Out with the old, in with the new, but what a Mess

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Peter Richardson pops into an old stamping ground turned pub/eaterie and finds much to enjoy, not least a satisfactorily chewy meringue.

Customer reviews on internet websites should probably be taken with a pinch of the proverbial condiment – but the visitor who expressed surprise on entering the old Bay Horse pub on the A6 at Whittle, could not be accused of exaggerating.

What a transformation!

Where once there was to be found a typical local – of exactly the sort which, if they have not already been turned into flats, are gasping for air – is now a modern eating establishment done out in sophisticated hues of brown, beige and cream.

As an infrequent visitor, the last time several years ago, all I recall is a picture on the wall of a racehorse owned by a local resident which once actually won at Haydock Park with my money on it.

One hopes such a rarity is safely in storage somewhere.

The regular menu offers a nice if not huge selection including fillet steak, mussels and the ubiquitous burger, but the festive menu was also on offer during our visit and it was that which caught our eye at £17.95 for three courses.

We arrived three-quarters of an hour early for our 7pm appointment and were thus in time to see a sort-of mini conference going on over the list of bookings, followed by the addition of two tables to the bar area.

We would soon know why. By 8pm, the place was packed; the atmosphere brilliant.

The seasonal deal offered stilton and broccoli soup, goat’s cheese or Waldorf salad to begin, followed by turkey with trimmings, slow-roast shoulder of lamb or a nice-sounding veggie option; then traditional pud, Eton mess or cheese and biscuits.

When I say ‘goat’s cheese’, Mrs Eating Out’s warm starter choice was actually wrapped in Parma ham and served with figs and walnuts salad leaves dressed in balsamic.

Terrific, she said.

The Waldorf salad was a beefed-up affair too, or rather ‘ducked-up’.

Four cold, thin, moist slices of roast duck accompanied the traditional fruit-and-nut salad mixture and made for another winning combination.

Apologies if you’ve just had enough turkey to last you a lifetime but, so long as it’s juicy, what’s not to like?

We both chose it, and were in receipt of a single thick breast slice which gained a dual stamp of approval.

Not quite so impressive were the potatoes roasted in goose fat – you would expect them crisp and crunchy done this way, and these were not.

The other veg was exemplary – carrots; parsnip in honey and thyme; firm, fresh sprouts and a surprise portion of Dauphinoise potatoes.

The other surprise was no stuffing, but there was a little pot of cranberry sauce and a chipolata sausage wrapped in bacon.

Oh yes, and loads of gravy, making this a pretty impressive effort.

I wish I’d ordered the cheese and biscuits – which looked magnificent when it arrived at a nearby table on a wooden platter – but the Eton Mess was a well-constructed substitute with meringue bits that were authenticallyt chewy, while Mrs EO was defeated halfway through by her pleasant-enough festive pud with ice cream.

Four large glasses of house wine took us up to £53, which represented good value.

Someone has taken a big punt on Jack’s Bar, on a stretch of main road which is not short of competition.

On this evidence, though, it should reap dividends.