Friday, 21 June 2013

Top-notch scallops and a rather sad sandwich

Scallops – but not the fish 'n' chippy sort
As the week chugged on, I nearly reached the point of singing ‘In me Liverpool Home’ – mostly because The Other Half ‘sang’ the chorus the other day, only to discover that I knew at least one of the verses.

Mind, it made a change from the semi-constant Beatles soundtrack that is in my head – probably because of walking past the entrance to The Beatles Story so regularly over the last five days.

But setting that aside, there have been a range of food experiences over the last few days that call for a little comment.

First up, Tuesday night’s dinner for our particular conference staff team.

We had been booked into the Hanover Street Social brasserie and bar. And jolly nice it proved to be.

From a very sensibly-sized menu, I started with sautéed king scallops with cauliflower purée and pomegranate, and a golden raisin and caper jus.

First, let's point out that the scallops were superbly cooked.

It was, in many ways, a very sweet dish. But this is entirely a natural sweetness and enormously pleasing. A dish full of really lovely tastes.

For my main course, I kept a theme going and opted for pan-fried duck breast with celeriac purée and a golden raisin jus. It should have come with sautéed potatoes too, but I asked them to substitute asparagus instead, which they did.

And that was when the trouble began.

There we were, waiting for our food, when our waitress came over and explained that there’d been an ‘accident’ with my dish and they were having to cook it from fresh again.

The ‘accident’, it materialised, had occurred when one of the restaurant's other diners had walked past my dish and somehow contrived to get their hand into my grub.

It then became clear that the culprit was one of our own table.

I mention no names, friends, but let’s put it like this: I was the lone Manchester City fan at the table. That criminal was the only Manchester United fan.

The prosecution rests.

Of course, it meant that my main course was somewhat delayed. But the restaurant then told me that it was on the house because of the wait.

They didn’t need to do that – it hadn’t been their fault. But it was appreciated and the sign of a good business.

Anyway, the duck was also most enjoyable. We were stuffed by the end of two courses, so nobody bothered with a dessert. But it’s fair to say that that was the meal of the week.

Wine, incidentally, was a white Cuvee Jean Paul from the Languedoc – and very pleasant it was, with notes of elderflower and grapefruit.

It’s also worth noting that, certainly when we were there, the music was at exactly the right sort of volume not to make conversation difficult.

On Monday, having pigged out at the chippy at lunch time, we’d had a bar snack in the evening, and it was much the same on Wednesday night too, having met a friend for a larger-than-usual lunch.

The Egg Café
That lunch had got us away from the conference centre, the Albert Dock and Liverpool 1, and saw us make our way to The Egg Café, a rather hippyish veggie café just off Bold Street.

To be frank, it was a relief to get away from all the immaculate steel and glass and gloss.

I had a cream cheese and leek frittata with assorted salads. And it was very enjoyable too. The Other Half said that his tomato and basis soup was very good.

The bar food in the evening was also pleasant enough – in my case, a double portion of battered prawns with chilli dipping sauce, and a (small) portion of chips. It was all I needed.

A note on other food points at the hotel: it has been excellent to have an egg station at breakfast – poached and fried eggs done fresh.

But why do hotels really not make it such a logistical test to toast a piece of bread, butter it – and then take it to get eggs or beans on top?

I have to admit to being a little sad with my efforts one morning at making a jam sandwich.

Given that I didn’t have the chance this week to go in search of the fabled jam butty mines of Knotty Ash, I thought I'd pay homage at breakfast. But it didn’t live up to the memory of childhood jam butties, even though it was thick slabs of factory bread and, of course, strawberry jam giving a thick line of red contrast between the white.

And now for a couple of slight niggles.

Everyone knows that, in a hotel, the drinks will be expensive. However, that the cost of drinks at the Hilton, Liverpool was a somewhat smaller fortune than the charges for the iBahn internet service, which advertises itself as “super fast”.

Someone should have a word with trading standards. I tried it on our first night (having paid the minimum sum for the minimum time available), and it was akin to a trip down memory lane to the days of dial-up modems.

I haven’t bothered since. £6 for an hour, £15 for a day and £75 for a week would be rip-off prices even if it was a genuinely fast service. This is simply taking the piss.

I do want to say that every single member of the hotel staff that we have come into contact with was delightfully helpful and friendly. A problem with the iron in our room that had been caused by a previous guest was sorted out quickly and in an entirely acceptable way.

The room itself was comfortable and quiet.

But I was somewhat irritated to discover that, if one is putting anything on the room bill, and one adds a tip in the section that allows for that (the box that says: 'gratuity') that tip does not go to the staff who you are actually intending to thank.

Dear hotel – that is naughty. The general understanding that people have of tipping is that it is something that they do, voluntarily, to reward specific staff for particularly good service. They do not do it for the cash to go into some sort of pot (if that is what happens) or the company profits.

But the lesson is quite simple. I will tip in actual cash in future and will not tip by adding a gratuity to the room bill, so that there is no danger of such money, given voluntarily, going where it is not intended.

And on that note, I'm back off darn sarf: never in the history of human kind has a woman so looked forward to finding herself covered in cat hairs.

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