Lancashire Life Luncheon - The Chetham Arms
PUBLISHED: 15:58 22 March 2012 | UPDATED: 22:22 21 October 2015
The Chetham Arms is long on quality and short on flannel, writes Roger Borrell<br/>Photography by Kirsty Thompson
Some gastro-pubs go for steak and chips (in a geometric stack, of course) while others prefer smoke and mirrors. The slavish drive for rosettes and Michelin stardom can be an unrelenting mistress.
Chef Skye Gyngell quit recently, complaining that winning a star meant she could no longer cope with the volume of customers nor their level of expectation. Broadcaster and former food critic Jonathan Meades said nothing in the self-regarding world of gastronomy was ‘more likely to promote teeth-gnashing, mockery and despairing contempt’ than the phrase ‘fine dining.’
He wrote in the Daily Telegraph that it was ‘characterised by smarmily sycophantic service, grotesquely over-elaborate cooking, fussiness, pretension, absurdly high prices and moron chefs who appear to think they are philosophers.’
You wouldn’t want to meet him when he’s in a bad mood, would you? Calm down Jonathan and head for the Chetham Arms, a lovely village hostlery in Chapeltown, deep in walking country just north of Bolton. There isn’t an air or a grace in sight.
Here is a place where all the stars are in the kitchen rather than in the Michelin guide (although it’s only a matter of time). Not that there is anything prosaic about the food, the service or the surroundings in this cosy 18th century inn. It’s dining that is fine rather than fine dining. It comes without flannel or pretence. If you want a pint of well-kept beer with your dinner no one is going to phone the food police.
Local lad Chris Yates and his Portuguese cooking partner Paulo Atalainha are the driving force behind the Chetham Arms and a small stable of other successful establishments such as the Shoulder of Mutton at Holcombe. They struck up a firm friendship when working together in the kitchen at Nutters. Both had an impressive track record of working in top establishments and they shared a desire to run their own place, serving a mixture of the traditional, the classic and the innovative.
They are up-front about the fact they will buy the best rather than the most local but they are keen on using food that’s in season. They want to excite customers by taking cheaper cuts of meat – the blades, shoulders and offals – and turning them into something memorable and affordable.
Our latest Lancashire Life lunch was certainly memorable for the skill displayed by the kitchen, the innovation on the plate and the quality of accompaniments from Rodney Densem Wines.
Delicious canapés and a delicate Prosecco Cirmiolli were followed by an amuse bouche of intensely flavoured pea soup with truffle. The starter of pig’s cheek tortellini and scallop came with a quirky black pudding ‘tea’ served from a pot. It could have been pretentious but this dark,
flavoursome brew brought the plate to life, helped by a glass of peachy La Campagne Viognier. The main course was a perfect example of making a big production of simple things. Saddle and braised shoulder of lamb with a beautifully runny Scotch eggs combined with sweet parsnip and earthy beetroot. It was the sort of food rarely found in a pub. A Rioja was young enough to work with the meat rather than get involved in a fist-fight.
Dessert, with a Moscato dessert wine, was a deconstructed rhubarb crumble that gave sharpness, sweetness and crunch in equal measures.
‘Our priority isn’t getting stars or rosettes – it’s getting it right,’ said Chris, still only 25. ‘We want to take food and make more of it than you would expect.’
The Chetham Arms team certainly did that for us.
Chetham Arms, High Street, Chapeltown, Turton. 01204 852279
The print version of this article appeared in the April 2012 issue of Lancashire Life
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