Asparagus three ways…


Everything has seemed a little late arriving this year, with a protracted feeling of anticipation, not helped by the soggiest May on record.

Asparagus – according to Harold McGee in his “On Food and Cooking” writes that “the stalks grow up from long-lived underground rhizomes, and have been widely prized as a tender manifestation of spring”. Originating from Eurasia, and part of the lily family, it has been revered as a delicacy in the West since Greek and Roman times. At the end of the month the clouds parted in more sense than one and we set off on the road to the eastern edge of Brecon Beacons for a few days – to the verdant and fecund area around the well-known food-lovers hub, Abergavenny, in the shadow of the Sugar Loaf mountain.

With pubs and restaurants just back to some sense of normality and able to serve indoors, it was time to make the most of what the locals had to offer and that included a lot of asparagus.

One of the most renowned growing areas in the UK is the Wye Valley, just across the Welsh/English border.featured on the local menus, and it can also be found in Marks & Spencer grown by the Chinn family who exclusively supply all their British Asparagus.

Ready to embark on the new season when it is at its sweetest, our first foray was at the Bear Hotel Crickhowell, a coaching inn since 1432. To appreciate it at its prime taste and tenderness, it was simply steamed and served with a poached egg – and hollandaise! An appropriate and winning combination. Continuing the theme of asparagus and bears, we then visited the Black Bear Inn, Bettws Nywedd just beyond the river meadows of the Usk, full of birdsong, breath-taking natural beauty and a hill-top Iron Age fort to boot. This time it was matched with pea tendrils and soft herbs with Welsh goat curd as a clean zippy foil to its vegetal sweetness.

On our last evening at Stephen Terry’s The Hardwick and mindful of supporting Welsh sheep-farming, we opted for A Taste of Brecon Lamb. It was exceptional. – slow cooked shoulder, ragu & crispy belly with Italian broad beans, peas, Wye Valley asparagus, potato gnocchi, salsa verde and braising juices.

Back in London – asparagus continues to pop up on menus toward the end of the season. it features as an amuse-bouche in Levan, Peckham, from the same team as Salon in Brixton (and named after legendary DJ Larry Levan) where it tops a vivid emulsion in brik pastry

and garnishing a bruschetta topically named “FreeBritney Spearagus” at the much-loved Circolo Popolare in Rathbone Place.

Garlicky crisp sourdough with grilled asparagus, crunchy prosciutto and fresh robiola with chives. That gets my vote for best named dish of the day I’ve seen in a while.

“Hope Springs Eternal” with British Asparagus and Britney as we prepare to come out of lockdown…

#wyevalleyaparagus #welshlamb #freebritney

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