Tuesday 26 September 2017

The Parkers Arms, Bowland

Though it's often painful to share the world with their kind, the sad fact is that some people just do not enjoy eating out. I don't just mean that they are intimidated by posh dining rooms or tasting menus, that they can't face the queues at Tayyabs or baulk at restaurant prices; I mean that no matter what the situation, no matter how good the food or reasonable the cost, even if there's no cost at all, there will be some people that can't enjoy any part of the business of restaurant-going.

My grandfather was one such person. Brought up in working-class Liverpool, it's tempting to assign his restaurant allergy to a lifelong dedication to frugality, and given he would hoard ketchup and mustard sachets from motorway service stations there was certainly an element of that. But even if the money had not been an issue, I still doubt he would have been comfortable in restaurants; I think he'd always rather be the person organising and helping rather than being waited on, and he had little interest in food generally - his preferred lunch was cold baked beans eaten out of tupperware, straight from the fridge. Hey, don't knock it if you ain't tried it.

After a nearly perfect lunch at the Parkers Arms, cossetted by warm service and fat on dishes of hyper-local, seasonal brilliance, I wondered if even my grandfather could have remained immune to the charms of this idyllic place, nestled in the hills of the Bowland in Lancashire. It's a picture-book ideal of a pub, the kind of thing you mean when you talk about going "somewhere nice in the country" but so very rarely find.

Outside, the Victorian building is handsome without being austere, with a large beer garden overlooking the rolling Lancashire countryside. Inside, it's clean and spacious and charmingly un-modernised, two dining rooms split by a wooden bar, with a gentle buzz from families, young and older couples, and their pets. Pubs like this are my own personal heaven, and I could have happily spent all day here sampling the local ales and feeding pork scratchings to the pub dogs, even if the Parkers Arms didn't also happen to serve some of the finest food in the country.

But yes, on top of everything else, the food here is utterly wonderful. Stosie Madi is the chef in charge, and she colours a menu of attractive pub favourites with Middle Eastern touches - their lamb rump is cooked with kamouneh, and kibbeh is occasionally spotted amongst the starters. Above is turbot roe made into a kind of light tarama, drizzled with dill oil and with bright, crunchy radishes for dipping.

Another table snack were potato skins, presumably a by-product of the creamed mash, aggressively crunchy and great dipped in the tarama.

Nothing on this stunning dish came from more than a couple of miles from the Parkers Arms' front door. Venison fillet, seared to medium-rare, dressed in foraged blackberries, cobnuts and girolles and drizzed with some kind of herb oil, it was the ultimate expression of the power of locality and seasonality. Far from ham-stringing a kitchen, the ability to step outside and use ingredients that have been a part of the nearby environment up until a few hours previously lends the food a vibrancy and immediacy that you just don't - can't - see in most restaurants.

This wild (local) rabbit and (local) pork was chunky and full-flavoured, studded with pistachio nuts and served with a sweet house piccalilli. The portion size was so generous that some of it made it into our lunch the next day, and I can confirm it only improves with age.

Grouse was on the menu, so obviously I had to order it. It arrived meticulously filleted off the bone, soaked in a fruit/butter gravy (local blackberries) and on a bed of yeasty bread sauce. There was so much plump, powerfully gamey meat that it almost looked like two birds' worth - it's amazing how much more protein a professional kitchen can extract from a carcass than my own ham-fisted way with a fork and steak knife. And if all that wasn't enough, there was a bonus skewer of heart and liver. Heaven.

Even the chips were faultless - golden brown casings of smooth, buttery potato. I dipped them in the grouse gravy and ate them, eyes closed, in rapture.

Other dishes, that I completely forgot to take a photo of because I was enjoying myself so much (naughty blogger) were equally brilliant. The aformentioned lamb rump in bulgur wheat salad was salty and crisp around the edges and smooth and pink within, boasting a massive amount of lamby flavour. And it's like a dagger through my heart seeing the menu items we didn't order - "Salt marsh lamb & cockle pie, lamb fat pastry", "Pork & venison pie in pork fat pastry", "Potted Lancashire cheese & Bowland ale rarebit" - careful, considered, intelligent dishes that read like poetry.

I know, I'm gushing. Again. There's been a lot of it from me recently, what with Moor Hall and Coombeshead Farm and Where The Light Gets In; I am just as determined today as I was when I first started the blog that 10/10 scores will only be given out when the experience of eating at a particular restaurant is as close to perfect as makes no odds, but I'm thinking maybe I need a new definition of perfect. The standard of restaurants in this country, at least from the mid-range upwards, continues to astonish and delight, and Parkers Arms is a pretty much ideal gastropub experience, but I can't rule out somewhere else down the line - perhaps even one of the PA's neighbours in Bowland such as the Freemasons at Wiswell, or the Swan at Fence, both of which are on the list - impressing even more. What happens then?

Well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. And anyway, what a lovely problem to have. Meantime, know only this - that you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be completely smitten by the Parkers Arms; if you can't enjoy yourself here you may as well just give up and stay at home eating cold baked beans out of tupperware. I will be back as soon, and as often, as circumstances allow.


In the interests of full disclosure, I'd known the Parkers Arms on Twitter for a few years before this, my first visit, and so I can't pretend we didn't get a couple of extra bits and pieces that maybe the average walk-in wouldn't. However we paid for all our main courses and drinks and would obviously quite happily do so again.


Unknown said...

It's great that the PA's do tweet treats to anyone who follows them on twitter and let's them know they're there or coming. Sign of a customer first philosophy.

Bowgreave from Trip Adviser pages said...

Sadly Stuart, they get the cream and we, the majority by far, are expected to put up with much less. I can only recommend it to (declared visits in advance) Tweeters and Bloggers or food journalists as well known as Jay Raynor. Sadly, the poor reviews are nothing to do with 'people who don't like eating out' (what unmitigated tripe they've served up for you as another free extra there - is that the best you can do between you to explain away the poor reviews?) and everything to do with poor performance the kitchen allied to an inability to listen to honest criticism.

NickyB said...

As someone who has just turned up several times and had lovely food and service (as have the enthusiastic guests on tables around us), I think you may be mistaken, "Bowgreave from Trip Adviser pages". In fact, we did a 5.5hr round trip just to eat there, with no prior notice. Lamb and cockle pie was absolutely superb that day, I recall.

Bowgreave said...

Good for you Nicky. One man's meat...... .but you'll find that I'm far from alone in my experiences here. Opinions are always going to vary widely so we should all we all report our findings as fairly and honestly as we can. I'm happy I did that and I'm glad for you that you had a better experience there than we did.

Anonymous said...

Some superb experiences here . Some strange .

Unknown said...

Nestled in the gorgeous Ribble Valley, a food heaven www.ribblevalleyfoodheaven.com

Anonymous said...

You are taking a huge risk going to the Parkers Arms on spec. It is hardly ever open. Thursday evening through Sunday you might get fed.

Service is slow and don't whatever you do, complain. You will get in a stand up row with AJ or Stosie. Bar manager AJ slags off the last customers after they leave to the next customers as they arrive. AJ also spends the rest of the week on Trip Advisor ranting at the people who dare to give The Parkers arms a bad review.

Restaurant, possibly, but it isn't a pub, and certainly not a pub where locals feel welcome.

Pleb said...

The replies to the bad reviews for this place on Trip Advisor make for very entertaining reading! There are plenty of good reviews too of course.

Stosie madi said...

I am not sure who you are or what your beef is but you are certainly confused.Stosie never leaves the kitchen & AJ doesnt deal with pr or tripadvisor so he does not reply to anything on there.
I am not sure what your beef is nor do i care but do get your facts right and have the balls to say who you are. And yes we are closed Mondays & Tuesdays

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