Behind the scenes at Ellel’s Bay Horse Inn

PUBLISHED: 12:21 10 February 2017 | UPDATED: 12:21 10 February 2017

Craig and Nicola Wilkinson of The Bay Horse Inn and Restaurant

Craig and Nicola Wilkinson of The Bay Horse Inn and Restaurant


Craig Wilkinson never intended to stay in the family business but he and his wife are now leading The Bay Horse at Ellel near Lancaster into its 25th year. Emma Mayoh reports.

Goosnargh chicken breast with creamy truffled leeks, mashed potato, romanesco cauliflower, bacon and cep powder - The Bay Horse Inn and Restaurant, EllelGoosnargh chicken breast with creamy truffled leeks, mashed potato, romanesco cauliflower, bacon and cep powder - The Bay Horse Inn and Restaurant, Ellel

‘I thought we were going to L’Enclume on our first date because Craig was trying to impress me,’ said Nicola Wilkinson, one half of the couple running Ellel’s Bay Horse Inn. ‘When we first started going out he took me out for meal after meal. It turns out he just wanted to take a look and see how things were done there.

‘We still eat at very nice places. But I’m under no illusion, it’s only so we can sample what other people do. We love it, though. There are some super places in Lancashire that we enjoy going to.’

Craig was shouting about provenance and traceability long before the likes of Jamie Oliver and an army of celebrity chefs turned them into foodie buzz words. The 45-year-old chef patron has been unswerving in his dedication to using and supplying local since he was a teenager.

Lancashire favourites like Goosnargh duck have been served on his menus for years and suppliers from the county are numerous including Dewlay and Butlers Cheese, Neve’s for fish, Honeywells Meats and Oliver Kay in Bolton for fresh produce.

Craig and Nicola Wilkinson of The Bay Horse Inn and RestaurantCraig and Nicola Wilkinson of The Bay Horse Inn and Restaurant

They have their own herb garden on site, and customers sometimes bring in game from shoots while some of the fruit and vegetables come from the nearby Hay Carr Estate, which the Bay Horse Inn used to be a part of. It is owned by a customer who wanted to keep the link between the two buildings established.

‘We were really pleased about this,’ said Craig. ‘It’s a great thing to do. I’m a creative person and food is a form of self expression. My mum has always naturally used and eaten local produce and it’s just something that’s always been a part of my life.

‘Hay Carr was an extension of this. It has a beautiful walled garden and it has supplied the Bay Horse historically and it’s great we’re able to keep that connection. They also love coming here

‘I want my food to be a good reflection of me and I know I can create great dishes with the fantastic suppliers we have here in Lancashire.’

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the popular pub and restaurant. It is a fine achievement, especially considering Craig only came into the business to help parents Mae and Brian when they first opened the doors.

They had a lot of experience in hospitality running several venues including the renowned Illawalla Club in Thornton. His parents had gone into hospitality after Brian, an accountant, lost his job.

Opening the Bay Horse Inn was a challenge at first – the pub was more of a drinkers’ place than somewhere to get nice food. Craig had turned down a job in London to help set up with his parents.

And business soon took off and the awards, including a Lancashire Life Food & Drink Award, starting coming. The Bay Horse’s reputation was emerging meaning Craig was needed more and more.

‘It really took off,’ said Nicola. ‘And it went from strength-to-strength. People understood what we were trying to do and when we won the Lancashire Life award, people really started to take notice.

‘People started to hear about the quality of food Craig was producing. It wasn’t scampi and chips and chicken kiev as was more the norm in times before Craig’s parents took it over.’

Bryan and Mae have started to take a backseat over the past few years with Craig and wife Nicola, a former teacher, now charging the Bay Horse ahead into the next quarter century.

And they are doing it in a big way. As well as planning some special events to mark the milestone, the pair, who met while working at the pub, are also planning extensive renovations to this historic building that has been used for many things including a private home and a district post office.

The £250,000 works will extend into a disused barn almost doubling the number of covers. There will also be improvements to the kitchen, outdoor areas and toilets. They also hope to open a new café bar in part of the disused barn.

Craig and Nicola hope they are able to continue the Bay Horse’s success with the new developments and continue its reputation as of one of the county’s top places to eat.

‘Craig is very passionate about his food,’ said Nicola. ‘And that will always be at the heart of the Bay Horse Inn. It has been its food that has helped it be a success for 25 years, we definitely don’t want that to change.

‘We want to be able to make sure the Bay Horse has a sound future. This is a proud family business - people like that and we wouldn’t want it any other way.’

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