Category: Real Food

Manchester Evening News April 8th 2005, On a higher scale

The three Fishes has come on a lot since those crisps and soda days.

A bag of crisps, with a blue twist of salt, and a sickly cream soda. The windows of the Austin Mayflower as steamed up as my national health specs. Not that rubbing a viewing hole did any good. All the soggy fields between the pub car park and Pendle Hill were wreathed in the same damp mist. Parents would be back soon, though, and we could chug home in time for Sing Something Simple on the Light Programme.

That was the sixties childhood that was. My last visit to The Three fishes. Hostelries in those days were as welcoming as the workhouse to youngsters. What a contrast on a bright March day in another century.

Across the pub from us, Zoe and Ben and some other young dude in a qGap baseball cap were tucking into corn fed Goosnargh chicken and debating the merits of Lyth Valley damson jelly and whipped custard over homemade vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. Their mums were discussing Jamie Oliver.

The Fishes has undergone a remarkable transformation since taken over Nigel Haworth and the team from the nearby Michelin-starred Northcote Manor. It has become a sort of Lancashire food gastropub theme park. It is not the sort of pub you’d turn up to a cosy ale, though Thwaites, Moorhouse and Bowland Brewery provide plenty of hand- pumped choice.

This is a place for serious, casual eating with a nod to all the tireless, dedicated regional producers (listed with a map on the back of the menu, no less). That is its strength and its weakness, of which more anon.

Physically, it is daunting. It is avast, flat, airy dining space, serving 130 covers, with plenty of room between tables; stone arches and discreet partitions attempt to break up the four-squareness in vain. We had traipsed to the far end, by the open-plan log fire, then found, to order, we had to march back to the distant bar with our table number.

Manchester Evening News April 8th 2005, On a higher scale

When I say ‘We’ I mean I. Set Aggie Grimshaw next to a fire and there‘s no budging her. I had enlisted her help in evaluating the Lancshireness of the experience.

A weaving shed veteran, who knows her warp from her weft, steeped in a heritage that encompasses Sabden Treacle Mines and Witch Trials at the drop of a pointy hat, she was meant to be by benchmark.

What a rebuff, then – the first of many – when she spurned my offer of a sarsaparilla aperitif with a “Surely they’ve got pinot grigio?”

All around us, exposed brick walls, hung the icons of good, traditionally-produced food worshipped by the proprietors. Cheese producers, shrimpers, suckling pig rearers, all caught in photographic aspic. Above our heads the legendary Reg Johnson learned over a barn door as hundreds of his Goosnargh ducks strutted their stuff for the camera.

“Its like being in a church,” said Aggie. ”Only it smells better.”

Strangely, it reminded me of those democratic Californian eateries, formulaic but down-home wholesome, though, unlike them, the Three Fishes is light on vegetarian options.

I tried to persuade Aggie to test one of these – Buttered Crumpet, Bob’s Organic day Old Lancashire Curd, Cress and Ascroft’s Beetroot Salad, but she was having none of it, plumping for Three Fishes soup, Wicked Mayonnaise, Aged Butler’s Cheese, Garlic Croutons (£6). She approved of its “exuberant fishiness”( She’s been watching Rick Stein again), but felt that the cheese didn’t melt in well enough. I found it too lemony.

My starter, on its own, would have served a trencherman as a sturdy lunch after the ascent of Pendle. It will take a whole paragraph to set down its delights. Here goes:

Elm Wood Platter of House Cured Meats, Pickled Brisket, Ox Tongue, Organic Honey Roast Ham, Wallings Farm Collared Pork, Homemade Pickles, Piccalilli, Organic Bread.

It cost £8.50 and was an absolute delight, restoring my faith in ham and revealing brisket’s untapped gastronomic potential. The pickles were as sour-sweet sharp as pickles should be, the bread springy and moist.

It cried out for a pint, but Aggie, warming to her task, was keen to try the Douro Touriga Franca Crooked River – a smooth, mulberryish table red from Portugal’s port-producing heartland. It was excellent value at £22.50 and its colourful, painted label reminded me of one helter-skelter holiday drive through that river valley’s cliff-hanging vineyards. In the absence of tripe dishes, I suggested Hindle Wakes for Aggie’s main. She remained her own woman.

Off the specials, she selected, for £9.50, Roast Rib of Bowland Beef, yellow beet puree, purple sprouting broccoli, red wine jus. (“They mean gravy, don’t they? Having themselves on.”) I’d ordered it medium rare, but was forced to embark on the Long March again, to alter that to rare. As it was, it came in two slabs, one delectably pink, one browner and chewier, neither quite living up to the promise of properly hung mature beef. The yellow beet puree was a curious, spicy swede/turnip mix.

For the same price, I fared better with the Hindle Wakes.

The famous food historian Dorothy Hartley claimed the dish was brought over as ‘Hen de la Wake’ by Flemish weavers, who settled in Lancashire in the 14th century and also introduced clogs. Other associate it with Stanley Houghton’s classic Lancashire play of the name, which the Royal Exchange revived the other year.

Traditionally, it was made with prunes and a boiled hen of a certain age. Mine was two hunks of more sprightly fowl, wrapped in bacon, stuffed with plum and basil, served in a broth teeming with button mushrooms and pearl barley.

The gut-swelling barley transported me back, to those filling soups of my Lancashire childhood. Which I suppose was the aim. Aggie wondered why we still needed to stuff when there are risottos to be had.

For pudding I had a toothsome, curranty Lancashire Curd Tart with organic Lemon Cream, while Aggie wolfed down the vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce (both puds £4.50). By the time we staggered out, the rain had swept in with a vengeance. Just like old times.

SEASONAL FOOD PROMOTIONS

“THE CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN GOOD FARMING, GOOD NUTRITION AND GREAT GASTRONOMY IS ABSOLUTE, AND WONDERFUL”
Colin Tudge, So Shall We Reap

Life and food was always intimately entwined with the seasons, survival depended on the skills to take advantage of the growing cycle. The knowledge to understand when to plant and harvest to ensure food was available for as long as possible was of paramount importance, skills were developed to smoke, salt, preserve and store food for the lean times, or to take advantage of times of plenty. The year turned into a cycle that was driven by the seasons.

SEASONAL FOOD PROMOTIONS

Over the years we have lost this understanding and these skills and we believe that the relationship between food and the seasons, may now not be a matter of life and death, but it is equally as important to our heritage as it was for our ancestors.

The simple fact is that food tastes better in season, local produce is better to eat than food that has been raised artificially or that has travelled halfway around the world. It is a treat and a privilege to enjoy food when it is in season – something to look forward to and enjoy the variety the seasons gives to us.

SEASONAL FOOD PROMOTIONS

At The Three Fishes the food philosophy is to be true to our heritage and use the best local produce available in season. At different times throughout the year Nigel working closely with our farmers and producers, selects and showcases one local produce developing dishes that bring out the best of these products for our customers to enjoy.

The Metro Magazine – Manchester

Regional, local, seasonal: chef Nigel Haworth and the team at Northcote Manor know the qualities it values in the produce it uses, and proudly list its Lancashire suppliers on the restaurant’s website. Its new pub venture adheres to the same principles. The walls of the Three Fishes are hung with Food Heroes-style photographs of the producer who supply cheese, game, vegetables and bacon, and a map on the menu shows whereabouts in the North-West they’re are located.

The manor has a Michelin star and a helipad, and through Lancastrian dishes are a speciality, they’re done smartly and priced accordingly – you might get Goosnargh corn-fed duck with spicy white cabbage, parsley and garden cress purée and red beet juices for £23.50. The Three Fishes (near Whalley, between Blackburn and Clitheroe) is a different proposition. It’s supposed to be a pub where drinkers are just as welcome as diners. There’s a family-friendly policy and no smoking throughout, and thought it’s smart and clean with stone floors, exposed brickwork, an open fire and the odd richly swagged curtain. It’s somehow lacks the comfort of a real pub. It’s also surprisingly cavernous, with room after room providing space from 130 covers.

The food is simple, with a significant minority of it constructed rather than cooked: potted beef with marrowbone, black pudding with mustard and onion relish, sausage and mash, stuffed pig’s trotters. It’s very meaty, perhaps because there’s so much great animal protein to be has in this part of the world, and veggie have to make do with a blackboard option, sandwiches or a crumpet with curd cheese, cress and beetroot.

 

The Metro Magazine - Manchester

As at many other, lesser, pubs that do food, you give your table number and order at the bar, with cutlery food delivered to your table in due course. It’s not a foolproof procedure and caused some mild confusion when we visited during the opening weekend, but our starters arrived without a problem. The house special, a selection of cold cut with prickles and bread (£8.50), look great served on a thick slab of elm wood with wedges of chewy, organic, seeded bread. The ox tongue was light and mild, slices of collared pork were reminiscent in the best possible way of slices juicy leftover roast, and the piccalilli had the right combination of a crisp texture and unearthly yellow colour. The Morecambe Bay shrimps (6.50) were potted on butter and mace, and served warm with a toasted muffin. Rich, sweet and nutty, these were the real treat.

A mix-up with the dishes delayed our main course for a while, and my friend was disappointed with his 9oz rump steak (13.95). The menu boasts of a five-weeks maturation period and gives us so much information that we can track down the farmer responsible but, for all this pedigree, the meat wasn’t hugely well flavoured. It was cooked perfectly, though, and served with good chip (not thin frites) and a buttery Béarnaise sauce. My avocado and chicken salad (£7.90) was crisp and full of interest, thought the creamy dressing didn’t have the promised herbal notes that would have brought it all together.

Puddings were a very good orange and chocolate mini-pud served with clotted cream (£4.50) and a simple, pleasing dish of smooth home-made vanilla ice cream with warm chocolate sauce (£4.50), though you can go for a selection of Lancashire cheeses, damson jelly or a curd tart.

Like the produce it uses, The Three Fishes has care, passion and expertise behind it, and the reputation of the Northcote Manor team is so good that the place was absolutely packed out when we visited. In the first few months of operation, a quiet lunchtime may show off all the produce to even better advantage.