Food profile - The Derby Arms, Longridge
PUBLISHED: 17:07 27 September 2015 | UPDATED: 21:45 19 January 2016
The food wasn't the only thing that made an impression at the Derby Arms. Martin Pilkington reports
Arriving at the gastro-pub early on a wet Monday evening we got the new-fangled friendly welcome, rather than the old-fashioned search-the-ledger-with-suspicious-glance. We’d booked, they expected us. Simple, but it sets the tone.
Once at our table we could feel the next difference, a relaxed buzz through the room rather than the cathedral quiet of yore. That’s in part down to eating out being a more frequent occurrence, but also to contemporary restaurant designers. Out went the uniform skeletal furniture in military rows and subdued lighting; in came a range of fabrics on comfy chairs, tables round and tables square, and Goldilocks light levels provided via windows and fixtures. One fixture in particular caught the eye here – an eclectic mix of glass shades hanging at the main window, so as natural light diminished, man-made could be increased. Again, simple, but smart.
Equally intelligent was the big extra-chilled glass of ice cubes and lemon slices that arrived with our bottle of sparkling water so we could choose how much of either we wanted, and when. This is a place run by people who have sat down and thought things through.
But, ultimately, we go to restaurants for the food. And the Derby Arms measured up. The popular place belongs to the Seafood Pub Company, so there are plenty of fish and shellfish dishes on the menu, with some meaty alternatives and a fish pie and a salt beef and potato pie. In fact, don’t you think it’s high time the Great British pie was accorded a higher gastronomic status?
Back to the old versus new. Time was you went to a French, or Greek, or vegetarian or just a plain restaurant. You can’t put the Derby Arms, and other gastro-pubs indeed, into such a category. Instead they aim to offer things you’d like to eat, rather than barricading themselves into any geographic or culinary style. So there’s French classic Coquilles St. Jacques alongside Vietnamese fish cakes and a veggie offering of Imam bayildi competing for attention with a trencherman’s steak and chips.
Both the starters we chose came from the specials list - patiently repeated by our waitress after we’d ogled the à la carte menu. My dining companion, the good doctor, opted for the pan-fried mackerel fillet with beetroot salad – a courageous choice as really fresh mackerel is delicious, stale versions unpleasant. Fortunately, she got the delicious.
My choice was dressed East Coast crab served with lemon mayonnaise and a small green salad. Good fresh crab doesn’t need mucking about with, and this was good fresh crab.
For mains the GD, after her habitual dither, ordered chargrilled monkfish with sherry and saffron paella. So good were her reports of the paella that in the interests of research I took a forkful. Rich, spicier than expected, with the rice as toothsome as you’d hope for, it was excellent, the best thing of a good evening. The monkfish was grilled on the Derby’s robata grill, a fiendish Japanese device; so was my pig-on-a-stick, their down-to-earth name for a brochette of slow-cooked pork belly, pork sausage, and chorizo. The belly pork was meltingly tender, the sausage delicious with a bit more of the smokiness from the grill, and the chorizo spicy but a touch over-done - minor defects easily remedied by a glug from my large glass of Rioja.
The GD bagsied the pudding I had wanted – a rhubarb crème brulée that proved to be every bit as good as it sounded, a layer of sweet-sharp rhubarb beneath the custard and crispy caramelised topping: ‘You’d have loved that,’ came the cruel comment as I surveyed her ruthlessly emptied dish.
As designated driver she couldn’t go for either the pudding wine or one of the ports (again, they’ve thought about it) listed on the pud menu. I had a glass of tawny to accompany my cheeseboard, perfect with the brie and good with the blue.
On a wet Monday evening the place was doing a roaring trade. Being pleasant and organised obviously works, as does serving good food that people want to eat. We enjoyed it, and will go again. Let’s hope they still have the rhubarb crème brulée on the menu. n
Derby Arms, Chipping Rd, Longridge. PR3 2NB, 01772 782 370, firstname.lastname@example.org