Eating Out: The Royal Oak, Riley Green
Three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon meant only one thing for me in a previous life . . . a football match.
Last Saturday, while rich young men were chasing a bag of wind around a pitch at the start of a new season, I was sitting having a delightful country pub lunch, rather than sipping insipid coffee in a stadium press box scribbling about the beautiful game.
Oh how times have changed for this old sports hack, although these days I still manage to get my football or rugby fix . . . but not every weekend and only as a spectator when the mood takes me.
I have chosen a sporting theme for today’s feature because the Royal Oak at Riley Green holds a special place in my affections from those early days when press benches on matchdays reverborated to the sound of typewriters.
My first club as a football writer was Blackburn Rovers and, after a Saturday home game, the Oak was the meeting place for a post-match inquest before heading home to Preston.
So stooping down to walk in through the small side door - which at sometime during the intervening decades seems to have lost its famous ‘duck or grouse’ sign - it all came flooding back.
It was very much the same, yet in some ways totally different.
For a start, in my Ewood Park days in the eighties I don’t remember there being food at this picturesque roadside inn, other than the odd bag of crisps.
I could be wrong because all we stopped for was a beer to wash away the sweet taste of pipe tobacco which always seemed to encircle Her Majesty’s Press Corps during games.
The Royal Oak is still laid out pretty much as I remember it. Some of the same olde worlde furniture is still in situ.
But now the people who run it have carried out a sympathetic renovation to take it to a whole new level.
And as for the food, well, I’ve seldom been to a country pub around these parts where the quality has been as high.
The menu isn’t the biggest, with five nibbles dishes, six starters, three pizzas - all with a northern counties flavour - 12 main courses and a couple of steaks. But there is also a specials board which for our visit included four more starters and four more mains.
The usual pub classics are in there: fish and chips, steak and ale pie, fish pie, steak and kidney suet pudding and gammon. They also do a braised ox cheek dish, Goosnargh chicken, pea and leek risotto and slow cooked lamb shank.
To begin with Mrs E went straight for the creamy garlic mushrooms on toasted brioche, with basil pesto, Parmesan and rocket (£6.95). I tried a bit and it was wonderful.
Miss E chose another from the specials board - ham hock and pea arancini (deep fried stuffed rice balls) with pea puree, a crispy quail’s egg and pea shoots and pancetta crumb (also £6.95). Again I dipped in and again I wished I’d picked it.
For me, anything featuring Bury black pudding is guaranteed to catch my eye. And their version, with baby onions cooked in ale, pancetta crumb, HP sauce and a poached egg perched on top (again £6.95), was as good as I’ve come across.
Having got off to a flier - almost like scoring a hat-trick in the first 20 minutes - we kind of guessed we were onto a winner here.
For main course we all, quite independently, chose a beef dish. Miss E decided she liked the look of the beef and ale pie made from Swaledale rare breed beef and Tarn How Brewery ale, with roast carrot and celery, onion puree, redcurrant jelly, bone marrow, mustard and coriander seeds, black onions and pepper (£13.95). The pie had melt-in-the-mouth shortcrust pastry and came with “proper” chips.
Just like my mammoth steak and kidney suet pudding (£12.95) it was so rich and so tasty.
With it being lunch, the boss headed for the sandwich menu and picked a brioche bun crammed with roasted topside of beef and with a pot of caramelised onion gravy on the side (£7.95).
Again the meat was wonderfully tender and perfectly cooked.
The desserts looked appealing, but after two courses all three of us said ‘No.’ It was only lunch after all and, had it been dinner, we might have given it a go.
All in all the Saturday afternoon saunter down Memory Lane had been a huge success and we plan to do it again when fixtures - and the referee with the credit card allows.