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Lancashire: land of hospitality

Lancashire: the culinary jewel of the North West

by Tom Shingler 26 November 2018

We spent a few days travelling around the wonderful county of Lancashire, meeting the chefs and producers that make it a must-visit destination for any intrepid foodie. Take a look at the restaurants we ate at and the warm, welcoming people we met along the way to discover why we fell in love with this very beautiful part of northwest England.

What part of the UK would you head to if you were after a short break full of delicious things to eat? Many would opt for London, with its concentration of incredible restaurants and world-famous markets, but for somewhere more beautiful, a lot more relaxed and arguably with just as good eating on offer, Lancashire has a lot going for it. The county’s cities – Blackpool, Preston and Lancaster – might not have a huge amount to offer the intrepid foodie, but venture out into the breathtaking Ribble Valley, the stunning Fylde Coast and the rest of rural Lancashire and you’ll find incredible hospitality, passionate producers and some of the finest modern British restaurants and gastropubs in the UK.

I spent three days travelling the length and breadth of the county with Visit Lancashire to discover the people and places that are turning the area into one of the best places for food and drink in Britain. From Michelin-starred contemporary dining to friendly pubs and inns specialising in local, seasonal cooking, I absolutely fell in love with everything Lancashire has going for it. It’s been likened to the Dordogne in France before and I can completely see why – there’s some stunning countryside to be discovered, and instead of vineyards there are fields full of incredible vegetables, little microbreweries and inns serving simple, rustic, seasonal fare. Why it doesn’t conjure up the misty-eyed romanticism we get as we talk about similar places in Europe, I have no idea.

It was impossible to see everything the county has to offer in such a short space of time, but the following restaurants, producers and people made my trip there very special indeed. If you’re planning to visit this part of England, are lucky enough to live there already or are simply wondering what Lancashire has to offer, read on.

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When it comes to climate, Lancashire really does have it all. From lush, verdant fields perfect for growing crops and rearing sheep…
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…to fishing ports such as Fleetwood and Morcambe for fish and seafood

Restaurants

The Cartford Inn

You’d be forgiven for thinking The Cartford Inn is mush like any other rural countryside gastropub – but it is, in fact, one of the most unique restaurants I’ve ever been to. Quirky artwork adorns the walls, chef Chris Bury combines familiar pub classics with more unusual and leftfield creations, every single member of staff is genuinely happy to be working there and it’s home to some truly incredible rooms if you’re looking to stay the night. It’s a fantastic, slightly odd, very memorable place to visit, and well worth the trip into the beautiful Fylde countryside. Read the full write-up of my cherished time there and put it on your list of must-visit restaurants the next time you’re in Lancashire.

thecartfordinn,co.uk

Moor Hall

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Moor Hall is a dining destination in every sense of the word, with two restaurants, cheesemaking and charcuterie rooms, an ever-growing kitchen garden and beautiful bedrooms to spend the night in
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The hall was painstakingly refurbished to turn it into the world-class restaurant it is today, with chef Mark Birchall creating wondrous tasting menus that encapsulate everything great about the British countryside

Lancashire is no stranger to Michelin-starred restaurants, with Northcote being one of the most famous in the North West thanks to Nigel Haworth and Lisa Goodwin-Allen’s impeccable cooking over the years. However, one of the newest additions to the Michelin Guide has catapulted the county into a world-class destination for dining. Just two years after opening, Moor Hall was awarded a second Michelin star, with Lancastrian Mark Birchall’s next-level cuisine thrust onto the global stage. I visited just a few weeks before Mark was awarded his second star, but it’s clear that Moor Hall has been operating at the very highest level since day one.

The hall was a private residence until owners Andy and Tracey Bell took it over in 2015, working closely with chef-patron Mark to refurbish and transform the building into one of the UK’s best restaurants with rooms. The grounds are simply stunning, with a vast kitchen garden, cheesemaking and charcuterie rooms as well as a Bib Gourmand-awarded second restaurant called The Barn. There are plans in place for a bakery and a brewery, while Mark is working hard on expanding the kitchen garden to become a mini-farm. He recently posted about planting some hazelnut trees inoculated with truffles, which he will be able to harvest in a few years. That perhaps gives you an idea of the scope of Moor Hall's offering.

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Mark sources fresh produce from Moor Hall's own garden as well as an organic farm a minute's drive away from the restaurant
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The quality of the carrots he pulled out of the ground when we visited were incredible – something Mark attributes to Lancashire's soil

Mark is a seriously talented yet humble chef who has worked incredibly hard to make Moor Hall the destination it has become. Service is second to none; the seven bedrooms are immaculately presented and the food itself is one of the most accomplished examples of modern British cooking I’ve ever experienced. The tasting menu is full of wild ingredients sourced from around Lancashire (think sweet cicely, hen of the woods mushrooms and woodruff) which are then cooked using a wide range of techniques both modern and traditional. It’s hard to do the menu justice with words alone as Mark’s cooking style is so advanced and technically brilliant, but I can promise that a meal at Moor Hall will be one of the best you can have.

For a chef working at such a high level, Mark’s modesty in what he does is a rare thing indeed, and with so many plans in place to make Moor Hall even better than it is now, I’m certain a third star will follow in the years to come. The whole team should be incredibly proud of what they’ve created there, and it is a serious boon for Lancashire’s foodie offering. Tables will no doubt be hard to come by now Mark has been awarded his deserved second star, but if you want a meal of a lifetime then do everything you can to experience his cooking.

moorhall.com

The Parkers Arms

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Situated in the sleepy village of Newton-in-Bowland lies The Parkers Arms – one of the best gastropubs in the UK
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Chef and co-owner Stosie Madi runs the kitchen by herself and turns local, hyper-seasonal ingredients into wonderfully simple dishes

Newton-in-Bowland is one of those villages that, if it snows, gets completely cut off from civilisation. It’s deep down in the Trough of Bowland and the drive there rewards you with some stunning vistas across Lancashire’s beautiful countryside. But while a nice view is all well and good, that’s not what I was there for – I made the trip to experience the cooking of Stosie Madi at The Parkers Arms.

The food at The Parkers Arms is what many British restaurants claim they’re serving – but so much better. Buzzwords such as ‘local’ and ‘seasonal’ are banded about on almost every menu you come across these days, but at The Parkers Arms it’s a way of life. Ingredients from across Bowland are brought to the kitchen every morning (when I was there we were shown some ginormous cep mushrooms that a local forager had found) and Stosie cooks them simply but with incredible finesse. There are all the trappings of a good British menu – black pudding sausage rolls, Stosie’s famously good pies, fish from Morecambe Bay and steak with triple-cooked chips – but in amongst the familiar classics there are hints of international flair, thanks to Stosie’s worldly background.

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It's worth a trip to Lancashire for The Parkers Arms' deep-fried potato skins alone – deafeningly crunchy, salty snacks that pair perfectly with a pint of local ale
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Stosie's menu changes regularly to reflect the seasons – this dish of salt-marsh lamb with cockles and samphire (all locally sourced, of course) was absolutely stunning

Stosie was born and raised in Gambia to parents who worked in hospitality, and after years working and eating at various restaurants around the world she settled on The Parkers Arms eleven years ago. Working with her business partner Kathy Smith and the incredible AJ Nolan running front of house (seriously, the best maitre d’ you could ask for), this tiny team took The Parkers from a closed and rundown inn to one of the best gastropubs in the UK. Sourcing everything they possibly can from within a thirty-mile radius, Stosie and co. manage to attract foodies from all over to this sleepy part of Lancashire. The menu is a joy to read through – alongside seasonal local dishes such as salt marsh lamb with samphire and cockles you’ll find wild garlic custard tarts, curried mutton pies and crab meat lemon parfaits. It’s a stunning showcase of what a passionate chef Stosie is – and when you discover that she’s almost always in the kitchen alone (with nothing more than an apprentice helping her if she’s lucky), you realise this is a very special place indeed.

The Parkers Arms also happens to be incredible value, with three courses costing no more than £30 (perhaps why it’s almost always booked out weeks in advance). Stosie likens her restaurant to the auberges of France, where food is served in a relaxed unfussy way with taste and flavour of paramount importance. We all wax lyrical about rural trattorias in Italy, hidden little family-run restaurants in Spain and rustic restaurants across Europe; The Parkers Arms is the UK’s answer to that. Local ingredients turned into incredible food cooked by an amazingly talented chef in the middle of some of the best countryside in England for an incredibly good price. And, just like any fantastic rural inn, the ales are kept very well and dogs are more than welcome.

parkersarms.co.uk

People and producers

The three fantastic restaurants above wouldn’t be able to serve such good food if it wasn’t for the producers they work with – and Lancashire has them in droves. While I spent some time visiting farmers and potters with Chris Bury of The Cartford Inn (which you can read about here) I also met some of the people who make Lancashire a foodie destination in a different way. Places like Bowland Food Hall have appeared in the county in recent years – essentially huge delicatessens which stock the best of local products, encompassing everything from beer and cheese to cakes and vegetables – and in a place like Lancashire the shelves are heaving with lots of delicious things.

Wignalls Yallo

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With such strong agricultural traditions found across the county, it’s not surprising that entrepreneurial farmers have branched out into making products from their own crops. Cold-pressed rapeseed oil has quickly become the cooking oil of choice for many home cooks and chefs in the UK, and Lancashire’s own Wignalls Yallo is one of the finest I’ve tasted. The Wignall family took on a rundown farm in 2011, brought it back to life and planted fields of rapeseed to turn into artisan oil. It has a much nuttier, more pronounced flavour than any other rapeseed oil I’ve come across, which is apparently down to the family focusing on one specific variety of rapeseed rather than a blend. Much like olive oil producers who highlight their single-estate and single-variety credentials, Wignalls Yallo is doing the same for British rapeseed oil.

wignallsfarm.com

Choc Amor

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Some of us know what we’re going to be when we grow up from an early age; others only find their calling later in life. That’s certainly what happened to Paul Williams, who set up Choc Amor with his wife Jacqui after the financial crash in 2008 cost him his job as an accountant. Today he creates award-winning chocolates in a huge array of flavours at Cedar Farm in Mawdesley, ranging from the familiar (salted caramel) to the downright weird (orange jalfrezi). Rather than focusing on single-origin beans and cocoa contents like the majority of modern chocolatiers, he uses chocolate as a medium for his inventive flavour combinations. Salted liquorice, salt and pepper lemongrass, tonka bean and smoked sea salt, blackcurrant and chipotle, sriracha – all of these work surprisingly well with white, milk and dark chocolates and can be bought by the bag straight out of his little chocolate studio.

chocamor.co.uk

Richard Holden BBQ

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Not all chefs work in kitchens – especially if they specialise in a particular cooking technique. Richard Holden is a master of barbecuing and shares his knowledge and expertise by holding courses teaching the art of barbecue across Lancashire. He believes that, with the right know-how, everyone can use their barbecues to their full potential, cooking absolutely anything on them and using them just like their oven in the kitchen. His courses are immensely popular as they not only inform and educate; there’s also plenty of delicious food to taste and the fun, relaxed environment means it’s a great day out. Richard might not be running an award-winning restaurant or making artisan produce, but he is making Lancashire a foodie destination in a different way; by spreading awareness of barbecuing and giving people the opportunity to spend a day getting to grips with it.

richardholdenbbq.co.uk

I only spent three days in Lancashire, but what I saw completely changed my perceptions of the county. I knew it had great restaurants like Northcote, but it seemed like every little corner of the Fylde, Ribble Valley and the rest of Lancashire was home to something delicious to discover. From the world-class tasting menus of Moor Hall and rustic countryside cooking at The Parkers Arms to the tasty everyday eating to be had at The Cartford Inn and all the wonderful producers we met along the way, Lancashire has become a brilliant place to visit for anyone who’s in search of good food. The beautiful landscapes, rugged coastline and incredibly warm and friendly people simply add to the experience.

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