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The Mulberry Tree, Darkest Lancs

Jonathan Schofield enjoys the grub, but not the view from his table

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.

The Mulberry Tree, Darkest Lancs

THERE are two parts to the Mulberry Tree in Wrightington. The pub and the restaurant.

The interior of the pub is to die for. The designer needs shooting. The restaurant is a bit better but still deserves quick execution. The whole thing is so lacking in character that it looks like a bad Travelodge bar.

It’s that British thing.

This is where people are worried that putting expression into their decor opens a window on their character and lays them open to the judgement of others. Best to play it bland rather than go wrong seems to be the idea.

As a consequence otherwise sane people buy LS Lowry prints and put them on their living room walls. When a cowpat would look better. Or a picture of a hairy arse.

At the Mulberry Tree, this is confusing. The decor has all the confidence of the England football team in a World Cup quarter-final whilst the cooking is as assured as Daniel Craig in a dinner suit. This is one of the few places I know in the North West that offers caviar at £90 a 30g shot on the menu.

Our recent Sunday experience was, for the price, top notch.

Over ten courses there was nothing bad and several really good things. Chef Mark Prescott (previously of the Grosvenor, the Waterside at Bray and Le Gavroche) has a cupboard full of awards for what he’s done here since 2000 and no wonder.

The bread got things going with a real zip: a range of whites and browns piping hot with salty butter on the side (or olive oil or balsamic). This was a fine bit of Lancashire flour wizardry with plenty of doughy substance - which is why the butter worked better then the claggy olive oil.

An aside here. The two orders of bread (we liked it that much) came to £8.25. This is, to my mind, too much. Bread like water, the two pre-requisites of any basic diet, should be free in restaurants. Maybe Confidential should start a campaign.

Back to the meal. The five of us went for the two course deals (£14.50 per person), two of us going for starters and main, three going for main and pudding.

I began with succulent green padron peppers cooked in oil, layered with big flakes of sea salt and strewn with crispy, fat rimmed pancetta. Beautifully timed and delivered - they were just right. On the menu the dish had come with the words ‘Russian Roulette’, hinting at a hot secret in amongst the gentle peppers.

“Wonder why?” I scoffed as I got to the last of about nine. Number nine was the loaded chamber. I needed to sit silently for about five minutes afterwards, disguising my pain with the grin Bruce Forsyth wears squinting at the autocue.

Across the table the less visceral delights of a twice baked Lancashire cheese soufflé was being scoffed, accompanied by spiced pear, walnut, blue cheese and rocket. The soufflé was almost applauded by one dining partner: “floaty but with bags of flavour”, was the description. The dish was enhanced by the distinctive pear and the bite of the walnut. The blue cheese and rocket came in handy too.

The roast dinners – this was Sunday remember – matched the starters in terms of quality. The beef was served as requested, medium, and cut almost as thin as Parma ham, a clever trick which allowed the subtle power of the meat to flood out. Damn fine Yorkshire pudding, courgettes, carrots, beans too, along with splendid fondant potatoes.

I went for the char-grilled sweet cured bacon chop with Savoy cabbage, fondant potatoes, creamy three mustard sauce, and similar veg to the beef course. The bacon was a fat, juicy charred darling. The best thing though was the utterly refined sauce. The meat and the Savoy cabbage bunched on a fork and then wiped through the sauce produced exquisite flavour. On a big robust plate of food such as this, exquisite was the last word I’d thought I’d be using.

The best of the desserts were the crème brûlée and the apple and blackberry crumble with vanilla ice cream. The latter shaded the former because it offered that little extra element of skill in delivery. It was a nigh perfect crumble the tartness of the fruit waltzing with the gritty taste of the crumble and the sweetness of the ice cream.

The house Merlot had provided a good comfort zone red for the meal. Coffee came with its own little petit fours accompaniment.

There was a feedback card on the table. I don’t like feedback cards, like the decor in the Mulberry Tree, they seem to hint at a lack of confidence, “Please love me,” they seem to say, “we’ll listen honest.” I doubt their sincerity.

But on the Mulberry Tree’s feedback card, there was one question of startling self-assurance. ‘How often do you eat here?’ it asked? ‘Yearly, monthly, weekly, daily’.

Do people really come back every day?

Still I could easily tuck into one of those peppers and pancetta dishes regularly. I could bring some paint as well, and when I got the killer pepper I could take my mind off things by starting to re-decorate the Mulberry Tree. The place needs a lot of work, while the rock-steady food on this evidence needs almost none. It may occasionally be a little old fashioned – like James Bond to strain the Daniel Craig analogy above – but none the worse for that.

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

Mike HomfrayOctober 30th 2008.

I love it here - the food is always top notch, and personally I like the uncluttered and clean decor. Sure, its restrained, but I think it works - better than most other gastro-pubs with their mock-Olde English kitsch!

AnonymousOctober 30th 2008.

I have always been put off from going here because is advertises so much on Smooth FM that it seems to be desperate for custom.

AnonymousOctober 30th 2008.

We visited The Mulberry Tree in July as a 30th wedding anniversary lunch. I have no complaints about the decor, it is simple and clean not overdone or artsy, and the food was delicious. The place was nearly empty because we arrived quite late for lunch, but the service was excellent, as was the food. I admit to choosing the chocolate fondue for dessert, which came with a selection of fruits and biscuits for dipping, and what felt like about 1/2lb chocolate - it was supposedly for one but I had to get my husband to help me finish it. The Mulberry tree definitely gets my vote.

burgaking foreverOctober 30th 2008.

Posh food for snobs with too much money.Give some of that money to the poor homeless guys in the street - they are being deprived of a life.

AnonymousOctober 30th 2008.

a bit like yourself

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