SMOKING and potatoes I associate with Sir Walter Raleigh.
Tobacco and the tuber – the Virgin Queen’s golden boy brought them back from his voyages of discovery to the New World. Revelations both. My blob of luscious, home-smoked mash atop a seared fillet of Longhorn is pushing back the boundaries, too, in an outpost called Fence.
The special ingredient in all this? Tom Parker. This chef is smoking hot at the moment. Make the trek.
In a village pub still dubbed The Mucky Duck you don’t expect such serious cooking. It comes courtesy of a tyro chef called Tom Parker, who has just turned 25 but must still be asked for ID in the drinking dens of his native Burnley or the Ribble Valley, where he honed his considerable craft. At 16 he begged a start at at Michelin-starred Northcote and became one of its own golden boys, becoming a protégé of Lisa Allen and scooping a Young Chef of the Year award.
The White Swan on a Saturday evening is heaving – testimony to the reputation Tom’s food has built up over a year in residence. A young couple at the next table, whose a la carte choices from a small but perfectly farmed menu mirror ours, tell us it has not always been like this.
They had rarely ventured into the pub during its previous cliquey incarnation despite 15 years of living up the lane (Wheatley Lane Road – obviously the original trunk route to Barrowford before the A6068 took the traffic away. Think Psycho motel).
All has changed under the new ownership of the Turner family, who also run a wineshop/deli/bar in Barrowford. The big screen sport TVs have been ripped out, the beery carpets discarded and those locals auditioning for a part in An American Werewolf discouraged.
What remains inside the greystone hostelry is a handsome corner bar and a quartet of handpumps showcasing Timothy Taylor’s finest – Golden Best, Ram Tam, Boltmaker and Landlord. The malty, 3.5ABV Golden Best is my perfect aperitif as I take in the neat refurb, which retains a pubby feel despite the food emphasis. Perhaps too many stuffed heads and antlers and pictures of old Lankysheer, but but least there are no framed tributes to the folk who supply the beetroot or the shrimps.
Ah, Morecambe Bay shrimps. A cluster has been diverted from the Ribble Valley’s voracious maw to this ‘fringe” destination to accompany my ravioli of native lobster. Raviolo, to be precise. One large and glorious pasta parcel encasing the sweetest claw meat matched by equally sweet butternut squash puree.
Admittedly it costs £14, which could feed a whole family at some custom-built carvery out Nelson way. Swan prices rise steeply at weekends, as we discovered – mainly because of some more expensive ingredients. Their website declares: ‘Our seasonal menu is available at lunch and dinner service mid week; our full a la carte menu on weekend nights gives a bit more room for chef showing off.’
The Seasonal Menus, available lunch and evening during the week, cost £20 for two courses, £25 for three, and look remarkable value, making ingenious use of simpler cuts. You could follow a starter of sticky oxtail ‘cottage pie’, smoked potatoes (yes,again) and red wine with a main of Gloucester Old Spot pork, leg and belly, roasted carrot and liquorice sauce.
But on the Saturday, without wine, we spent £85 on three courses. My partner’s starter, warm, potted salmon with beetroot, apple and caviar (£8), was as impressive as my raviolo, while the surprise presence of a favourite red dictated our choice of mains.
On two separate trips to Piemonte in Italy in 2104 I got on famously with the Vajra family, who produce exemplary reds from their vineyard holdings around Viole. Their Barolo tops the list at the White Swan at £70, but I’d look no further than ‘little cousin’ the Dolcetto d’Alba 2013 at £32 from a splendid list marshaled by front of house Gareth Ostick, part of the family who run the Swan.
Violet-scented with plum and cherry flavours and a stash of acidity, it partnered perfectly my Longhorn fillet and her saltmarsh lamb rack (£26 and £22 respectively). Both meats came with dark, seared crusts and pink yielding flesh worth swooning over. My fillet was accompanied by roast onion as well as the marrow-infused smoked spud, a combo which has echoes of Simon Rogan’s celebrated coal oil beef; the lamb’s saline, herby upbringing made the marriage with roasted root veg and crisp purple kale a good ‘un. Hard to fault either dish.
Equal praise, if not more, for the puddings. We eschewed the cheese board and the alternative of baked Vacherin Mont d’Or with truffle honey in favour of two sweets that had a thrilling sharpness. My ‘just churned’ vanilla ice cream, Yorkshire rhubarb, blood orange and basil (£8) came with a jug of rhubarb juice that my companion snaffled after I failed to finish it. I would willingly have stolen all her lime leaf panacotta, passion fruit and pink grapefruit (£7) which from a brief sample offered an aromatic, citric burst.
So a meal that was a kind of Northcote in miniature. With prices that show it is aware of its worth but well below what you might splash out at Tom’s august alma mater 10 miles to the west. Well sourced ingredients as you’d expect – the lamb comes from Barley on Pendle – and an obviously tightly knit team not straying beyond the current remit of being a very good food pub. The special ingredient in all this? Tom Parker. This chef is smoking hot at the moment. Make the trek.
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship.
300 Wheatley Lane Road, Fence, Lancashire BB12 9QA . (01282 611 773). http://www.whiteswanatfence.co.uk
Food: 9/10 (lobster raviolo 9, potted salmon 8, Longhorn beef 9, saltmarsh lamb 9, vanilla ice cream and rhubarb 9, panacotta 9)
Neil Sowerby recommends: Most things – the smoked mashed potato and the wine list in particular.