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The 11 course monthly tasting menu at Mitton Hall’s Brasserie

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 May 2015 | UPDATED: 20:17 09 March 2016

Lancashire Cheese and Spinach Souffle

Lancashire Cheese and Spinach Souffle

Archant

Martin Pilkington is impressed by the tasting menu srved in the stunning setting of Mitton Hall

There’s something very Lancastrian about the monthly tasting menu evening at Mitton Hall’s Brasserie. Not in the clichéd southern comedian flat caps and whippets sense, but in its generosity, cosy atmosphere, and inclusivity.

It helps that Paul Dugdale, the man responsible for the food, has deep culinary roots in the county. ‘I studied catering at Runshaw College, had a two-year gap then went to Blackpool and The Fylde College for my BA on the management side, though I also worked in catering throughout that time,’ he says. After college he spent nine years at The Pines Hotel in Clayton-le-Woods, then four years ago joined Mitton Hall where he became Head Chef in 2014.

‘This is the third tasting evening,’ explains Paul. ‘The first we did in January largely using dishes off our menu, but smaller and more refined, adding a couple of new ones as development dishes. The next time we adapted fewer from the menu, and this evening we’re doing more new ideas than variations on existing stuff.’

There’s plenty of room for experimentation in the 11 courses that begin with canapés in the bar or Great Hall at 7.30pm, and end with Époisses cheese and a morsel of honeycomb not much before 11pm. That’s a huge amount of work for Paul and his four team members in the kitchen, effectively cooking 19 dishes as there’s a vegetarian option with only three items common to both lists.

Work begins long before the big night, however. ‘Take the slow-braised pork belly with langoustine and crushed peas,’ says Paul. ‘My sous-chef came up with the idea, we tried it, liked the combination, then worked extensively to develop it – we practice the dishes forever!’ The experience is enhanced by wines (and this time – with the cheese - a cider) selected to accompany each course. Lancastrian institution D. Byrne & Co. of Clitheroe supplies the hotel, so the bar manager has no shortage of great bottles from which to choose – the Barolo was a thing of beauty.

General manager Andrew Bailey and brasserie manager Katie Holgate oversee the evening’s smooth service. Katie in particular interacts with diners to canvas their views on each course.

For a taster menu the portions are somewhat plenteous - you won’t need to stop for chips on the way home especially after the fillet of beef Rossini with brioche croûte, truffle shavings and foie gras.

Eclectic can be a lazy term, but it’s accurate here across the board. The bar where we contemplate the menu beforehand blends wing-back armchairs with industrial lamps and contemporary pieces; the late-Medieval Great Hall is furnished with late-20th century sofas. Diners’ dress spans t-shirts to tweed. And the food ranges far and wide geographically - Lancashire cheese (in a feather-light soufflé), an Iberian pork and shellfish combo, Caribbean-tinged red snapper with pineapple and coconut salsa; and temporally, with the Escoffier masterpiece tournedos Rossini, Jane Grigson’s 1970s classic curried parsnip soup (a superb veggie alternative to the sweetly delicious French onion soup) and a rather ‘now’ lobster, prawn and crayfish tian with gazpacho.

The restaurant buzzes with conversation that grows louder as the evening progresses, partly thanks to the wine, perhaps, but also to a quickly established confidence in Paul’s imaginative but unpretentious and deeply satisfying food – the lemon curd ice cream with the first (of two) puds unforgettably good, and touches like the crispy capers surprising and successful. It’s somewhere to enjoy birthday celebrations, a meal with friends, or a romantic evening. It’s not somewhere to worship at the altar of some self-obsessed culinary idol.

Diners then can relax from the outset. Not so the staff, even afterwards. ‘As soon as we finish the night we have to start to think about the next event, compare notes, gather the feedback given to Katie and her team, and explore new ideas,’ says Paul. ‘We need, of course, to make changes to keep customers coming back for new experiences and different flavours.’ It’s hard to imagine anyone not wishing to return. n

Mitton Hall, Mitton Road, Mitton, Whalley BB7 9PQ, 01254 826544. www.mittonhallhotel.co.uk

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