Restaurant review - Millstone at Mellor and The Tillotson's Arms, Chipping

With two AA rosettes in the bag, this village inn has just completed a make-over. Philippa James reports

Sometimes you walk into a venue and it just exudes quality. Such was my experience at the recently refurbished Millstone, the village inn and restaurant at Mellor, just outside Blackburn.

The first time I visited, it was a thin, winter’s day; my car was without a heater and I arrived, shivering, to a cold starter of goat cheese terrine. The dining room, while warm, felt slightly claustrophobic but the waiter took one look at my crest-fallen face, and asked: ‘Would you prefer the soup instead? It’s leek and potato.’ Attention to the guest’s needs - it’s always a great start!

As I walked in this time, the lightness and fluidity of the ground floor took me by surprise, an informal eating area to the right of the tiny reception, leading to the bar, and then into the formal dining room.

This was welcoming with a new wooden floor in rich, honeyed tones leading onto a private room for special occasions. It was so different to the previous feel. The Millstone was, as Anson Bolton, Chef Patron, attested: ‘Weary and ready for sprucing up.’ It is now, seriously spruced.

My guest, sister-in-law Lynn, and I, were warmly greeted by Anson. The only other time we’d met he and I had chatted long after lunch had ended. Our shared passion for great food and customer service made for a common bond.

Lynn and I settled in for the ‘Spring Taste of Lancashire’ evening. Guy Cliffe, from Maisons Marques et Domaines Ltd talked us through the evening’s wines, and, whilst sipping on a delightful glass of Louis Roederer Champagne, we both chose the rabbit rillette. This was tasty, moist, and perfectly accompanied by a rhubarb and ginger compote. The delicate tones of the Mud House, Waipara Riesling complemented the starter beautifully.

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A fantastic spinach soup followed, with the most delicious potato dumplings - soft, and with a squishiness as you bit into them. They were bathed in golden, molten, Butler’s cheese and were, Lynn proclaimed the ‘best I’ve ever tasted.’ She should be a good judge - she has an Italian mother-in-law, Liliana, who makes gnocchi.

They were incredibly moreish and I dunked mine in what Anson described as the ‘amazingly simple, but tasty’ soup. It was one of those perfect combinations you could just keep eating.

Tim watched, skilfully, over the front of house and offered us the main course of Goosnargh chicken with crispy bacon and woodland mushroom jus or braised blade of beef. Local meat supplier, Penny’s, use lamb, pork and beef from only a handful of farms in the Ribble Valley, Trough of Bowland and Lune Valley to ensure that they know exactly where the meat reared.

The chicken was scrumptious and, talking to other diners, the beef was described as, ‘stunningly good’. I loved the spring cabbage with pine nuts and, as well as perfect Dauphinoise potatoes, I asked to try the mashed. It was buttery and glistening, and still with texture.

Here is great food, elegantly presented. We were treated to another lovely choice of Faiveley Blagny 1er Cru La Piece-Sous-Le-Bois, which married, surprisingly well, with the chicken, as a light and ‘forgiving’ red. This wine menu holds hidden gems from small, committed wine makers offering some special treats.

Lynn had the richest of desserts, chocolate and orange torte, with Huntley’s ice cream, and Cointreau syrup. I elected for Lancashire cheese and oatcakes, with home-made plum chutney, accompanied by the smoothest ten year old, Adriano Ramos Pinto Quinta Da Ervamoira, Tawny Port.

It’s great to see a menu with so many gluten-free suggestions as I’m often asked to recommend restaurants offering dishes accommodating this dietary need. At the Millstone there is an abundance, along with some more exciting vegetarian dishes. With generous ‘Lancashire’ portions, there’s a choice of little or large but then, no request would appear to be a problem to the friendly, engaging staff. As I left, I promised myself that it won’t be long before I return to the Millstone.

Three of a kind

If you like village inns with a reputation for food, these might be worth a try.

Barbon Inn, Barbon, near Kirkby LonsdaleOn the go since the 1650s and getting positive reviews for the standard of food and the warmth of the welcome

Bull’s Head Inn, Delph, SaddleworthA Spanish bull judging by it’s reputation for terrific tapas and wines from the Peninsula. There’s a specials board, too.

Chetham Arms, Chapeltown, BoltonHistoric village pub with a stylish restaurant and a passion for local seasonal produce including braised shin of beef with mustard mash

Pub Review - A monthly look at locals

The Tillotson’s Arms, Chipping

After a slog across the fells, it seemed only reasonable to top up the fluid levels with a visit to a local hostelry. Any doctor worth his salt would confirm this is a wise precaution against dehydration.

Chipping used to have three pubs. The Sun Inn boasts it is the most haunted while some wag at the rival Tillotson’s Arms has put up a sign saying it has the fewest ghosts. Sadly, the Talbot Arms across the road has nothing but ghosts - it’s been shut for several years. Workmen appeared busy on the exterior when we walked by so perhaps it is about to spring back into life although it would be a brave landlord who re-opened it as a pub. Many villages the size of Chipping struggle to keep one, let alone three.

Tillotson’s won the day mainly because of the signs outside. ‘Muddy boots and dogs welcomed’ said one and the other offered housewives the chance to use the bar as a ‘husband cr�che’ while they went shopping.

Someone here is trying hard. You couldn’t fault the welcome from the lady behind the bar and if the Hawkshead Bitter was typical of the ales on offer, the beer is well-kept.

Inside, the pub is genuinely quirky and quaint with some original features and, on cold days, a real fire. The back room was buzzing with the sound of lively walkers enjoying lunch and a pint. While the Tillotson’s is popular with the muddy boot brigade, you get the impression it’s also a community pub with posters for several events.

It has the added attraction of jars of filled with pickled eggs behind the bar and home-made crisps. This is also a pub for playing games - there was a 12- set of dominoes. More spots than a measles epidemic and requiring a graduate in meta-mathematics to add them up.

We tried to find out the history of this pub on the internet but all we could discover was that it was built in 1836, it used to be a masonic hall and once house a microbrewery.

It also said there were ‘rabbits and guinea pigs in the bear garden.’ I didn’t investigate further.

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