Monday 27 August 2012

The Cartford Inn, Little Eccleston, Lancashire

The Cartford Inn is a country pub on the south side of the Cartford toll bridge over the River Wyre, near Great Eccleston. It has been in the hands of its current owners for about five years now: they (or previous owners?) closed the micro-brewery of which one occasionally still reads mention, and have extended the building substantially to include additional hotel accommodation and a new, riverside dining room, with views over the Fylde countryside, and several (modern) windmills, to the Bleasdale fells in the distance.

The decor of the main bar area is a little, shall we say individual? Garish some might say, but the new riverside dining room is rather more calmly decorated, as well as being brighter thanks to the large picture windows.  Admittedly, I've only been at lunchtimes, but it does seem to lack a bit of atmosphere.

The immediate impression is of a nice, spruced-up place - really quite big now, with a log fire at one end of the original bar area.  A remarkably long bar suggests there is perhaps still some drinking trade, though when I've been, everyone has seemed to be there for the food.

Sometimes staff are really good, other times they're ... well ... a bit rubbish: the inevitable problem of relying on essentially amateur young people in a rural area.

The food tends to the simpler end, but that's good as it means it's well within the kitchen's abilities.  Indeed the odd disappointment has been with the more interesting-sounding dishes.  Stick to the simpler things and you'll do well.

At a recent meal, a starter of Curried leek, Lancashire cheese and crème fraiche tartlet had a good filling, with each of the flavours well balanced.  I had expected a small pastry tartlet, or a wedge of a larger tart, but evidently the kitchen isn't confident in its pastry skills, as it was served in filo pastry.  I thought proper pastry would be an improvement.  On this occasion, I wasn't over-impressed by the quality of the accompanying salad leaves.
Curried leek, Lancashire cheese and crème fraiche tartlet

An oxtail and beef suet pudding is the self-proclaimed signature dish, and is a jolly good example, with a pretty thin suet crust and a rich, deep filling, though the cold beetroot salad, with large hunks of beetroot, is a bit of an odd accompaniment.

But for me, the fish pie is the standout dish: it's almost deconstructed in that there are lots of salmon, prawns and some white fish in a very rich cream sauce that's gratinated, then topped with a large quenelle of good mash, which itself is glazed with Lancashire cheese. Without the starter, the bit of dressed salad on the side would have been welcome, for it helps cut the richness. But as it was identical to that served with the starter, it jarred a little for me.  On previous visits, the salad's been better, but I suspect it's always out of a packet. Some excellent, ungreasy and clean-tasting battered onion rings were a side dish I'd ordered separately.
Fish pie
There is a tidy, but unexciting wine list that has me, as a wine-lover, ordering a pint of one of the nicely kept ales, including one ("Giddy Kipper") brewed for them by the Bowland Brewery in the nearby Ribble Valley.

Desserts (which I've not had here for some time) suggest a kitchen that knows it's reached its limitations, as sticky toffee pudding is bought in from the Cartmel Village Shop company, and ice creams come from the local Wallings of Cockerham.  Crème brûlée, in varying flavour incarnations, appear, however, to be homemade and pretty good.

Nice view from the dining room

 Cartford Inn on Urbanspoon

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