Saturday 10 August 2013

The Olde Spot Bistro, Higham, near Burnley

The Olde Spot Bistro

If you open a farm shop, or virtual any rural business, these days you need to have a café.  When Roaming Roosters opened, they didn't mess around. They opened the Olde Spot Bistro, which is without doubt one of the busiest restaurants I've seen in a long time.  Vast numbers are attracted by a no-nonsense menu of local produce, cooked in a straightforward, almost homely manner, but above all - and this is what is particularly notable - cooked with genuine feeling and no little skill.

Roaming Roosters is primarily a butchers, with chickens and pigs reared on-site: if you go to the toilets, at the end of the corridor a (locked) door provides a viewing platform on to the next generation of roast chicken and bacon.
Chicks not yet ready to go outside

As it's owned by livestock farmers, the menu is consequently meat heavy, but with a coy "don't tell the boys next door" fish section and a couple of token vegetarian dishes. The style tends to the homely and familiar, with a bit of a hint of the sort of dishes you last saw at a 1980s dinner party, but none of this is in a bad way.

Our starters included a really rather good prawn cocktail. Prawn cocktail has made something of a comeback in recent years, but generally in an ironic or deconstructed mode. Here it's unashamedly un-deconstructed, and in a large portion, complete with hunks of good bread. My only criticism would be the use of pre-pack butter portions, which (however many of them you're given) always look mean and are a waste of packaging - both things which really seem to be out of synch with the way Roaming Roosters and the Olde Spot Bistro operate. Odd.
Prawn cocktail
Garlic mushrooms are mushrooms baked in a cream sauce, heavily laden with garlic, and Sykes Fell cheese (a Lancashire-style cheese made with sheep's milk).  This is serious comfort food and, at the same time, not for the faint-hearted.
Creamy garlic mushrooms
A special of spicy prawns with garlic and chilli was a bit clunky, and wasn't the king prawns we had for some reason assumed it would be. Nothing a competent cook couldn't knock up themselves at home, but very tasty, and it's worth noting the prawns had by no means ended up being overcooked.
spicy prawns
For me, the star of the main courses is the burger, which to my mind is without doubt the best burger I've yet come across in Lancashire.  The beef patty itself is good meat and stays nice and juicy whether you order it rare or medium: it's also notably well-seasoned.  The burger is topped with a good mature cheddar, the excellent Roaming Roosters bacon (quite simply the best bacon I'm sure I've yet come across) and French fried onions, all in a good bap.  Good chips, some very good tomato relish and a bit of good salad round it all off.  I'm not sure why they bother with the silly squiggle of balsamic glaze though.
Terrific burger
No problem getting a properly rare burger here

A rib eye steak was a little thin for my tastes, but that's a factor of the size of the original beast and cutting the steaks to a price point. It was, however, very good steak (as you'd expect having a butcher's attached) and cooked exactly as requested.
Rib eye steak
A third main of belly pork was pretty good, but unmemorable enough that not even the photograph can really help fill in the details.
Belly pork, fried I think. Looks like a tomato or red pepper sauce?

There is a brief dessert section on the main menu, but this is supplemented with lots of special desserts on the blackboard.  Desserts are very much in comfort food mode too: large, filling, calorific and traditional.  The star for me is the really terrific jam roly poly pudding: excellent roly pudding, lots of jam and it all comes in a lake of custard. Satisfied-sigh-inducing stuff.
Jam roly poly
Sherry trifle too was spot on, very traditional and just a little sinful.
Bread and butter pudding with a whisky glaze was unfortunately on the heavy side of bread and butter puddings, and we thought the whisky glaze was lost, probably in the re-heating process.  It would be best to give it another quick brush with the glaze while it's on the pass: that wouldn't really cost much and would give customers that little gosh-I-can-actually-taste-the-whisky feeling.
Bread & butter pudding with a whisky glaze
Sticky toffee pudding was an exception that didn't thrill.  The actual pudding element was just too big a portion in relation to sauce, and in any event wasn't the best we've tasted by far. The sauce had been over-reduced and had set on the plate meaning it wasn't really sauce any longer, just some semi-set butterscotch.  (The chef, Karl Reader has since been in touch to say that my photograph isn't their sticky toffee pudding, but is in fact a steamed treacle sponge pudding and syrup.  Well, that would explain why it didn't seem such a good sticky toffee, though I think my comment about the size of the piece of pudding in relation to sauce can still stand.  Presumably another diner was thinking their treacle pudding tasted more like sticky toffee?)
Sticky toffee pudding Steamed treacle sponge pudding
Fortunately a strawberry shortcake at a more recent, summertime meal, was jolly good, though - to be hyper-critical - it would have done it no harm had the cream been whipped a tiny bit less and maybe sweetened slightly.
Strawberry shortcake
I always enjoy The Olde Spot Bistro. It does not pretend to be anything it's not and does what it does very well indeed.  I believe it's still not a year old (my first visit was in November 2012), but is incredibly popular.  Both kitchen and front of house perform very well and very efficiently, allowing tables to be turned rapidly and repeatedly to help reduce queueing: I don't think I've ever seen anywhere that has such an amazing throughput of customers. Though you never feel rushed.

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