Arriving late to a works night out at Preston Wetherspoons, I found my colleagues heartily tucking into the chain’s regular Friday special offer; fish and chips. The conversation was familiar. Was fish a wise choice in a pub, or should it be solely (if you’ll pardon the pun) the domain of the chip shop, where no-one can do it batter? Better.
The morning after, and incapable of fending for myself in the kitchen, we headed for a lunch at the Derby Arms, near Longridge.
A gloriously sunny springtime Saturday saw adventurous diners already seated at outside tables, clearly wanting to make the most of this long overdue Lancashire warmth. Behind them, Beacon Fell and the Bleasdale Moors roll majestically, and serve as a reminder to walk off whatever you’re about to feast upon.
Although we had visited the pub in its previous guise, it had since been bought, refurbished and relaunched by The Seafood Pub Company, whose portfolio includes eateries in Clitheroe, Great Eccleston, Claughton, Blackburn and Burnley.
We were quickly seated by the very welcoming staff and provided with menus which left us spoilt for choice.
And there are further options, but without my glasses, I was spotted squinting at a specials board by an attentive waiter who promptly saved me the effort. Sitting me back at my table, he rolled off the entire list, with the air of someone who had been in the kitchen all morning, revising and sampling.
Three or four decision-changes later, I picked Coquille St Jacques to start for £7.95.
A collection of small scallops baked with white wine, cream and cheese and served traditionally in a scallop shell, propped up by a small hill of sea salt. The combination was rich and delicious and scallops were plentiful, juicy and fresh.
My girlfriend selected salt cod and bacon croquettes with paprika aioli for £5.95. The breadcrumbs were crispy and golden and, within, there were plenty of chunks of salt cod, mixed with the bacon and potatoes, perfect for dipping into the aioli.
Our waiter’s conversational style was relaxed and informative, even describing the portion sizes of some of the starters.
Given a day’s notice, the restaurant will cook whatever you ask for, assuming it’s in season, and there was no doubt that the team of chefs were producing the very freshest of ingredients to our exacting requests.
Since our previous visit, the pub has been completely refurbished with a comfortable classy interior, traditional flagged floors and rustic wood panelling on the walls. Dark paint made for intimate dining areas, but windows throughout ensured a light contrast in the three dining rooms.
I chose a Lancashire cheese soufflé with cheese sauce, tomato salad and fries as my main course, a reasonably priced £7.95 from the substantial lunch menu. This was a tasty and filling meal, and I was impressed with the fluffy soufflé and delicious cheese sauce for chip-dipping
After more advice, my girlfriend chose a dressed East Coast crab, with lemon mayo and sea salt croutes for £9.50 from the specials menu, which was actually a starter, but again, anything was possible. With fries and salad on the side, the crab meat was tasty and plentiful and complemented beautifully by the mayo and croutes.
Perhaps it was the near-colossal al la carte, lunch and specials choices, that made the dessert menu look a little weedy. From five choices, the Mrs chose a passion fruit crème brulee served with tiny Vienesse whirls, and allowed me a spare spoon to “share”. This rounded off the meal beautifully at £5.95.
With drinks, a meal for a shade under £50 won’t render the chippy redundant, and in any case, I didn’t see a battered sausage anywhere on the menu. We’ll definitely be returning to these splendid surroundings.
The Derby arms, Thornley, near Longridge