Restaurant review - The Oyster & Otter, Feniscowles, Blackburn
PUBLISHED: 12:41 10 May 2015 | UPDATED: 21:39 19 January 2016
I'm always a little nervous about going to dinner with someone who has been on a diet. Will they tut loudly when I order chips or, worse still, will they growl like a ravenous bear cub when they study the menu full of forbidden fruits (especially those served in a sugary coulis)?
In my limited experience, most women spend their adult lives either on a diet or talking about dieting. And when they are not dieting or talking about diets, they are reading about diets.
In medieval times they would have taken themselves to a nunnery to be beaten with birch twigs but today it’s spa, detox and micro-leaves with a small side order of quinoa and flax seeds. Maybe a green tea if they’re pushing the boat out. And then it’s off home for a Nutribullet full of swamp mix.
So I travelled east with my dining companion in some trepidation because she had spent several days eating little more than boiled eggs, lettuce and green beans – a diet that clearly breaches your stomach’s human rights and those of anyone within a 100 yards.
As we approached our destination, the Oyster & Otter, it was a relief to discover she had decided to put the diet on ‘pause’ for the evening. In other words, she’d cracked although I was too much of a gentleman to say so. So no growls or tuts and I wouldn’t need to defend the contents of my plate with a fork.
The Oyster & Otter is part of Joycelyn Neve’s Seafood Pub Company, a business expanding more rapidly than a restaurant critic’s waistband. It is the reigning Lancashire Life Dining Pub of the Year but, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never set foot in the place. One of the judges who did eat there, a man with vast experience in the culinary dark arts, raved about it.
The first thing that strikes you is the location. Unlike most of Joycelyn’s rural retreats, it’s very convenient for the M65 and sits in the middle of housing at Feniscowles on the outskirts of Blackburn. On a dark, damp night it radiated a welcoming glow and that continued over the threshold where smiley young people smiled like they wanted to rather than because it had been drilled into them.
It wasn’t quiet (it was a Thursday) but it wasn’t packed. In many places they would corral the customers together to save the waiter’s legs but we were shown to a table where you really had to strain to eavesdrop on other diners.
The room is large and airy but not barn-like and the décor is New England meets upmarket highland hunting lodge - leather and blue plaid with some nice artwork reflecting their passion for seafood (Joycelyn’s dad is Chris Neve, a bit of a legend in the north west seafood industry).
My guest started with a plate of good quality and generously portioned smoked salmon while I tried a special of peppered beef strips with a punchy Asian dip. A good start.
We decided to test out the O&O’s fishy credentials for our main courses – a fillet of plaice served with cockles and some roast hake, a really underrated fish, served with a bacon and brioche crumb and dauphinoise potatoes.
If I had a pound for every time I’ve been served overcooked fish I’d be squids in, but these two dishes had been treated with a light touch. They remained succulent and were beautifully presented and you could still get the ozone hit of the sea. In particular, the hake with crumbs has been squirrelled away for experimentation back home.
As diets had been thrown to the wind for the evening, we ended with caramel chocolate pot with salted peanut praline and lemon curd and ginger cheesecake. With a couple of drinks, it came to just over £60. I was particularly struck by the fact that the waiting staff resisted the temptation to anxiously ask every five minutes if everything was OK. There have been times when I’d gladly give a waiter £60 just to go away.
If you have to go wrong on a diet this is the right place to do it.
The Oyster & Otter, Livesey Branch Rd, Feniscowles, Blackburn, BB2 5DQ. 01254 203 200
On the Menu
The Oyster & Otter has daily specials. Regular items include:
Crumbed squid with smoked chilli mayo £6.50
Baby back ribs with orange, rosemary and chilli £6.95
Devilled crab and brown shrimps, with pickled beetroot and little Yorkshire puds £6.75
Chilli and lemon tuna steak with paprika potatoes, sweet peppers and guacamole £15.95
Seafood ramen of king prawns, squid, mussels, white fish and salmon in noodle soup £14.95
Slow cooked shin of beef in Lancaster Bomber ale with parsley mash £14.50
Three little pavlovas – cherry, lemon curd and raspberry ripple £6.50
Steamed syrup sponge with proper custard £5.00
Vanilla rice pudding with raspberry jam £5.50