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Perfect marriage of food and beer; Thomas Rigby's and The Courtyard, on Liverpool's Dale Street, are wowing palates with their combinations of exemplary cuisine and tantalising drinks, as Mike Chapple discovers.

Byline: Mike Chapple

AFTER years of denial, the English are rediscovering their taste for mixing good food with great ale.

And the passion for it is not confined to those gastro country pubs with sky high prices to impress the great and the good.

The taste for mixing and matching of nosh and the hop is also becoming a growing pleasure for many people with a very average-sized wallet.

It is especially pronounced in Liverpool, where the so-called culinary desert of, say, 15 years ago is now bulging with cracking pubs serving food and beer made to be married to each other.

The currently acclaimed mistress and master of the craft can be found at Thomas Rigby's and its adjoining restaurant, The Courtyard, on Dale Street, where landlady FionaWatkin and chef Tommy Rockliffe have been wowing the palates of the country's top food and drink writers with their combinations.

As proof, for the second year running the pair have fended off competition from pubs nationwide to win the Beer and Food Matching Experiencemantle at the annual awards of the breweries' trade bible, The Publican.

They've already celebrated this latest victory with two special gourmet mix and match evenings one in February featuring English real ales and the other last month using continental beers.

The latter was addressed by Roger Protz, widely recognised as one of the world's greatest beer aficionados, and both went down a storm with the invited guest list of experts.

"But just because of this sort of speciality interest, there's no reason to get snobby about it - a lot of our regulars love quality beer with their food; you don't have to be an expert, it's all down to individual taste," explains Fiona, a straight-talking, unpretentious Liverpudlian who chooses the appropriate beers to go with Tommy's daily menu at Rigby's.

"The secret of making the right choice is to find a beer that will enhance the flavour of the food.

"There's no point in choosing a strong Belgian ale to go with a salad, you'd just kill the flavour of the salad."

She added that one of the great advantages of beer over wine is that with a three course meal for two you can choose different flavoured beers to match every course.

"Whereas if you choose a different bottle of wine with every course it's not only a lot more expensive but you can end up terribly drunk at the end of it.

"Wine gives me a terrible hangover, so I know what rocks my boat!"

Adrian Tierney-Jones, Honorary Secretary of the British Guild of Beer Writers, adds: "You might get some good tunes with wine, but beer really does have the best instruments in the orchestra.

"What has been happening is that we've started elevating beer back onto the same plateau as wine. We are returning to our roots.

"I remember as a child that my Dad always had a bottle of Mackeson beside him with his dinner and so did my grandmother, who came from Liverpool.

"I think we put beer to one side in the '70s with that Abigail's Party type of thing where everybody was aspiring to bemiddle class having cheese and wine parties and looking down on beer. But beer is the wine of our country and should be central to our dining table."

Fiona and Tommy would drink to that.

mikechapple@dailypost.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

Food and beer complement each other, with a good choice at Rigby's, on Dale Street, as described in the panel, below; Ian, Fiona and Tommy in the bar area; Ian Forster, bar manager; Fiona Watkin, manager; and head chef Tommy Rockliffe
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 12, 2007
Words:607
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