MOREISH . . . . . . . . . . Living deliciously in England\'s North West

The Shire | June 13, 2006

A lovely day out recently saw my honey and I cracking open the walking books and heading over to "Tolkien Country," also known as the Ribble Valley. Yes, we have walking books, and they always make me feel slightly nerdy, but what can you do?

A big draw of this particular walk, apart from the likelihood of spotting a hobbit or two, was its proximity to The Three Fishes in Mitton, the newish pub venture from Nigel Haworth, the culinary talent behind the Michelin-starred Northcote Manor in Langho. The pub is located in a roadside spot near the Ribble's confluence with the Hodder, not far from Whalley and just a stone's throw from the beautiful Stonyhurst College, where Tolkien's son was a student, necessitating dad's inspiring stays in the area.

Pre-walk, we couldn't resist a chance to fortify ourselves at the quaint old tea room located just up the hill and across the road from the Three Fishes in Mitton village. Excellent pot of tea and homemade scones that are worth a stop, as well as a menu filled with rarely seen English luncheon specialities of yore (chipped beef on toast). We were the only people in the place below the age of 60, which for me is the hallmark of an especially good tea room.

A few hours later, the sun was definitely over the yardarm as we made our way to the pub with seven miles of walking behind us. Since it was hot and sunny, we elected to eat outside, noting on our way through the pub the stripped down decor, tastefully done in dark wood, with black and white photographs adorning the walls. It all seemed just a slight bit impersonal, and I missed the ambiance of a really cracking old pub (as at the Inn at Whitewell down the road) – but perhaps this is because the place has been so recently redone. The outdoor space isn't what you'd call picturesque; it's got a nice view of the parking lot. But it's good enough if you just want to get some sun.

One surprise was the extremely limited selection of real ales. They had a good local pale ale, Clitheroe's Hen Harrier, but nowt in the way of decent bitter. No Weissbiers, either, and that wouldn't have gone amiss on such a hot day. It was a Sunday, however, so perhaps their stocks were low.

We ordered the potted shrimps to start, and weren't disappointed. Top quality local produce and simple, old-fashioned English cooking is the Three Fishes' thing, and as you'd expect, the buttery shrimps were from Morecambe Bay. The menu has a focus on filling sandwiches and grilled meats, which is to be expected at a pub, but it lacked imagination. Entrees were reasonably priced at a few pounds above what you'd find in a typical pub, which is fine given the high quality.

Our mains came. I had ordered fillet steak, which was cooked perfectly medium rare and came accompanied by some sinfully good chips and onion rings. Across the table, some local roast pork, a springtime special, went down very well indeed. Many of the folks seated around us seemed to be eating the fish and chips, which looked excellent. We finsihed up with ice cream and chocolate and orange pudding, both fine but not incredible. Service was deft and friendly, despite the fact that the place was packed.

This place will probably continue to do extremely well, exemplifying the cult of Britishness that has come to dominate the upper echelons of Northwest food in the last five years. Nigel Haworth champions "local food heroes" – from the ubiquitous Reg Johnson, whose Goosnargh poultry haunts menus up and down the country, to the lesser-known likes of Peter Ashcroft, the cauliflower king of Tarleton.

You can't help but applaud such dedication to regional producers. But sometimes it all feels a little too worthy to me, very Observer Food Monthly. Maybe it's the fact that these local food heroes have been photographed in flattering black and white for the Three Fishes, which features their hearty organic smiles on everything from its placemats to its website – in effect, transforming them into marketing fodder. Yes, it's wonderful, I know, and it's so much better than it was when we were all eating tinned corn from California. But sometimes the fetishization of local produce, of agressively "good food", gives me pause.

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Posted in Pubs, Restaurants

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