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Philippa James visits a fish restaurant that is no longer floundering

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The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Lancashire Life
We can deliver a copy direct to your door order online here

By her own admission, Joycelyn Neve would agree my first experience at the Oyster & Otter was disappointing. In a bid to shine, she had over-stretched things with an inexperienced team, a newly installed kitchen and an extensive menu, leading to many inadequacies throughout the evening - and the threat by two of my guests to mutiny!
As we left the pre-opening night, I could tell Joycelyn was mortified. I whispered: Bad dress rehearsal, great first night and promised to return.

Impressed by the menu, high quality ingredients, Joycelyns passion for the this once run-down Feniscowles pub and its delightfully appointed New England style of decor, I did return several times and watched as the venture got to its feet, steadied itself and began to gain pace.

The Oyster & Otter is owned and run by the Neve family from Fleetwood. Joycelyn, managing director of the Seafood Pub Company, is at the helm, steering the restaurant while dad, Chris, focuses on what he does best - sourcing the finest quality produce from shore and land.

My most recent visit was at a fundraising night for East Lancashire Hospice. After being introduced to Chris, we sat down and his first words were: Have you seen the sea bass at this time of year? They are stunning, firm, fat fillets that just yield to the touch. Here is a man with a passion for his product.

Bury black pudding and rosemary fritters on devilled black peas was a pre-starter for us and two other guests, Duncan Isherwood, Chairman of Samlesbury Hall Trust, and Michael McClean, who Id met during some ITV filming. The dish showed skill, matching the strong taste of rosemary against the morish, spicy peas.

Next, I opted for Fleetwood scampi and chips - fantastic, crisp, delicious batter, along with Morecambe bay potted shrimps and pickled cockles. I also had a forkful of the meltingly good, vegetarian cauliflower cheese tart with warm piccalilli. There were also mussels, steamed in Thwaites Raise the Roof Ale.

No one went for the roast sirloin of Longhorn beef or butter pie with leek gratin. We all chose fish, which is, of course, what the Neves are known for. There was Morecambe bay plaice or that sea bass, which I had. I loved the crab crushed potatoes and the butter sauce. Joycelyn said we had to sample the hot pot potatoes, a signature dish of the accomplished head chef, Anthony Shirley, formerly of Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge.

I have to say they serve proper Lancashire portions which would leave many a southern diner calling for their tailor and, although not a puds lass, I enjoyed the warm Chorley cakes with Lancashire cheese and shallot chutney. The other guests drooled over Manchester tart with sarsaparilla ice cream and parkin pudding with toffee apples and treacle cream.

After the meal, Joycelyn teased me with a whisper of a second Seafood Pub Company restaurant opening. Id read reports that Marco Pierre White had taken on The Assheton Arms in Downham and was thrilled to hear that the Neve family had pipped the television chef.

And so, after 28 years under the same management, Joycelyn and her team have moved in, with another major refurbishment planned in this most magical Pendle village.

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