There was a time when going out for a meal to a local pub meant you had a choice of classic dishes such as lasagne, steak and kidney pie and scampi and chips.
Now, it seems, such simple sustenance is no longer exciting enough for many of us and, no doubt under the influence of Adam Richman’s massively popular ‘Man v Food’ series, demand for such delights as a 10ins tower of a ‘gourmet burger’ is soaring.
Grills, ‘gastro pubs’ and diners are on the rise and popping up in the most unexpected of places.
Take Riley Green, for example.This tiny hamlet in the shadow of Hoghton Tower sits alongside the Leeds-Liverpool canal where the former Boatyard offered a lovely cold tipple of a summer’s afternoon watching the barges gently glide by. Now completely refurbished and under the name ‘Grill and Grain at The Boatyard’, you can enjoy what they describe as “the perfect combination of wood-fuelled grill and micro-brewing grain”.
Intrigued to find out more, I took two old friends on a cold but clear Saturday night and found it busy, warm and very welcoming. The first thing you see as you arrive is the fully-functioning microbrewery in all its stylish stainless steel and oak glory. This unique feature sits opposite an incredibly well-stocked bar - the extensive drinks menu includes anything from speciality gins and vodkas to cocktails, non-alcoholic fruit fusions and of course their very own craft ales.
Making a mental note to concentrate more on the drinks side another time, perhaps back by the barges in the summer, we concentrated on our own task for the evening - the food! As we studied the menu the atmosphere was chatty and the restaurant was almost full. The decor is an interesting mix of country pub and what could probably be described as industrial, with comfortable upholstered seating alongside feature wire light fittings and the stainless steel of the open kitchen where you can watch the chef’s battling the beef on the blazing wood-fuelled grill.
We were given plenty of time to choose and then the food arrived just at the right time as the wine at our table had begun to flow. Between us we had whitebait with roast garlic mayo, beer marinated and smoked chicken wings, and smoked fish bombs. Simply but well-presented, everything was piping hot and obviously very fresh. My fish bombs had a beautifully thin and crispy batter and the filling was soft, light and tasty; tartar sauce adding a lovely bit of sharpness. There was plenty of approval coming from the pals too and I managed to pinch a whitebait which was light, delicate and very fresh and crispy with a chunk of roasted lemon on the side.
After a comfortable break came the main courses and the quality continued. Challenging myself, I had chosen the cowboy burger which came with smoky beef brisket chilli, jalapenos and Monterey Jack cheese. Huge, hot and juicy with just the right amount of cheese, the burger was thick and lean and the fries light golden and crispy. The brisket chilli was a little chunky for my liking meaning I didn’t get the flavour of it with every bite but there was a good kick from the jalapenos and some added pickles provided a crunch, cutting through the richness of the meat perfectly. It was utterly delicious and I am proud (or should that be ashamed?) to say the behemoth didn’t beat me!
All the other plates were left more or less clean too. A ‘dirty’ burger with pulled pork and Monterey Jack was all but eaten and a ‘Not from the Grill’ beer marinated, smoked and roasted half chicken left nothing but the bones. Managing another taste, it was beautifully moist with a subtle, smokey flavour. Our side order to share of beer battered onion rings were light, golden and crispy with chunky, sweet real onion slices.
Dessert menus dispatched, we couldn’t resist the chocolate fudge sundae but with us all already feeling a little gluttonous we asked for it with three spoons! Served in a large jam jar with layers of chocolate ice cream, brownie pieces, chocolate chunks, fudge sauce and marshmallow, it was gooey, sweet and utterly indulgent. In the words of my eloquent friend, “Each spoonful was a discovery!”
Suddenly we were the last in the restaurant but the bar was still quite busy and we never once felt rushed by the staff whose service couldn’t be faulted.
The food isn’t expensive for the quality (around £10 a burger) and if you fancy splashing out more and making a night of it, they even offer en-suite rooms which are dog-friendly. Perfect for walking off all that food in the countryside.
Grill & Grain at the Boatyard, Hoghton
Tel: 01254 209841
Value for money: 4.5