This is the first foray into Cheshire for Nigel Haworth’s Ribble Valley Inns. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed meals at his three Lancashire pubs (and at Northcote, of course) so we were looking forward to this opening in our own county. It was, therefore, with double disappointment that we were totally underwhelmed by the food. I suppose triple disappointment as we’d driven pretty much as far into the middle of nowhere as Cheshire permits to get to Haughton.
There’s been a pub in Haughton since at least 1680 and I suppose its possible that bits of it still remain but it has been considerably “done up” in pseudo barn style. As for the food, it’s a while since we’ve eaten at a Ribble Valley Inn but I have a sense that the menu has been shortened and simplified and this may prove to be a mistake – the food proved to be OK. Not vile, of course, but not better than OK. And, surprisingly, not really as good as a couple of dining pubs we know in the immediate area (and we don’t rate them too highly, even if they are included in the Good Food Guide).
There was cheesy eggy bread to start – a small but thick slice topped with Burts blue cheese. As you’d expect with Haworth, there’s a commitment to local produce and it started here with this cheese – made in Altrincham in North Cheshire. This was good cheese on toast and I’d have been more than happy with a decent sized portion and forget the accompaniments. So, to the accompaniments. There was some blanched cabbage which was downright odd on the plate. And “heirloom” tomatoes (whatever they are supposed to be). It just seemed an ill-conceived plate of food. Another starter came from the “Nibbles” section – sweet & sour tomatoes with a black pea houmous and a generous serving of granary bread. OK, but nothing to write home about.
My partner’s first choice of main course was “off”. Bourne’s mature cheese & onion pie would have been lovely with the salad. There’s been a lack of care in the menu writing of the “seasonal specials” – describing the cheese as a cheddar. Now I know Mr Bourne – he sells his mature Cheshire cheese at my local farmers market. He doesn’t make a cheddar. If you’re making a commitment to local produce, at least get it right. In place, she ordered a burger. Good offering although the meat was underseasoned. You’re offered a choice of it being pink or well done (that’ll be well done, thanks, we’ve read Fast Food Nation). Comes on a muffin, along with all the usual salad, ketchup, etc. And a little bowl of pickled onions & carrots. And another of a tangy piccalilli.
Shoulder of Tatton Park venison had been long cooked till it “pulled” but was underflavoured. It came topped with a pointless sprinkle of crushed smoked almonds. Mash also had a sprinkle – this time from a little black pudding – equally pointless. Truth be told, best thing on the plate was some caramelised endive.
The servers had been fine – pleasant and efficient. But the problem was in the kitchen. It just took far too long. We overheard two servers noting that one table had been waiting 30 minutes for a starter and it still hadn’t appeared. Heavens knows what might happen if they are ever busy.