When I first moved ‘oop north’ from ‘down sarth’ I remember going out for the day to deepest darkest Cheshire with my fiancée and my future in-laws. Playing up to the Guy Ritchie cockney wide boy stereotype, for a bit of fun, spotting some sheep in a field, I asked, “What are they?”
Clearly thinking city boys like me were all a bit thick, the look on Jeanne’s face (the mother-in-law) was priceless as she as she informed me they were indeed sheep.
Taking the joke a step further, I enquired, “So what is a sheep? What do they do?” Still, I think, unsure if I was for real she asked if I had heard of lamb?
Feigning a penny drop moment, I said, “Ahh… so that’s what they look like before they have been peeled?”
Now obviously thinking her daughter was dating a complete dinlow, she patiently explained the whole deal; I couldn’t resist one more stir, and asked, “So, are they wild ones?”
There seemed to be lots of ‘wild sheep’ roaming the hills on our recent trip out across the beautiful rolling Pendle hills – some even seemed ‘tame’ enough to come right up to the roadside.
Anyway, enough of my bleating… I could go on about how wonderful a drive through the Lancashire countryside is, but I’m sure ewe already know that… instead I’ll skip to the food – there was a lot of it!
I first got to know about the Parkers Arms in Newton-In-Bowland, (near Clitheroe) Lancashire, mainly though Twitter, where chef/proprietor Stosie Madi shares her passion for food and the North West.
With her French and Lebanese heritage, like me, Stosie may not be a native North Westian but is clearly someone who is hugely proud of the region she has made her home. The menu reads like a celebration of the best we have to offer in the region – including the finest produce from the Ribble Valley and products such as Cockerham Salt Marsh Lamb, Morecambe Bay Cockles and Bury Black Pudding.
Of course, through twitter Stosie knew I was coming and knew I write a blog and was keen to show off what they have to offer - subsequently, along with the dishes we ordered a 'few' (massive understatement) extras generously made their way from the kitchen.
I promise you this overfeeding of me has in no way influenced my opinion of the Parkers Arms – it has however influenced my opinion of Stosie, her business partner Kathy and her brother AJ as warm, generous people, brimming with an infectious passion for food and hospitality.
We started the meal with a selection of nibbles – Breads, Black Pudding Sausage Rolls (flaky pastry), with Parker’s Piccalilli, Parker’s Bowland Pork Crackling with Apple Dip and Potato & Wild Garlic Fritters with a Tomato Relish.
It was immediate that the level of skill in the kitchen is exceptional. The garlic fritters were just perfect; so light and fluffy… the standard is well beyond your standard pub fayre.
The drive out had already been worth it - every flavour sung out; every item wonderfully balanced and seasoned; the sausage rolls had so much flavour and the piccalilli was top drawer, it should be sold in jars at the bar.
In addition to the nibbles we ordered, to ‘get my opinion’, Stosie sent out a variation on the Black Pudding Sausage Rolls made with a ‘hand-raised’ or hot water crust pastry and Parker’s Chicken Crackling with a Wild Garlic Mayonnaise.
My opinion: the flaky pastry offered a more traditional sausage roll experience but I preferred the hot water crust pastry on texture and the flavour of the pudding was stronger. The chicken skin too was preferred by my wife and I to the pork as it moreishly light and crisp – we concluded that both should be regular menu items and the wild garlic mayonnaise should be sold in jars alongside the piccalilli… I would’ve bought some, for sure!
To start, I selected the Formby Asparagus, Pilling New Potatoes, Lemon Mayonnaise with Home-cured Loch Duart Salmon and Duerden’s Watercress – as you can see from the menu description, both locally sourced and high quality produce play an important part of Parkers Arms’ ethos. This dish was full of spring freshness.
My wife ordered the Smoked Dunsop Bridge Trout Parfait, Royal Cucumber Jelly and Parker’s Crisp Breads and said, “It’s the bestest thing I ever did taste.”
I would have tasted some too but, in true Stosie style generosity we also received a portion of the Potted Bowland Ham (Jambon Persilée) with more of that gorgeous Parker’s Piccalilli and Bowland Beer Bread to share and then a jubilee special Goosnargh Corn-fed Coronation Chicken Pot Pie with Creamed Mash… each!
The potted ham and the pie were both very good and the mash exceptional. As mentioned before, every item of food showed faultless cooking – the pasty could was just as you’d expect, the coronation sauce rich and flavoursome.
I adore gurnard, and could not resist the Butter Roast British Gurnard Fillet when I saw it on the menu. The fact that it was served with Isle of Man Queen Scallops, Greaves Dry Cured Bacon, Bowland Wild Garlic with Garden Nettles Gnocchi and Blackpool Tomatoes Dressing made it all the more appetising.
The fish was great and the foraged wild garlic and nettles leaves were pleasingly different to the usual accompaniments. The gnocchi however did not really work for me and I found the tomato dressing too sweet for my taste – the only dish of the entire meal that I was not completely convinced by.
My wife’s Cockerham Salt Marsh Lamb however, was a triumph – the distinctly flavoured meat raised on the Lune Estuary salt mashes is always a treat. Generous portions of the loin, leg and breast cooked with such passion, care and precision made it truly magnificent.
The lamb was served with Carron Lodge Butter Roasted New Potatoes, Morecambe Bay Cockles with Cockerham Samphire and the attention to detail once again evident in their painstaking peeling of the Pod Vegetables.
Fit to bursting, I was not sure if I could handle a dessert when AJ suggested a small tasting of each. This seemed a good compromise but then the full potions started to arrive – not that I am complaining, they were all delicious.
My wife and I shared the New Season Strawberry Tart… summer on a plate. The strawberries were so good my wife said, “You just can’t get strawberries that taste this good these days, can you?” – I knew what she meant.
We also shared the Jubilee Cherry and Chocolate Roulade – a proper dessert of fabulous classic flavours. The chocolate was thick, the ice-cream smooth and the sauce sharply sweet – delicious.
My chosen main of Gisburn Cream Lemon and Wild Bowland Gooseberry Posset with Elderflower Jelly and Lemon Shortbread was nothing short of a sensational synergy of flavours with more great technique on show through the meringue sheet wafers and shortbreads.
My wife’s Local Cheese Plate was attractively presented – I only tasted one of the frozen grapes so I can’t comment on the dish but she was pleased with what she had been given.
The Petit Fours featured excellent homemade Salted Caramel Chocolates and Strawberry ‘toffee apples’ with lovely thin crisp candy.
I have recently dined at Tom Kerridge’s two-Michelin-starred Hand and Flowers in Marlow and have visited other Michelin starred gastropubs, such as Michael & Nick Parkinson's Royal Oak at Paley Street and The Harwood Arms in Fulham – it’s a bold statement but if each of these were stood next to each other in a row, the same distance from my house, I’d choose the Parkers Arms every time!