bistro Franc
Both courses were very good – and left us very nicely fed as we pottered back to the hotel, and we'd enjoyed a bottle of 2012 rosé d'Anjou 'Tourville' from the Loire, which had a nice fruity sweetness to balance the acidity.

The space, it’s worth adding, has been very nicely used.

Our arrival in the city had coincided with the sinking of a ‘yellow duckmarine’ with 31 tourists on board in the dock opposite the hotel.

Thanks to the incredibly quick action of the RAF rescue service, together with the local police, ambulance and fire and rescue services, all on board were rapidly rescued and accounted for, with no major injuries sustained.

Nobody could imagine publicly-owned restaurants – whether serving French or otherwise. But why on earth can anyone imagine that privatised emergency services, which would have a legal obligation to maximise profits for shareholders as their priority, would be able to perform their jobs any better than the way in which those emergency services reacted on Saturday?

A mixed economy is best for the majority. And long may it continue.

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