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Sunday Dinners: The Hop Vine, Burscough

Wood burning stove, a micro brewery and some cracking food up the A59

Written by . Published on October 10th 2011.

Sunday Dinners: The Hop Vine, Burscough

The Hop Vine, main A59 road, Burscough Bridge, near Ormskirk.

Burscough? Why?
You may have decided to take a leisurely bike ride along the Leeds Liverpool Canal towpath. Or you may, like some people we know who live on a narrowboat in the Albert Dock, have decided to take your entire home for a spin into darkest Lancs to this gem of a free house.

In the first instance, allow for a few hours. In the second, allow for a couple of days.

For the rest of you, The Hop Vine is a mere 16 miles from he middle of Liverpool (45 mins driving, or a train from Central).

What's so special?
Wood burning stove, its own micro-brewery in the back, real hops dangling everywhere amid the Victorian clutter, a glorious beer garden and one of the best genuinely home-cooked menus we’ve seen in a pub in the Mersey hinterland.

No wonder CAMRA has awarded it the title of Best Lancashire Pub 2011.

When we get a chance, we like throw our Sunday lunch coppers at one of the ever decreasing number of independents; places that do not have Beefeater or Vintage Inn corporate branding hidden anywhere on their websites.

We like it even better if they don’t call themselves a SODDING GASTROPUB. The Hop Vine ticks all these boxes and more.

Deal or no deal?
No deal, but when we worked it out, our three course fit-to-bust Sunday lunch worked out at £15.40.  The roast on its own is £7.50. If you don’t want that, there is plenty of other stuff on the menu and a huge list of daily blackboard specials.

Where do we begin?
An deep, earthy and very rich chicken liver pate (£3.95)  is made by landlord Mike McCombe. His secret?  “I have learned not to be afraid of butter,” he says, adding that he chucks in an unbelievable amount of English mustard powder, plus garlic and port. 

He took over the abandoned and shuttered-up Punch Taverns-owned premises just two years ago. Back in the 1980s this was a fun pub but had long since stopped being fun. In fact it ended up with a poor reputation. Thus, in 2009, as pubs everywhere were closing down, Mike embarked on a very brave/foolish project - depending on his bank manager’s initial point of view.  

And yet, with wife Julie in charge of the kitchen, they have lovingly turned it around into the destination du jour for everyone from miles around. Burscough a go-go.

The pate reflects the pub’s success. Mike now has to order in 10 kilos of chicken livers a week in (all the suppliers are from around here) just to keep pace with demand. Like Hilary Briss’s “special stuff” the locals can’t get enough of it.  Homemade red onion chutney, warm, thin slices of granary toast and an artfully presented green salad in balsamic dressing make this starter as good as you will see in any restaurant with far loftier pretensions.  

Ditto, the Bury black pudding (£3.50) with a perfectly poached free range egg and a twist of smoked streaky bacon doffing its cap. Recognise it? It is the same dish that you have paid double for elsewhere.

The main event
Just the one, several large slices of grainy topside today in a sea of not bad gravy, served with a tumble of good crunchy roast Wiljas from the farm down the road. Veg wise, a generous dish of just-right carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in a light, creamy white sauce.

Yorkshires (and yes, we know this is Lancashire, but still)  were the only slight let-down, literally. Deflated is the word, but they still tasted better than anything Aunt Bessie could do.

It was all washed down with a pint of signature Hop Vine (3.8%abv) (£2.20), one of five cask ales produced by the year-old Burscough Brewery in the pub’s converted stable.

There’s also a very good wine list with everything from your basic Chilean merlot (£10.95) to a top end Barolo (£24.95) available also by the small or large glass.

What if you don’t like Sunday roasts or are
a veggie?

There’s plenty on the main menu and about a dozen daily specials that includes lots of chicken and fish dishes (fish is sourced from “Darren” who has his van outside the pub twice a week) that range from pub grub to posh.
Rather than address non-meat eaters with a patronising nod, they have included vegetarian dishes that take time and effort, like a roasted vegetable lasagne and homemade cheese, onion and leek pie.  
We tried a cajun chicken breast “burger” (£7.50) that was tender, hot and spicy, onion rings, a crunchy side salad and really faultless, gooey and crunchy chips that come in a bucket.

Child friendly?

There is no kids’ menu, but ask and they will make almost anything smaller. Thus the youngest kid had spanking fresh haddock and chips and mushy peas for just £3.25 (£8.50 for the whale-sized version). There was nothing small about it.

Proof of the puddings
A homemade apple pie (£3.75), using a family recipe puff pastry, and a little saucepan of double cream came as wonky, generous and moreish as your mum’s.

The Titanic-sized wedge of Bailey’s cheesecake on a Hob-Nobs base, also made in-house, with a rich berry compote on the side, was rich enough to finish the party off.

If we lived in Burscough we would be in here every night. As it is we will be back to a cracking Sunday lunch destination. 

Top of the Hops.

ALL CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. Critics dine unannounced and the company picks up their bills - never the establishment, never a PR company. 

*Follow Angie Sammons here on Twitter @twangeee

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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Angie Sammons shared this on Facebook on October 10th 2011.
AnonymousOctober 11th 2011.

Food is the new black for pubs, but too few independents around and too few doing it. Thanks for highlighting this one

AnonymousOctober 11th 2011.

Why is it that, whenever anything in Lancashire is mentioned on this site the word "oop" is used??! It's a bit patronising (as well as being false as the Lancashire dialect doesn't pronounce up as "oop") and "darkest Lancs"...jeez it's Burscough not the black hole of Caluctta...

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 13th 2011.

give it a miss, get a sense of humour will you, you are all the same oop your way!!

OopsOctober 11th 2011.

Have you been there recently? Burscough is pretty dark to me

Angie SammonsOctober 11th 2011.

Anonymous, no offence was intended. I think the tone of the piece shows only warmth and hearty recommendation and I am sorry if it was interpreted otherwise.

However, while we're on it, I can't recall one other incident where the word "oop" has been used by a Liverpool Confidential author to describe the people of Lancs.

We have also never knowingly used the phrase Darkest Lancashire before. Well we have now. And you have too, so that's twice. Actually three times with the one just there. I've spotted it once, on a Manchester Confidential review of the Mulberry Tree several years ago, but that doesn't count.

AnonymousOctober 11th 2011.

I wish it was the black hole of Calcutta, then at least you could get a good curry there

Reader XxxOctober 11th 2011.

One of my pals lived in Burscough 25 years ago when it was voted the ugliest town in Britain (by a national newspaper). He was dismayed, because it was not ugly at all, just a bit dull. But it does have the Leeds and Liverpool canal running through it, and the towpath offers an easy way to build up an appetite. Timid diners will walk away from Burscough and return the same way. More adventurous types will take the Southport to Manchester train and alight (note the use of specialist terminology) at a station further along the canal and walk back. All of which is a long way of saying how nice it is to read a glowing review of a Burscough pub.

GastronoughtOctober 11th 2011.

Burscough improving every year - (admittedly from a low base) - The new pavements & street furniture have made it look loads better. Hop Vine plus the revitalised Wharf complex by the canal with Box Tree Cafe / Mallard restaurant worth a visit on a sunny day (that will be next year then!)

AnonymousOctober 11th 2011.

That Tesco doesn't help things. It's bigger than the entire village.

BrendablytheMay 19th 2013.

Hop vine lovely meal nice to visit burscough much inproved

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