Wednesday 24 January 2018

Parkers Arms - Newton-In-Bowland, Nr Clitheroe

*Update* In the 2018, Top 50 Gastropubs, Parkers Arms has been ranked as the 8th best in the UK. 

In the 2017 Top 50 Gastropubs Awards, Parkers Arms achieved the special accolade of being the list’s highest climber, rising an impressive 35 places from 48th to 13th – validation of something that I’ve long known… Stosie Madi’s food is some of the best in the country.

Of course, I’m not the only one to believe this. National critic Jay Ranyer (here) and celebrated food blogger Chris ‘Cheese and Biscuits’ Pople (here) have both written rave reviews. As well as this, serial food sage @the_a_stevenson‘s twitter timeline is regularly filled with pictures of Parkers Arm’s food worthy of drooling over.

The pub’s rural location adds to its charm, the drive over the fells from nearby Clitheroe offers stunning panoramas in all seasons. Of course, these are more than just views, they also make up much of Parkers’s larder. On this most recent visit, it was wonderful to see the local Belted Galloway grazing on the way in, before being presented with an impressive 30 day aged, 16oz prime rib tomahawk steak of one such beast as a main course.

Stosie’s parfaits are always things of beauty but, on this visit, they were absolutely divine. Especially the Confit Lancashire brown cap mushroom & lemon parfait. With its seemingly enhanced pepperiness, I enquired if this was a new recipe or a more wintery version of her summer one, but was informed that it was a fresh batch and the flavours would develop after a couple of day’s rest.

Another of Stosie’s signatures staples is her hot water crust pastry, made with pork fat that she renders to become lard. As well as a delicious Layered creamed potato & Lancashire cheese pie (which would please vegetarians and carnivores alike), pastry highlights included a robust Black pudding & pork sausage roll, which came with crispy pigs’ ears, a pig’s head croquette and some of Parker’s sublime piccalilli.

I could go on waxing lyrical about more of the dishes we enjoyed but the best way to experience them is not through my words or pictures, but to go and see for yourself.

Crispy potato skins

Citrus & gin cured organic Wester Ross salmon
– soused fennel, horseradish cream, blood orange & crispy fish skins.

Wild Newton duck livers & port parfait
– pickled pumpkin, toasted Parker’s sourdough

Confit Lancashire brown cap mushroom & lemon parfait

Giant Argentinian red prawns with garlic & lemon

Black pudding & pork sausage roll
with crispy pigs’ ears, a pig’s head croquette and Parker’s piccalilli

30-day aged 16oz prime rib Bowland Belted Galloway Beef tomahawk steak
with creamed mash and watercress

Layered creamed potato & Lancashire cheese pie
with seasonal vegetables & triple cooked chips

Seville orange marmalade sponge pudding
with 5 spice burnt orange ice cream

Portuguese custard tart
with roasted Yorkshire rhubarb & Chantilly

This isn’t a ‘disclaimer’ as such, but it is a point worth noting: as usual, we paid for our meal but also gratefully accepted #TweetTreats, which Parkers generously provide for anyone who gives them love on social media. They are a family owned rural pub without a marketing budget and therefore appreciate and acknowledge that their business relies heavily on ‘word of mouth’ alongside the accolades and awards they’ve received.

Sunday 21 January 2018

Where the Light Gets In - Stockport

I’ll start with the summary: in Where the Light Gets In we have a restaurant that’s undoubtedly one of the best in Greater Manchester; correction: one of the best in North West. One, I hope to return to many times over.

For those of you who have, like me, been walking around with your head up your arse, WTLGI is certainly the best, coolest, hippest, most happening restaurant that Stockport has seen in years (possibly ever)! Not that there’s much competition.

Before the pitchfork brigade start polishing their prongs, Stockport (well, Cheadle Hulme actually dahlings) has been my home since moving up from London eighteen years ago. Please, don’t get me wrong, I like living in Stockport. It’s conveniently located for quick and easy access to Manchester, Cheshire and the rest of the North West. The airport is also close… but far enough so as not to be overly noisy.

For me, until recently, by far the worst thing about living in the Stockport area has been the lack of truly decent local restaurants.

Thankfully, two maverick chefs have set about putting this right. One is Chef Matthew Nutter whose Allotment Vegan Restaurant has been impressing both carnivores and lettuce lickers alike. The other is Where the Light Gets In’s Sam Buckley who has been wowing all comers, most notably the scrupulous Marina O’Loughlin with a rare 10/10 score for food.

In fact, from what I’ve read and heard, virtually all who have eaten at WTLGI have also raved about it. The difficulty seems to be getting a significant proportion of local punters to believe that a place of this quality would actually come to Stockport in the first instance! I’m ashamed to say, this disbelief is certainly what kept me from their doors in the early days.

There’s also the problem of conversations like the one my wife had with her sister:

My wife: We had a lovely meal last night at a place called, ‘Where The Light Gets In.”

Her sister: Ooh, where’s that?

My wife: In Stockport. Up by the church. In a former Victorian coffee warehouse.

Her sister: (with raised eyebrows) Stockport?!

My wife: (unperturbed) Yes, it was ‘tasting menu’, 10 courses for £75. There were some delicious dishes and the most delightful, charming service.

Her sister: £75 and you can’t even choose what you want to eat?! I’m not paying £75 to be told what to eat!

Personally, I don’t mind being told what to eat. Especially when there’s a more than fair chance that it’s going to be interesting, exciting and delicious. Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to love and swoon over every mouthful. Certainly, there were one or two dishes that didn’t overly impress. But despite the occasional bum note, the majority hummed with harmonic joy.

Highlights included: perfectly plump mussels with a delicate both (that we were encouraged to slurp unceremoniously from the bowl – not that I’d have needed encouraging) and an earthy wedge of baked celeriac with its warm nuttiness enhanced though the synergy with the silky walnut sauce, lifted by the sweet tang from the Old Winchester cheese and fresh, floral note from the lavender oil.

The pièce de résistance however was, not the Cheshire mutton filet as you’d may well expect, but from the same beat’s shoulder. Cooked over charcoal on a Japanese ‘Konro’, it was a deliciously juicy bite, the smokiness punctuated by Ramsons flowers (which they had pickled late last spring, natch).    

At the fire: Crisps and powder

Cavolo nero crisps, oyster emulsion, chestnut mushroom powder

Smoked river eel, apple, quince mayonnaise, linseed cracker

Carlingford oyster, kohlrabi, pear and Douglas fir

Sourdough bread with Mangalitsa pork fat and chives

Cornish mussels, caramelised onion and mussel broth, hawthorn flower oil

Celeriac, walnut, lavender oil and Old Winchester cheese

Mutton and pork bone broth with Mutton neck and juniper oil pie

Cheshire mutton fillet, sour onion and beetroot

Cheshire mutton shoulder with pickled ramsons flowers

Apple granita

Pear poached in local honey and bergamot with burnt cream

Polenta cake with beeswax ice cream

Whey tart and Buckfast lozenge

What Michelin say, ‘This large, loft-style restaurant is located on the top floor of a Victorian coffee warehouse and its open kitchen forms part of the room. The surprise menu is formed from whatever they have foraged that day and beasts are brought in whole and fully utilised. Matching wine flights focus on natural wines.

‘Wine pairing’
Buxton Brewery ‘Trolltunga’ Sour Gooseberry IPA
Guilhelm et Jean-Hughue Goisot, ‘Exogyra Virgula’ Sauvignon Blanc, St Bris, Burgundy, France (2015)
Eric Bordelet, Sidre Brut
Slobodne, Deviner, Slovakia (2014)
Balazu des Vaussieres, ‘Cuvée millepertuis’ Grenache / Syrah / Mourvèdre Carignan, Tavel, France (2012)
Ezio Cerruti, ‘Sol’ Moscato, Piedmont, Italy (2011)

‘Juice pairing’
Rosemary infused sparkling water
Douglas fir sparkling water
Lemon Verbena and rosehip
Carrot and Clementine
Apple and Beetroot
White tea and hay

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