Saturday, 8 January 2011

My birthday treat - and review - at The Longridge Restaurant

As you know, it was my birthday on Thursday. I managed to secure a babysitter to look after the children and planned a trip out. After looking around at the local eating establishments on various review sites, an old favourite stuck out at me - The Longridge Restaurant. We'd been there a few times over the last nine years but hadn't been for ages - children and the more limited funds that part time working brings put paid to that. They had an offer for a 3 course meal and wine for £50 so I rang to ask if it was still on. Unfortunately, I got an unsatisfactory response and was told to ring back on Thursday! I fired off an email to them saying I wasn't happy with the service. Imagine to my surprise, a couple of hours to receive a call from the head chef, Chris Bell, ringing from his holiday in Ireland to apologise for the confusion and offering to sort it out. An email exchange a few days later with a lovely lady at the restaurant and we were booked in for the night of my birthday.

Off we went on the night up to Longridge. The restaurant is never going to get much passing trade - it's not located on a main road, more of a side road (although there is a brown sign directing you to it from a main road) so really, you have to know it's there - and its reputation - to make the trip. The situation is odd, a 19th Century stone cottage, surrounded by houses and just by the exit of a large holiday park; incidentally, where the children spent a happy week with grandparents in August. The restaurant is the original restaurant opened by Paul Heathcote in the 1990s. It used to have a Michelin star and everything, but more recently has fallen on harder times and lost its star in 2007. Paul Heathcote had even put it on the market to sell it when the head chef that rang me returned after running a local pub with his wife, who runs front of house. The place has been done up since we were last there but remains in character with the building. The style is what they call modern British with a distinctly local twist - lots of black pudding, Goosnargh chicken and duck, that sort of thing.

It was busier than it has been in other visits when it arrived, which is good for the first Thursday in January. We sat down in the bar and perused the menus. The lady serving us - who was the lady I'd been emailing, it became obvious - told us we could have 50% off anything off the main menu. And that included the gourmet menus.

All of a sudden, we had a sudden rush of blood to the head and decided to have the ten course gourmet menu. Yes, that's right - ten. From being an evening when we were out to have a quiet meal to celebrate my birthday, we were looking forward to a very special evening. Trying a gourmet or tasting menu is something I had always wanted to do but the cost was seemingly beyond us. I think my husband thought it was the price on the menu was per table, not per person (!) but still, he stayed true and didn't tap me up for some of the bill at the end.

The first course arrived whilst we were still sat in the bar. Two canapes each; a Lancashire cheese fritter with apple jelly and a Morecambe Bay shrimp tartlet. The tartlet was absolutely outstanding and flavoured with a little dill, one of my favourite herbs. I'd taken the photo of this before we had decided on the gourmet menu and luckily, I'd snapped it on my phone. Apologies for any of these photos being a bit on the blurry side.

We were then taken through to our table and this is the view that greeted me when I sat down:

All a tiny bit intimidating. We were muttering "start from the outside, work in". We were a bewildering array of bread. I chose brown bread with onion, husband chose white bread with brie. I made the better choice - my bread smelt and tasted oniony and the crust was beautifully crunchy against the softer crumb.

Next to arrive was the soup. On the menu, it was billed as butternut squash soup, which I know the husband was looking forward to as he had that very dish, with truffle oil, there once and it is one of his abiding food memories. What we were presented with was a jug of mushroom soup, and a tiny soup bowl containing artichoke purée and toasted pine nuts. I only took a picture once I'd poured soup in.

This didn't disappoint. I love mushroom soup anyway but it was really nice with the artichoke purée stirred into it. The pinenuts made a real difference to the flavour - they were what I called just the right side of burnt - in that they were browned but not bitter. There was still some left in the jug so I had some on its own; still nice, but better with the accompaniments.

Our next course was a fish based course. Gravadlax of salmon, Morecambe Bay shrimps, horseradish (I think), creme fraiche, dill and marinated cucumber with a pear and apple chutney.

I've made gravadlax before but this, of course was so much better than mine! (Funny, that..... ) The salmon was so tender, It didn't need to be cut, it just pulled apart. We worked out the horseradish flavour; the husband said he thought he didn't like horseradish but I'd seen Nigel Slater saying only a few days before that if you think you dislike it, try the fresh root rather than the stuff out of jars. This was far more subtle. The pear and apple chutney was a nice change - much spicier than anything else on the plate but also lending a sweetness to the dish. I liked it but husband didn't rate the chutney as part of the dish.

Toddling along nicely now and yet another fish based dish arrived. Here was where I nearly failed you. It was scallops which I adore and I was just about to plunge my fork in the dish, when I remembered I was meant to be photographing it and grabbed my phone.

So, this is seared scallops with wilted spinach, artichoke purée, cranberries and pickled celeriac. Now, I've had scallops with apple before now, but never cranberries (they were cooked, a bit like cranberry sauce). The sweetness went well with the scallops. The pickled celeriac added a sour note. I loved it but husband didn't like it as much as the previous courses. A qualified success, I think.

Then, we had the proper fish course, proper fish knives and forks and all.

This is roasted turbot, an it's on top of some little gem lettuce and slivers of Cumbrian ham, topped with a slow cooked duck's egg. The yellow you can see at the top is the yolk oozing out of the egg. The turbot was much firmer than I thought it would be, but then I guess that's because of the roasting. I don't think I'd ever had turbot before so it could very well be that it has a firmer texture. The ham made things salty but the real star was the egg. Runny oozy, only just cooked and a really rich flavour. This wasn't something I had expected to be wild about but it was incredible.

Then we got a risotto. Again, we deviated from the menu which had advertised a Morecambe Bay shrimp risotto but instead they brought us this:

It's a mushroom risotto, with shavings of Parmesan, toasted hazelnuts and truffle oil. Now, I'm always impressed by a good risotto. I always manage to colour it slightly but this was perfectly creamy - almost like a savoury rice pudding. The smell from the truffle oil was amazing. I'd never thought of putting hazelnuts on a risotto and didn't think it would work but it did and added to the earthiness of the risotto. The shavings of Parmesan were seriously good too. The truffle oil lingered in the mouth for quite some time, even after the risotto was long gone.

I didn't feel too bad by this point but realised the main event was coming up next and I was feeling slightly full. A slightly bigger portion this time - the main course.


This was duck breast with seared foie gras, celery and celeriac, potatoes, cherries with a cherry reduction. Now. I hadn't expected to get foie gras with this dish and I've never had it before, to my knowledge anyway. I'm not sure if it was mentioned on the menu, but if it was, I didn't notice it. I do have issues with the way that a lot of foie gras is produced (and I've since tried to find out how the foie gras used here is produced, but so far, no word) but I thought I would try it anyway. And you know what? I liked it. It didn't taste livery at all to me, just meaty with a really light texture. The duck was pink, as you can tell, and melted in the mouth, it was so tender. I could however feel myself filling up fast so I decided to leave some of the dish although I ate all the duck and the foie gras. Husband, who likes to eat things together in a set combination, nicked some of the celeriac and celery me off me. I didn't feel the potatoes added too much here so I left one of those too.

Phew, we were getting there. I remembered at this point to text my babysitting friend to let her know we might be later than planned - after all, it was 10.15pm by this point and they'd sat us down nearly two hours before. We were then given a little pre-dessert.

It was coconut mousse, topped with cherry sorbet. The mousse was extremely light and a lot more subtle in flavour than I imagined it would be whereas the sorbet was really fruity and sweet. It was a lovely combination (and I don't normally like cherries that much) and it was lovely to have something so light at this point.

Nearing the end now, after the pre-dessert comes..... dessert of course. We knew it was chocolate tart and we'd seen some other diners eating fairly large slices of it, but thankfully they were eating off the main menu and when ours arrived, it was substantially smaller. Good job, or I might have burst.

The tart came with a passion fruit sorbet and the smear is a rosemary caramel. The caramel was salty and I thought quite subtly flavoured with rosemary, which I couldn't necessarily taste combined with other parts of the dish. The passion fruit sorbet was fruity but had a citrussy edge as it tasted a bit like lemon curd to me. You really needed to eat the tart with either the sorbet, the caramel or both as it was like eating solid chocolate and thus, was not particularly sweet and very rich. I'm so glad the portion was relatively small. Not being a chocoholic - although I do appreciate good chocolate - I would be happy with a portion of this size after a meal off the main menu.

We were, at last, on the home stretch. Cheese and biscuits. Having seen it on the menu, I hope that it included my favourite blue cheese, Blacksticks Blue, which is produced a few miles away from Longridge.

I wasn't disappointed! A sliver of Blacksticks Blue, the round one is Kidderton Ash (made by the same producer as the Blacksticks) and finally, there was some Cornish brie. There was also some celery, grapes and some fruitcake as well as the biscuits. Husband doesn't like any blue cheese but he did try the Blacksticks and then donated his to me. Hurrah! He said it was the best blue cheese he'd tasted in the same way that it was the best kick in the teeth he'd had! The brie didn't taste of much, but I put this down to the temperature at which it has to be stored and thus can't be ripened.

Phew, we were done. But were we? We ordered a couple of coffees and oh no, they brought out some petits fours!

Left to right, there was cocoa-covered candied peel, chocolate truffles with a white chocolate covering, a prune and armagnac tart, and some fudge. I tried all of it - the truffles and fudge were gorgeous but I wasn't wild about the prune and armagnac tart. Strangely enough, we didn't really finish these - but this was technically our eleventh course and we were fading fast. 

Whilst we were waiting for our coffees, the head chef Chris came to speak to us to apologise again for the mix-up and to check we had enjoyed the meal. I thought it was a nice touch for him to make an effort at the end of service to come to see us. Big thumbs up to him and his team for producing some outstanding food and a birthday experience I'll never forget. 

So, that was my birthday treat. Dull, wasn't it?! I was trying to think if I had a favourite dish and I really can't choose one! It was all good. Some of the combinations were definitely not ones I'd have normally tried but it was good to put ourselves in the hands of the chef and eat things together we might not have otherwise selected from a menu, and found that they worked. I'm glad I took pictures of everything, even if I did look a bit of a nerd snapping with my phone every time food arrived. I had intended to tweet the odd bit but I was worried about my battery so I saved it all up until we got home when I twitpicced them all to twitter. 

(I have not been paid to write this review. I have chosen to do this off my own back, because I enjoyed the experience so much)

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