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The Inn at Whitewell - review

Thea Eurphaessa loves the charm, the food, the atmosphere in the Trough of Bowland

Published on April 5th 2011.

The Inn at Whitewell - review

THE GRASS is always greener, so they say. But they would likely be wrong – at least in this case.

The chicken was soft, yielding; the onion jus, restrained and exquisite. Just to be doubly sure, I dipped one of our side-order of chips in the jus. Yes indeed, it was exceptional – as were the chips.

For years I’ve continued a torrid tryst with the heather-clad wilds of the North Yorkshire Moors and quaint seaside towns of the East Yorkshire coast. As my daytrip and weekend-getaway destination of choice, I’ve scooted up and down the M62 more times than I care to remember, crossing the threshold with excited anticipation from Red to White Rose County. Born in Lancashire, why explore my locality when the wilds of Brontë and Dracula Country beckon?

Oh dear. How I’ve been made to eat my words – and in spectacular style. Churchill did once say, however, that eating his own words often provided him with a most wholesome diet. And in my experience of The Inn at Whitewell, I’d have to agree.

Leaving the M62 and heading towards Longridge, my partner and I commented on how pretty it was. Ignoring the sat-nav, we followed the directions as per the Inn’s website, wending deeper into increasingly beautiful territory. I knew it was beautiful because we stopped talking and started gawping.

And then something quite wonderful happened. After ascending a steep hill and navigating a sharp bend we were met with a vista which swept away into the distance and across one of the most spectacular British landscapes I’ve ever seen – Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland – an area officially designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There was a joint, sharp intake of breath, before we glanced at one another.

For those familiar with the recent BBC2 series, The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, The Inn at Whitewell featured in the first episode and was where they did their Michael Caine impersonation face-off. I liked the look of it on the telly – it’s even better in the flesh.

Dating back to the 1300s The Inn retains an imposing, welcoming air of grandeur and regality. To this day it forms part of the Duchy of Lancaster Estate. The website states ‘it was not until comparatively recently, during the 1700s, that the building was transformed into a resting place where travellers en route to or from Lancaster could safely stay before continuing their perilous journey’. Suffice to say, I wanted to stay over, sample their hospitality – particularly after we finished our meal. Generous this lot.

The accompanying text beneath the image – a portrait of King George IV by James Gillray – on the front of the menu should’ve provided a clue of what to expect: ‘A voluptuary under the horrors of digestion’. “Look at his legs,” my boyfriend remarked of the portrait. “Look at that delicious word,” I replied, “voluptuary”. Music to my ears.

To begin, I had the starter-sized portion of the chicken liver pâté à la Ballymaloe (£6.28). They also offer this dish as a main course (£9.40). My boyfriend, meanwhile, opted for the smoked salmon (£8.27). Neither of us was particularly impressed. The pâté lacked flavour being subtle to the point of bland, with the smoked salmon faring much the same while looking limp and forlorn. So-so so far; so-so not very good. Goosnargh chicken

I was beginning to worry The Inn would amount to nothing more than an anti-climax amid a magnificent setting – until, that is, the mains arrived. My partner's roast breast of Goosnargh corn-fed chicken with sage and onion stuffing, confit potatoes with garlic and smoked bacon and onion jus was a symphony – a master class in a classic dish done to perfection.

In all our years of dining out, I have never seen my boyfriend wax lyrical about a dish so much as this. I sampled some. The chicken was soft, yielding; the onion jus, restrained and exquisite. Just to be doubly sure, I dipped one of our side-order of chips in the jus. Yes indeed, it was exceptional – as were the chips (£2.86).

To be fair, we didn’t need to order chips as we had quite enough to be going on with. Chips, however, act as a something of a litmus test for me; the cornerstone of a restaurant’s ability. But these chips were superb. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they were the best chips I’ve had. Hand-cut, they were light, crisp, and devastatingly moreish.

For my main I had the Cumberland bangers and champ (£9.70) – an old-fashioned and spicy sausage made locally for The Inn by the same family for twenty years, with or without the fried egg and/or onion sauce. I opted for the fried egg.

Although initially overwhelmed by the mountain of food the waitress set down before me, I was quietly confident I’d get through it – I’d forgone breakfast for the sake of this lunchtime feast. One and a half sausages later, however, and slumped over the table I waved my white flag at the waitress.

My Jack Sprat of a boyfriend, meanwhile, had licked his plate clean and was radiating a Buddha-esque glow of contentment. It was rousing, hearty food, well-deserved of our compliments to the chef. If I had any complaints, it was that there was just too much of it.

Two voluptuaries together, heaving and groaning beneath the sheer size and scale of our main courses, we decided to push ahead for the finish line.

After a lengthy break, we ordered a strawberry and white chocolate crème brûlée with homemade biscuit (£5.62) and red wine poached pears with a white chocolate mousse (£5.62). My white chocolate mousse was all subtle Milky Bar magic, with my partner’s crème brûlée top-tappingly sublime with a mouth-pursing undercurrent of strawberries.

It was at this point we wished we’d been more organised and booked a room. Both the venue and setting deserve far more time than a whistle-stop tour. This place is worthy of at least one night’s stay; evening drinks by one of the many roaring fires; breakfast by the window overlooking unashamedly romantic scenery before a day spent yomping through the cloughs. Without a doubt, we’ll be back here later this summer.

That is, if Lancashire can forgive me my years of Yorkshire-leaning transgressions.

Creme Brulee

Breakdown:8/10 food
4/5 service
5/5 ambience
Address:The Inn at Whitewell
Forest of Bowland
Near Clitheroe
01200 448222

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 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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