Ruth Allan tucks into pan-fried ray nobs and brain-looking dumplings in this quirky country pub
ARRIVING at The Cartford Inn after dark, I can just about make out one of the UK’s last remaining toll bridges at the end of lane. It feels old and spooky in this corner of the world – and, if it wasn’t for the sticky accolades from Michelin and Sawdays covering the door, the pub probably looks much the same as it has for the last 400 years.
Cosy booths, open fires and a bar, serving draught beer from Hawkshead, Moorhouse and Lancaster breweries, dominate the main room. Yet The Cartford is bigger than it looks. The current owners have renovated over the last ten years or so, adding boutique bedrooms, kitchens and an upmarket dining room and outdoor patio towards the back of the building, with views of the River Wyre. It’s won them plenty of praise and fans that include national food critics.
Not sure I can finish writing this as I’m already in scampi salt heaven…
The menu is the same throughout – and cooking is brilliantly adventurous, in a reassuring way. Crispy garlic snails with cashew nut puree, for example, or cod tongue scampi with scampi salt (not sure I can finish writing this as I’ve already gone to heaven thinking about scampi salt). Other starters include sticky smoked Jacobs ladder, local cheddar and thyme muffins with warm quince compote and pan-fried ray nobs (skate cheeks). It’s quite the thrill.
Anyhow. After much bickering, we take a booth by the fire and settle on Jerusalem artichoke soufflé (£8.95) and a Lancashire game terrine (£8.50) with mulled lingonberries and a slice of onion brioche. The latter is a little dry, yet well flavoured and I like the tart berries. My Swedish friend is underwhelmed. Apparently lingonberries are as ubiquitous as milk in Stockholm.
The soufflé’s a star, though. There’s something about this combo – rich, Jerusalem artichoke flavour (I’m a convert), and dense, Nutella-ish custard, described on the menu as ‘truffle veloute’ – that envelopes and elevates. It’s extraordinary.
Mains continue to pillage the region’s finest. Rare, local venison (£18.50) comes with a Garstang Blue potato rosti (the cheese is made by Dewlay, a few miles up the road) and piccolo parsnips, as cute as they sound. There are roasted pears and a giant, herby, brain-style dumpling too. I have Goosnargh duck breast (£17.50) with star anise carrot puree and quince jus. We don’t try the glazed bacon knuckle or anything from the ‘premediated gluttony’ menu which includes seafood from nearby Fleetwood and a massively reasonable cote de boeuf at £55.