EVERY Christmas, down Lark Lane, it is the sign things are about to turn messy.
"Sailor Jerry, Sailor Jerry, Sailor Jerry" chants Mrs Dempsey, jabbing the air at each of us, over the Jona Lewie, memorising the first serious round of the night as she hits the bar.
This occasional chums’ annual Occasion takes place in one of south Liverpool’s oldest hang-outs, notable for its roaring log fire and simple food and drink.
The duck shepherds pie looks as dishevelled as a wannabe WAG at first light: scorched around the edges, just a little bit crusty
Que Pasa does not have a whiffster of hipster about it, there is no whisky dungeon or gin cellar. And in the seven years Liverpool FC’s great Dane, Daniel Agger, owned it, the joint remained a strangely-celeb-free zone.
Now he is gone, but there is little in this loose fit to show a footballer ever held possession.
If anything, the disaffected Keith’s drinkers who have shlepped across the road to make Que Pasa their own look back in Agger as a man whose Premiership wonga made an anonymous bar somewhat better.
In this tale of footballers' dives, Premiership wonga has been cascading, rather more forcefully, into another venture back in town - with all the clatter of a Vegas slot machine jackpot.
The Vincent Cafe and Cocktail bar is the side project of another over ’n’ out LFC player, Steven Gerrard; one where ordering a Sailor Jerry is a rather more loaded affair.
Cocktail is king in post-culture Liverpool and if you are going to be asked by a man holding a flaming blow torch which one of a dozen spiced rums you would prefer in the (very acceptable) mojito he is about take his apparatus to, you had better know your ale - and your manners.
For a “dress and good behaviour code applies” at the Vincent, its website warns.
“Dress smart casual or to impress. No hoodies or track suits will be allowed and on weekends no sportswear to be worn.”
That’s the match-day Liverpool squad out. And, very possibly, the Que Pasa crew.
The Vincent has more than them in mind. Co-owned by Paul “Warehouse Brasserie” Adams, it aims to be all things to all suitably attired people. Thus it is open all hours, seven days a week, with a raft of different propositions: breakfast, brunch, express lunch; slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.
Amid the Tuesday evening crowd there are plenty of Sorts: an angry, balding Sort with too many mobile phones to yell into. A pair of suits on their third bottle of Malbec (expenses Sort) and a couple of miniskirt Sorts who have come straight from Tan-a-Reef and are now busy exhausting a Japanese Firing Squad (it's a drink).
We are strictly the dinner-and-take-pictures Sort, not as easy as it sounds when the predominant shade of the room is brown/black and the dimmed bulbs suggest management is recovering from a traumatic electricity bill
However, there is a great source of light and colour and that’s the food.
Plump, seared scallops (£7) quiver over a perfectly judged risotto, flecked by properly peeled broad beans and shrimps. It wears a froth, the colour of summer, as its signature.
From Tunisia, pink lamb, in thick, spiced slices, (£8) gets a kick up its saddle from a warm fritter of cous cous. When it comes to the crunch, fried off and dried off aubergine provides. Crimson domes of hot harissa dot the plate.
Small plates, large plates, all that current jazz, divide the Vincent menu as it criss-crosses the globe. For those of a nervous disposition, beer battered cod and steak ’n chips is just a finger-click away.
Tonight we find ourselves peering at another presentation: a spice-flecked sauce, warm and velvety, cloaks thick chunks of “tandoori” monkfish (£14.50) and juicy studs of raisins. Soft jasmine rice is sprinkled with poppy seeds. Cucumber is roughly chopped into cooling yoghurt, just in case, but really, there shouldn’t be any need.
All this is overshadowed by the duck shepherds pie (£17) which arrives looking as dishevelled as a wannabe WAG at first light: scorched around the edges, just a little bit crusty.
Yet once hacked into any doubts melt away. The mash, robust, buttery, well seasoned. Beneath, it meets its (unlikely) match of the day - a fantastic stew of shredded duck in a reduction as deep as the well of time.
Duck shepherds pie wins the dinners
It was a hard act to follow so why do we try? Marshmallows on a board of fire (£8) are stacked up for toasting, like a job lot of Tommy Cooper fezs, alongside chocolate and caramel dips and cinnamon biscuits. Special shout out for the good vanilla ice cream which comes in very handy when you scald your mouth on the molten marshmallow lava. Nobody is to blame. Is is Late In The Evening.
So the duck tops the bill (sorry) and whoever assembled it - and the risotto - is not only a world authority on stock but someone who can make vegetables shine. Who ever saw a more photogenic or bigger side order of carrots (£3.50)? And was curly kale, cream and bacon (£3.50) ever this green and lush?
The Vincent should do all it can to retain their services. For while I've no idea how Stevie G is getting on in LA, indications are that his own Liverpool squad have signed a "keeper" in the kitchen.
Vincent Café & Cocktail Bar,
Liverpool, L2 3YL.
0151 236 1331.
Open: all the time. Website.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: takeaways against the best takeaways, fine dining against the best fine dining, etc.
Following on from this the scores represent:
1-5: Straight into the dog bowl
6-9: Raid the freezer
10-11: In an emergency
12-13: If you happen to be passing
14-15: Worth a trip out
16-17: Very good to exceptional
18-20: As good as it gets
ALL SCORED LIVERPOOL CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND IRRESPECTIVE OF ANY COMMERCIAL RELATIONSHIP. CRITICS DINE UNANNOUNCED AND PICK UP THEIR OWN BILLS, NEVER THE RESTAURANT OR A PR COMPANY.