The humble cockle may be harvested in vast amounts along the Lancashire shoreline but it appears on local menus about as often as the Loch Ness Monster.
I have enjoyed a few from a polystyrene tub during a day at the seaside, and from a jar with a pint at the pub. But it is rare to be confronted with a cockle in a formal dining setting hereabouts.
Full marks then to the Red Cat at Whittle-le-Woods for coming up with an affordable lunchtime set menu of considerable inventiveness, including the cockle and caper risotto with which I began.
The Red Cat was once a traditional cottage-style pub which I believe had the distinction of becoming the first pub in Lancashire to be converted into a pizzeria.
Since 2006 it has been a high-end restaurant offering meals which most people would describe as expensive.
But you get what you pay for and six years is a fair time to survive if you’re not doing things right.
The seasonal lunch menu (Wednesday to Saturday) offers the risottos – wild mushroom is currently the other one – as starter or main portions. The choice of five other starters includes an open tomato tart with basil pesto, rocket and Parmesan salad; smoked salmon rillette with beetroot, lemon crème fraiche and coriander salad; and the pumpkin and ginger soup chosen by Mrs Eating Out.
My risotto was truly a class act, creamy rice bearing cockles of typical texture and tartness, combined with delicate tiny capers. And, appropriately for this seashore dish, there were strands of samphire adding colour and some honest, down-to-earth goodness.
The pumpkin and ginger soup, with a little goat’s cheese foam adding interest, had pine nuts in it as well and proved to be just the job on a day with an autumnal nip in the air. And we both enjoyed the warm bread rolls baked in the shape of mini loaves.
Mrs EO followed up with confit duck leg with garlic mash, puy lentils and a red wine jus.
Your medical advisers may not want you on a regular diet of anything that is slow-cooked in duck fat but the result is heaven on a plate. Another terrific, flavoursome dish.
I had the Goosnargh chicken breast. Chickens must get very nervous when they discover they live in Goosnargh but if you gotta go it may as well be on a bed of crushed potatoes with spinach and a creamy wild mushroom sauce.
I was done, save for a glass of sauvignon blanc, while Mrs EO made short work of a portion of apple and pear crumble for an extra fiver.
We were served efficiently and pleasantly by a man with the most authentic French accent in Whittle and were mightily pleased to be there. Be aware that the bar prices encourage moderation and that there is a 10% service charge which you can opt out of if you have the nerve.
The food, though, was outstanding.
: The Red Cat, Blackburn Road, Whittle-le-Woods, PR6 8LL