I have long been an admirer of Nigel Haworth’s Clog and Billycock and have had the pleasure a fair few times. Nigel is Chef Proprietor of Northcote, the Michelin starred restaurant, hotel and cookery school in Lancashire. The Northcote Group also own Ribble Valley Inns (RVI) a small group of high quality rural pubs which focus on good food made using carefully sourced local ingredients.
RVI menus aim to capture the essence of a region through its traditional food and drink. Lancashire favourites such as lamb hotpot, Morecambe Bay Shrimps, black peas, Lancashire cheese, proper piccalilli and pork scratchings have all been brought back to basics to taste like they’re supposed to, when they were made in family homes and not mass produced in factories.
Now I’m pleased to discover that RVI have finally arrived in Cheshire with The Nag’s Head at Haughton – although they’ve picked an area so rural it’s the kind of place you’d head for when you fancy a drive out into the country or are en route further down south.
Building a menu around local seasonal ingredients is not a new thing in Cheshire. My work with Taste Cheshire has given me the opportunity to discover some fabulous local pubs doing just that; David Mooney at all his New Moon Pub Co venues, George & Dragon in Holmes Chapel andRing o Bells in the rural part of Chester to name but a few. Even the multi award winning Yew Tree in Bunbury, only a mere 10 minute stumble away from The Nag’s Head, is able to point to the very field their vegetables came from that morning.
However, I’m a fan of RVI , so have been keen to find out what Nigel Haworth makes of Cheshire’s food heritage. It’s been lovely over the past few months to follow tweets from local cheese makers, honey producers, breweries and The Cheshire Smokehouse excited by a visit from Nigel and his team sourcing ingredients for the menu. ‘Locally sourced’ is not a buzz phrase for the big man, it’s a fundamental part of his work.
We were invited to have a bit of Sunday lunch the weekend before The Nag’s Head officially opened on June 9th. It’s had a complete refurbishment, exposing genuine oak beams and stone brick walls which they’ve cosied up with subtly equine themed furniture. As in the other RVI venues, framed images of local producers are dotted about on various walls and on place mats.
Lunch was complimentary but we were asked to pay for drinks. I couldn’t resist their house cocktail ‘Bloomin Nag’ a Bloom Gin based concoction with strawberry liqueur. It was nicely balanced with a smooth taste like Vimto and an assassins grip so stealthy I didn’t realise it had got to me until I asked my husband if I could try some of his ‘Mone Barrow’ with my bread.
We’d scoured the menu before we got there but they’d made the sensible ‘opening weekend’ decision to offer a limited Sunday menu rather than the whole shaboodle so we’ll have to return for dishes such as ‘buttermilk turnips with smokehouse pork loin’ and ‘Slow cooked venison shoulder with smoked almond crumb’.
There’s usually a devoted children’s menu, but this time our kids were offered smaller versions of the main menu, ours were thrilled to be offered their first ever prawn cocktail. I love the free RVI kiddies puzzle pack (The Ribble Rabble) which includes things like Nigel’s recipe for biscuits and word searches based around healthy vegetables and local specialities.
Husband started with ‘Angus Beef Tartare with Cauliflower and Horseradish, Roast
Mone Barrow Marrowbone and Sourdough toast’(£7.50) The cauliflower was served as both a puree and pickled shavings. I rarely get flummoxed by culinary processes but to successfully shave a cauliflower is no mean feat. There must have been some kind of blanching and brining which show Northcote influences. The tartare was topped with a quail yolk in the shell which caused me to obsess a bit over what they did with all the quail egg whites.
My starter of ‘Burts Cheese Eggy Bread with Heirloom Tomatoes, Sweetheart Cabbage and Split Lemon Dressing’ (£6.50) also showed highbrow technical influences. The shredded cabbage was lightly pickled whilst several varieties of tomato were served roasted, pickled or dried and preserved. The slab of eggy bread was light and fluffy and I was glad they’d not mucked about too much with Claire Burt’s excellent semi-soft blue cheese which droopily sat above the rest like a mottled high court judge on a warm day.
As he’d opted for beef to start and didn’t fancy battered hake or poached chicken, husband chose Lancashire Hotpot and pickled red cabbage (£13) It looks like you can take the chef out of Lancashire… but this, of course, was as good as it gets. If aliens came down and demanded that humans nominated someone to show them the best example of a Lancashire Hotpot, we’d pretty much nominate Nigel’s - although I suspect my husband would have preferred a portion twice as big.
Traditional Roast Beef brought some of the nicest beef I have ever tasted. When I told my husband that Nigel had chosen to keep to his Morecambe butcher rather than source Cheshire beef, he adopted his smugface. He likes to spend many a long winter night telling me that Lancashire vegetables and beef are better than anything produced in Cheshire because of the perfect growing conditions and alluvium soil (zzzz) It seems Nigel agrees. Whilst the beef was remarkable, the rest was only ok; potatoes a bit pallid, Yorkshire pudding a bit soggy and cauliflower cheese. If it wasn’t for the mange tout the dish might have been more beige than a Gregg’s shop window.
I decided to forgo pudding but my daughter tucked into strawberry sundae with tiny perfect meringues (made with quail egg whites perhaps?), chocolate brownie and strawberry ice cream from Manchester based Ginger’s Comfort Emporium. I am a fan of theirs but my 6yr old boy found his Pure Origin Chocolate ice cream a bit too serious and dense for his childlike preference.
Husband had the cheese board which represented the best of Cheshire (Chorlton Cheshire, Bourne’s Smoked Cheshire and Burt’s Drunken Blue) which left him mumbling slightly about Lancashire again. I suggest they also introduce some of Anne Connelly’s Federia an Alpine style cheese made near Malpas.
The Nag’s Head have an outside seating area in a pretty garden.
What with The Hollies Farm Shop and Blakemere shopping village nearby, I’d recommend a drive over that way for the day, stopping at The Nag for lunch or dinner but if you try the ‘Bloomin Nag’, you’ll have to order a cab.
The Nag’s Head, Long Lane, Haughton Moss, Near Tarporley, Cheshire, CW6 9RN
(All photographs used in this blog are mine apart from the interior and bar shots which were supplied by the PR)