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Lancashire Life Luncheon - The Fenwick Arms, Claughton

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 January 2014 | UPDATED: 21:38 19 January 2016

Kara Rose,  Jane Catterall,  Gillian Livesey and Lindsey Stephens

Kara Rose, Jane Catterall, Gillian Livesey and Lindsey Stephens

Archant

Joycelyn Neve’s dining pub in the north of the county serves up a stunning lunch for Lancashire Life guests, reports Roger Borrell

Chris Neve's oak smoked haddock with mussel chowder and shrimp fritterChris Neve's oak smoked haddock with mussel chowder and shrimp fritter

There was a time when restaurant reviews were the preserve of a small band of men and women paid money to share their irrational prejudices and petty jealousies. Now, to steal a line, everyone is a critic.

Social media allows all, lunatics and luminaries, to make like A.A. Gill and, boy, do they come up with some purlers. I’m happy to say, the victims are starting to bite back. I particularly liked the Lake District café where the man behind the counter was condemned online as ‘grumpy.’ His wife swiftly responded: ‘He’s not grumpy, he’s northern.’

No one is immune. Amid a welter of rave reviews, I spotted one comment online about The Fenwick at Claughton, near Lancaster. Someone had ordered a seafood curry and was affronted because it contained salmon.

Displaying ignorance like a Belisha beacon, the diner demanded the name be changed to a fish curry and became even more irate when the waiter pointed out that salmon, even farmed ones, spend much of their lives in salt water.

Happily, there were no irate people at The Fenwick when we held our latest Lancashire Life lunch there. Antony Shirley, executive chef for the ever-developing Seafood Pub Company, and his team created a menu which had a firm foundation in classy pub food while adding a surprising twist or two.

Of the critics, Antony says: ‘It’s true that food is now like fashion - it’s something everyone talks about. People see chefs at work on television every day and, when they go out to eat, their expectations are higher than ever.

‘Add to that the fact that some supermarkets are producing pretty good meals for a tenner and you have to be at your very best to compete. We have to make a £10 plate of food as good as if it was costing £15 or more.’

Antony has a good pedigree. He started his career with former Lancashire Life Chef of the Year Andrew Nutter and went on to run a kitchens for Harvey Nichols before finding paradise on a tiny Caribbean island operated by the Raffles group.

He returned to the UK to take charge of the kitchens at Joycelyn Neve’s first venture, the Oyster and Otter at Feniscowles. ‘West Indies to Blackburn was a bit of a culture shock,’ he laughs.

The Seafood Pub Company, under the guidance of Joycelyn and her family, has grown with four establishments – each with its own character and cuisine but majoring on fish. This is hardly surprising as she comes from a Lancashire family steeped in the fishing industry. However, there is much more than fish on offer as was demonstrated by the kitchen team.

We started off with excellent, chunky oak smoked haddock provided by Joycelyn’s dad, Chris. This came in a creamy mussel chowder and a shrimp fritter. Next, roast monkfish was accompanied by ginger braised ox cheek with spiced lentils and beets. Different but just delicious. A pudding of pear upside down cake with pomegranate and candied almonds completed three memorable courses.

The Fenwick, a nice old half-timbered building with a smart new interior, has had a chequered past but under Joycelyn, Antony and the team it feels like it’s in good hands. And the whisper is that early next year, Joycelyn will launch pub No 5.

The Fenwick Arms, Lancaster Road, Claughton, Lancashire, LA2 9LA. 01524 221157

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