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Lancashire Life Luncheon - Samlesbury Hall

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 December 2017

Sticky toffee pear pudding with cinnamon ice cream

Sticky toffee pear pudding with cinnamon ice cream

Archant

The latest Lancashire Life luncheon was staged in the magnificent setting of Samlesbury Hall.

The Great Hall at Samlesbury Hall ready for lunchThe Great Hall at Samlesbury Hall ready for lunch

Some meals are memorable for the food and wine, others for the company. This occasion ticked both of those boxes, but the real star of the show was the location.

Sitting in the Great Hall at Samlesbury Hall with a log fire crackling in the enormous fireplace and dozens of candles illuminating the wonderful half-timbered ceilings, you could have been transported back to a banquet in Tudor times.

It’s no wonder so many people come here to get married. It’s hard to imagine many more memorable places for a wedding breakfast. But there are more reasons for coming to one of the north’s most historic - and most haunted - houses.

For a start, the food is excellent. Head chef Mike Winder has been revamping the menu to take advantage of the wealth of local, seasonal produce to be found on the nearby farms. Closer to home, Mike and the team are able to use the hall’s herb garden and there are plans underway to create a kitchen garden. Hens and honey can also be found within the grounds

Helena Corvill, Sally Jastrzebski-Lloyd, Simon Whittaker and Lauren CatterallHelena Corvill, Sally Jastrzebski-Lloyd, Simon Whittaker and Lauren Catterall

The hall, dating back to the 14th century and run by a trust, has been well known for its afternoon teas but Mike and the kitchen brigade are now luring diners in with the prospect of a more imaginative a la carte lunchtime menu, retaining old favourites but adding new dishes such as local game.

This was demonstrated during the Lancashire Life luncheon when a delicious starter of honey glazed goat cheese with baked polenta, balsamic glaze and pistachio, was followed by local pheasant breast with pureed and roasted parsnips, pickled blackberries and fondant potato.

Cooking game for a large number of guests can be a challenge but this classic combination was executed with considerable flair and a great deal of flavour. The dessert of sticky toffee pear pudding with cinnamon ice cream was a very happy conclusion to a lunch enlivened further by the accompaniments supplied by Julian Kaye, of the Wright Wine Company.

Mike Winder has been the head chef at Samlesbury for two years and you can tell from the food and from talking to him that he is relishing the opportunity to stretch his culinary skills.

Sharon Jones is the director of the hall and she is responsible for keeping this Grade I listed building in good order and that means being able to generate enough income to maintain and develop it as an attraction. ‘Maintenance is the biggest challenge,’ said Sharon. ‘The next major project is work on the 700-year-old stone roof. The repairs could cost somewhere around £500,000.’

That challenge has led Sharon and her team to be innovative in the way they approach their task. Perhaps one of the boldest steps in recent years was to persuade the hall’s charitable trust to scrap the entrance fee.

‘It took us five years to decide it, but the result has been a three-fold increase in footfall,’ she said. ‘The charge was a barrier and it now means we have more people coming to see what we have, stopping for lunch or for waffles, perhaps making a donation and spending money in our gift shop. That title doesn’t really do it justice – it’s a very upmarket shop.’

The development as a venue for weddings has been a major boost and the next big step has been the introduction of a community of shepherd’s huts. So far, there are 18 with another ten to come. ‘These are basically luxury hotel rooms on wheels. It means wedding guests can stay over or we can accommodate people attending corporate events or just people on holiday,’ added Sharon.

Plaque at Samlesbury HallPlaque at Samlesbury Hall

‘The huts have wi-fi and there are firepits and even an App that you can download to work the heating and lighting in your hut. This may be an ancient house but we are using the highest tech and the latest ideas.’

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