Peter Richardson takes his long-suffering lady out for a treat to the Waddington Arms in the Ribble Valley
Say what you like about central Lancashire, there aren’t too many areas better placed for visiting some of the loveliest countryside known to man, the most popular examples of which necessitate the crossing of county borders into Cumbria and Yorkshire.
Quite how our own Forest of Bowland has managed to keep such a low profile by comparison remains a mystery but we should be very glad that its charms are so close to hand as to render it almost rude not to visit from time to time.
Waddington village, just above Clitheroe, guards one of Bowland’s gateways and among its three pubs is the eponymous Waddington Arms, where the welcome is as warm as the wood-burning stove which invites you to sit down beside it with a pint of cask or a glass of wine and remind yourself that the passing of summer is not necessarily a bad thing when country pubs like this exist to provide shelter from the storm.
The “Waddy” became a family business in the 1990s and hasn’t looked back.
Nor would it, with food several notches up from most people’s perceptions of pub grub and a menu which mixes the traditional with the adventurous.
My starter was definitely from the latter camp – seared scallops with crispy pork belly and cauliflower puree (£7.25).
You wouldn’t necessarily expect a delicate disc of sweet white fishy flesh to be improved with a sliver of pork on the same fork but every mouthful was a delight, the moreso with a dab of creamed cauli.
There were some dressed leaves too, and the dish got a presentational flourish from being served on a slate.
All in all, an interesting and surprising success.
I don’t go a bundle on mussels myself, but Mrs Eating Out loves them.
Good job she decided on the small portion as opposed to the main course version, mind you, otherwise she might never have emerged from behind a black mountain of the things.
The £5.95 version, more than ample, came mariniere-style in a white wine, garlic and cream sauce and once Mrs EO had prised away each meaty nugget, she set about mopping up with a hunk of crusty bread.
Her main course choice was one of three from the specials board – rump steak on egg noodles done with hoi sin sauce and pak choi (£14.95).
Rump is a good bet for flavour but not always the most tender.
This was quality meat, however, cooked medium rare as requested and if there hadn’t been so many substantial strips of it, would doubtless have been polished off completely.
Still, Mrs EO was happy in defeat.
For a moment or two, I’d considered bringing this little culinary adventure back down to earth by ordering the Lancashire hotpot with pickled red cabbage but it’s not every day you get the chance to try curried cod loin with saag aloo and spicy tomato chutney (£13.95).
Cod loin, with its large flakes of meaty fish, is always an attractive-looking proposition but there are ways and means to add much-needed flavour and this turns out to be a winner.
The spicy elements in this fish, potato and spinach combo were distinctive, yes, but never overpowering.
No room for puds but enough time to linger by that fire and finish a bottle of spicy South African shiraz (£15.25) while agreeing that the Waddington Arms is a cracking venue run by friendly, efficient folk.
It was over £57 for that little lot but it’s quality stuff, which makes it decent value.