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Awayday restaurant review: The Clog and Billycock, Pleasington

Michael Taylor travels to Nigel Haworth's (Northcote Manor, The Three Fishes) latest Lancashire foodie pub

Published on May 30th 2010.

Awayday restaurant review: The Clog and Billycock, Pleasington

On my first visit to the Three Fishes in the spring of 2005 I cried tears of joy.

A pub very near God’s own Trough of Bowland serving such nectar as Moorhouse’s Pendle Witch is enough to make many a grown man weep. But it wasn’t the beer, it was everything: the Lancashire map on the menu highlighting where the food came from, the obsessive dedication to local produce in my home county of Lancashire, the gorgeous black and white photographs on the walls of the toilets and the York stone floor.

This is unfussy, uncomplicated food at its best, served with quiet efficiency by young people who have bought the whole package and recommend it all like they mean it.

Here was a place that didn’t just love Lancashire food, but wanted you to enjoy loving it too, to scream at you that this could and should be a thing of beauty. Then came the children’s play sheets and the crayons and the quiet determination to stimulate that love of food in our children too. That’s when the tears came.

Everything about the place exuded originality and pride. Though the bill was also a tad eye-watering, it remains a treat. The second time I went, taking my Dad along for the ride, Paul Heathcote popped in for a look and was impressed.

The Three Fishes in Mitton, near Whalley, near Clitheroe, was the first such establishment by chef Nigel Haworth and front of house man Craig Bancroft through their Ribble Valley Inns venture.

They had made a name for themselves at the slightly stuffy Northcote Manor, but this was for the well-heeled Ribble Valley set with their ties off, their boots on and the Barbour hung over the back of the chair. It also seemed to cater rather well for parents of Stoneyhurst kids, the Catholic private college that has educated a sliver of this nation’s elite.

In a world where pubs are closing and the local brewery runs scared, this was a fine example of a venture that could breathe life into a dying idea.

Fast forward to 2010 and, in partnership with Thwaites of Blackburn, they’ve taken over three more pubs. The Highwayman near Kirkby Lonsdale and latterly the Clog and Billycock in Pleasington, an upmarket village on the outskirts of Blackburn. They’ve also opened one over the white line into Yorkshire, The Bull at Broughton.

I’ve since heard people moan about the waiting times at the Three Fishes – but no such delays here or at the Highwayman when we’ve been. Gone too is the thrill of the new, for this writer anyway. Instead it’s the demand, the insistence, at quality and seasonal sensation. The quest, if I may be so bold, is finding something to get a bit excited about again.

The kids options remain steady and they have tended to stick to what they know at a safe and reasonable £4.50 per child: they like the minced steak with Lancashire muffin (it’s a burger), they like fish and chips – it’s another league from what you’d get under that description at the Stab and Gun fun pub three miles away in central Blackburn. I can’t get my kids to eat salad and vegetables when they are faced with such temptations. Would you, if you

were nine? But the sausage and mash, disappointingly, doesn’t come with any veggies, just an optional and cold pot of red cabbage, which is ignored. And one of our hungrier tribe wanted “Fleetwood caught scampi” – well wouldn’t you? It was good, I tried it, but it wasn’t £15 good, though a cleaned plate suggests satisfaction and it was “Fleetwood caught”.

I go for an overwhelming platter of meats (£13.50), which includes house cured rare breed meats, salt beef, pickled ox tongue, York Ham, Gloucester Old Spot Pork, pickled white cabbage, pickles, piccalilli and bread, but it is far, far more than I can eat.

The chicken salad (£12.50) is a crunchy delight. But it’s not just any chicken it’s Reg Johnson’s breast of Goosnargh Chicken, but with avocado, Leagram organic curd cheese and cos lettuce salad, tarragon dressing, homemade bread. Is this a gimmick? No, I don’t think it is. I actually think these guys are hardcore. There are paeans to food producers and a health warning about the importance of seasonal food – cauliflowers and peas - all over the walls of the pub, for example. But if anyone could force feed these to my lot, Nigel and Craig could. I just wish they’d try a bit harder.

Desserts (£5) are a wonder to behold. Ice cream, pudding or pancakes, they are all just the job. Jam roly poly or Tomlinson’s rhubarb and custard pudding – are also all the right side of stodgy – it is a pudding afterall and a mighty fine vanilla custard too. I like to emphasise the producer of each dish, to make a point and show we’ve been paying attention.

This is unfussy, uncomplicated food at its best, served with quiet efficiency by young people who have bought the whole package and recommend it all like they mean it. It has set a benchmark for so-called gastropubs wherever they may be. And we will keep returning because they never let us down, but more greens please.

Breakdown:7/10 food
4/5 service
5/5 atmosphere
Address:Clog and Billycock
Billinge End Road
01254 201163

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20: Outstanding

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