Gathering around the statue of comedian Ken Dodd I showed great restraint. Although I was the only man in this august body of food writers I refrained from asking, "How you diddling Missus? or some other well know phrase from the legendary comedian. I was there at Lime Street Station for a weekend of exploring the current food scene of Liverpool (home of the Beatles).
To be honest, I haven't been to this city in years and to my delight I found it to be well worth the visit. When our group was complete we took several taxis over to Sefton Park to enjoy Liverpool's Food and Drink Festival.
Like most in the group I had travelled with my wellies because the organisers had predicted we would need them, since we had expected the Sefton Park to be very muddy. In fact the weekend was mostly blessed with warm sunshine which leads me to wonder whether our maker is a Beatles fan or at least of the track Good Day Sunshine.
The UK is now blessed with a huge and still growing list of food festivals so where does Liverpool Food & Drink Festival fit in the mix? In typical Liverpool fashion I found this food festival to be a very friendly and family orientated event, with plenty of places to sit and picnic, lots of kids activities and of course being Liverpool it had to have a strong musical element, which were both welcome and to a very high standard.
It seems eminently suited to a large metropolitan city whose culinary tastes are evolving to make the event as inclusive as possible.
Another aspect of the festival that I'd like to give a thumbs up to was the "no food tasting tickets". Many similar events make you buy a role of tasting tickets for say £20, which forces visitors to perhaps buy more than they want. At the Liverpool bash you just queued and bought a sample when it took your fancy.
At lunch time we were treated to some very good food at Paul Askew's pop-up restaurant which is no small feat given the technical problems that can crop up when you set a fine dining restaurant up in a field. We had pre-ordered from menus sent to us and here are my choices.
After lunch, our group divided up and took in the sights, sounds and tastes of the festival.
Celebrity Artisanal Baker Paul Hollywood was definitely a charmer that drew large crowds to his Bake off area, he seemed to be very much at ease having a question and answer session with his attentive audience.
Besides the usual opportunities to sample the food from the local restaurants and producers, there were several interactive stands where you could learn about Malaysian or Thai cookery with a hands on lesson. After sampling the wonderful chocolate covered coffee beans at the Rocco Chocolate stand and misplacing my wellies I reluctantly left and made my way to our boutique hotel, called the Hope Street Hotel, which also contains Paul Askew's well known London Carriage Works Restaurant.
After the warm sunny day and the enjoyable hurly burly of the festival the hotel made a spacious, tranquil retreat with a Scandinavian feel due to the clean lines of the wooden décor.
After a short recess we took advantage of the early evening sunshine to explore the Tall ships currently anchored in the docks then onto dinner at Delifonseca, which has a deli on the ground floor well worth a visit.
The next day we were taken on a most engaging tour of Port Sunlight which was founded and built by William Lever in 1888 for his workers giving them much better working and living conditions that they normally could expect in those times. Being from Birmingham it reminded me a lot of Bourneville set up by the Cadbury family. Due to our tight schedule we were barely able to scratch the surface of this fascinating place, but we did manage to include a visit to the Lady Lever Art Gallery which holds some of the best Pre-Raphaelite painting in the world. Other notable paintings from Turner, Stubbs, Reynolds,Gainsborough and Sargent. The museum also hold the original art work of the early Lever advertisments, then there's the furniture collection, sculptures including works by Edward Onslow Ford and William Goscombe, but try not to miss the exquisite collection of 17th-18th century Chinese porcelain.
We were expected at Thornton Hall for lunch, which holds a 3 AA Rosette restaurant inside called The Lawns. This was not just a chance to sample Chef Gillmore's great use of local ingredients but also a chance to chat and discuss those ingredients with the producers.
Seated around in our private dining room we writers were interspersed with farmers, producers and butchers sharing our passion for the land and the things it produces. After a couple of hours of being wined and dined we were whisked efficiently back to the train station to say our goodbyes.
All too soon our weekend was over; this whirlwind tour had certainly changed my opinion of Liverpool. I was struck by the enthusiasm and love the people have for their city and I made a silent promise to return soon.