“Will you be serving the haggis?” I asked of the chef over the phone.
“Aggis, what is ze aggis?” came the reply.
“You know, Scottish food. With neeps and whisky.”
There was a long pause, followed by a puzzled question: “Scottish food?” Then another long pause, followed by entirely unjustified giggles which I took to be a “No.”
I was trying, for this column, to seek out the haggis for Burns Night, the 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth, and it turns out I wasn’t the only one.
One in three Americans visiting Scotland thinks haggis is an animal, a “wild beast of the Highlands, no bigger than a grouse, which only comes out at night,” and that he, or she, can catch one, only to be disappointed when the majestic haggis of the glens proves to be elusive.
In the US some folks were convinced you could catch haggis too, or rather, BSE from its sheep offal constituents.
US authorities banned it there 21 years ago but have now relented, no doubt saddened that the Scots didn’t get their independence from the English, something America managed more than 200 years back.
Eventually, by dint of cunning stalking, I tracked the haggis down to The Original Farmer’s Arms.
Now, the one thing I do know about haggis is once you cut the sheep’s stomach in which it’s cooked there’s a lot of it, so a small amount in a starter would be ideal.
And it’s very good. A sensible covering of fresh batter on a lightly peppered mix of some combination of the standard ingredients of liver, heart, lung, oatmeal, suet, stock, onions and spices has a well judged moisture and flavour.
A mustard mayonnaise is spread across the top, and a little salad of lettuce, sliced onions and red pepper set things off.
The same fresh battering – but with a distinctive kick of pepper – has taken place across the table, this time around surprisingly big and juicy tiger prawns which are being dipped into two little ramekins of hoi sin and sweet chilli sauce. Another side salad gives contrast.
I’d forgone my favourite starter – a curried kedgeree, English/Indian – to bring you the news on the haggis.
The menu has it as a main course too, but on this occasion not perhaps to chase spiced sheep innards.
Something more substantial is needed, like beef stroganoff – Russian in origin, to continue our little tour of nations.
An intensely rich sauce hides a surprising number of strips of beef, halved mushrooms and thin slivers of onions. So rich is it that I have to check the menu to discover what’s in it: it’s been sautéd in paprika and garlic and finished with brandy and Dijon mustard.
A half-and-half of saffron rice and chips is invaluable in mopping up.
My assistant reviewer has seized her chance and gone for the kedgeree.
More prawns, salmon and haddock with spiced rice and curry sauce to bind it all together.
With capacity being rapidly approached, something light for dessert is needed.
The rice pudding – India/possibly China – is a cool, nutmeg cream antidote to richness.
A vanilla and strawberry slice with a scoop of ice cream is crammed with confectioner’s custard, whipped double cream and juicy fruit. A marbled ice topping demands yet further indulgence.
The bill, with Timothy Taylor’s Landlord: £63.
Name: The Original Farmer’s Arms
Address: Towngate, Eccleston, Chorley
Contact: 01257 451594
Opening hours: Restaurant open all day seven days a week: noon to 9.30pm
Other details: Two and three-course specials £9.50 and £10.99 Monday to Saturday until 6pm
Wheelchair access: Yes, but with step up to dining area