A few weeks ago, my wife and I fancied a ‘drive out’ on a mission to find a ‘nice country pub with proper, home cooked, hearty grub’ – with a little help from the Michelin guide, we ended up at the Swettenham Arms in Cheshire (near Holmes Chapel).
This week we returned to Lancashire’s finest The Parkers Arms as I wanted to stock up on Christmas booze from the nearby D.Byrne & Co wine merchants (see here); I hoped to see some snow on the hills and, of course, the food is excellent!
What they say about Swettenham: ‘The Swettenham Arms is a delightful 16th Century Inn concealed behind a 13th Century Parish Church.
Present day visitors to the Swettenham Arms are drawn by the prospect of food and refreshment after a pleasant stroll/bike ride in the surrounding countryside.’
What they say about Parkers: ‘This historic Ribble Valley Inn originally the coach house of the adjacent Newton Hall is in the tiny hamlet of Newton-in-Bowland an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty in Lancashire.
A contemporary country inn. the perfect destination to eat drink and sleep. The perfect pause for ramblers, cyclists and visitors. Casual relaxed yet elegant there is something for everyone at Parkers Arms.’
What Michelin say about Swettenham: ‘Traditional pub with a beaten copper bar, open fires, horse brasses and lavender meadow. Seasonal menu provides plenty of choice, ranging from sharing platters and pub classics to carefully prepared, well-presented restaurant-style dishes.’
What Michelin say about Parkers: Michelin a widely renowned for being ‘a bit slow’ (many thinking Simon Rogan at L’Enclume was awarded his second star a year, or two, too late) and, outrageously, Michelin are not, as yet, listing the Parkers Arms.
They are however listed in the Independent’s ‘50 Best country pubs’ (see here); The Sunday Times’ ‘Food List’ and have been awarded excellent scores in the Harden’s Guide (here).
What we ate at Swettenham:
My wife started with the Fresh sautéed Mackerel fillet with cured mackerel belly roulade and oyster hollandaise. Good mackerel but overall I didn’t find the dish to be anything special.
I started with the Poached native lobster with avocado purée, apple jelly, golden beetroot slices, herb salad and lemon dressing. I was not a fan of this dish; the lobster and beetroot were good but the accompaniments didn’t work for me. There seemed to be too much of the jelly, mayonnaise, purée and dressing.
For her main, my wife plumped for the 6oz Fillet Steak with confit mushrooms and shallots, grilled tomatoes and hand cut chips. A decent piece of well cooked steak and great chips.
For my main, I opted for the Braised ox cheek with fondant potato, Girolles, bacon red wine jus and baby leeks. The ox cheek, Girolles and bacon jus were full of flavour and delightfully cooked but I found the fondant potato to be a little undercooked in the centre and the baby leeks disappointingly rubbery.
For dessert we shared the Trio of Chocolate - Milk chocolate Mousse, Butter Chocolate Sorbet and a White Chocolate Macaron. The milk chocolate mousse was very good; the chocolate sorbet was excellent but I have a tendency to be a bit snobby when it comes to macarons… so we’ll leave it there.
What we ate at Parkers:
We started with a series of tasty appetisers, including:
Freshly made, Lancashire Cheese Breadsticks with homemade tomato relish – served warm these started to warm the cockles before the fire got going.
Mushroom toasts with Parmesan and coriander – ace homemade bread toasts, topped with a generous serving of locally sourced mushrooms.
Spiced, bread crumbed ‘Chicken Lollipops’ with barbecue and tomato dips - these were excellent, thanks to the added interest of Lancashire black peas, Stosie’s barbecue sauce is the best I’ve had.
Bowland Egg – a perfectly cooked egg encased in pheasant sausage meat and crisp, golden breadcrumbs.
Soup of the day Onion & Bowland Game Soup – a hearty, flavourful soup with a Sandham's Creamy Lancashire topped crouton… proper comfort food!
After getting our appetites flowing with enough appetisers to feed a small army, we eventually got started with our starters, my wife selected the, Muncaster Crab Parfait with lightly soused cucumbers, cucumber jelly and toast – a silky smooth, creamy parfait; delicious with the pickled cucumbers and an extra lift from some freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Much of the Parkers Arms’ menu makes use of the wonderful seasonal game and locally reared meat but vegetarians and pescatarians are well catered for too, to start I selected the veggie option of Spiced Cauliflower Fritters with cauliflower greens, purée and soused cauliflower - a wonderful combination of textures and perfect balance between the subtle spicing and light pickling.
My wife selected the meltingly tender 48hr Short Rib of Beef with more of that excellent Barbecue sauce and Duerden’s watercress. Full from all the appetisers, she ordered a side salad instead of the usual serving of Parkers’ fat chips.
For my main, I chose the Roast Ballotine of Abbeystead New Season Pheasant with pork and sage stuffing, pigs in blankets, pasty of leg and livers, Cabernet Sauvignon jus, creamed mash, roasted Preston autumn roots and green tops.
The pheasant was moist and delicious; the ‘pasty’ was packed with meaty chunks of liver and the cranberry sauce was again…….the best I’ve had!
With a bottle of Sancerre to finish we asked for a break before considering ordering a dessert. Full as I was I managed to find room to share a Warm spiced festive cider ‘Eccles Cake’ with Parkers’ brown bread ice cream and boy was I glad we did! A fitting end to a fabulous meal! (Not actually the end... Stosie also sent out a delicious selection of home made petits fours!)
Décor / ambience at Swettenham: being city folk, we particularly enjoyed the drive up to the Swettenham Arms, including driving though the local ‘ford’ and the outside space. In the summer there is a fabulous lavender and sunflower field as well as the neighbouring ‘Quinta Arboretum’
Décor / ambience at Parkers: we were lucky to have gone on one of the ‘shoot nights’ which made for an extra genuine country pub feel. Everyone seemingly wearing quilted Barbour jackets, gilets and flat caps. All the locals (and their dogs) were friendly and welcoming - we even got to take a brace of pheasant away!
Service at Swettenham: we were served a girl on her first day (under the watchful eye of her mentor) so it would be unfair to make a judgment. Everyone seemed friendly enough.
Service at Parkers: as ever, service at the Parkers Arms was smoothly overseen by the affable AJ.
Verdict – which would we return to? or who wins the ‘Arms Race’?
If you fancy a drive out of Manchester to visit a charming country pub with great food, according to Google Maps, the distance from Manchester city centre (Italia on Deansgate, M3 1RH, to be precise) to the Parkers Arms (Lancashire, BB7 3DY) is 39.3 miles, taking 1 hr 4 mins on the A56 whereas The Swettenham Arms (Cheshire, CW12 2LF) is 40.6 miles away taking 53 mins along on the M62/M6 route.
Both are worth a visit but for me Parkers Arms is the best of the two ‘Arms’ – to my mind, for its type, the food and passion from Chef Stosie simply cannot be beaten. I can’t wait to take my parents next time they are over from Spain… I know they will love it – the perfect British pub with perfect pub grub!