Restaurant review - The Cartford Inn, Little Eccleston

When a Frenchman took over a country pub the locals wondered if he had the bottle. Roger Borrell went to find out plus a look at The Stork Inn, Conder Green

By ‘eck and quelle horreur! A Frenchman running an historic English country inn. There’s no doubt that a few Lancastrian eyebrows were raised when Patrick Beaume, a native of Bordeaux, took over the Cartford Inn, a lovely 17th century pub beside the toll bridge over the Wyre.

Despite the fact his wife and business partner, Julie, is a local lass, there was a little muttering. Ironic, really, when you consider that in parts of France you can’t move for pink-faced expatriate Englishmen in cravats, plus-fours and brogues, snapping their fingers and shouting ‘Garcon!’

You’d expect a Frenchman to get the food right, but what about thebeer, that locally-produced nectar that for years been sending regulars home with a rosy glow? What do they know about British beer, for heaven’s sake? The good news is the ale is a good as ever, even the stuff with odd titles. (A general rule of thumb: The quality of beer comes in inverse proportion to the silliness of the name).

So what about the food? When they took over, the Cartford Inn team rapidly ratcheted up the quality to the extent they are now in the Michelin pub guide. A quick look at the menu tells you this is a place that concentrates on imaginative, locally sourced dishes while never neglecting the fact that sometimes you just want a well-made sandwich or burger.

Some are hearty - the suet pudding packed with oxtail has moved grown men to weep tears of pleasure - to organic crudit�s that would keep a supermodel’s bouche amused.

The menu is the same whether you eat downstairs, which is smart and stylish with a long bar and several cosy corners, or upstairs in the restaurant called Mushrooms. It’s appropriate if a little disconcerting that there’s a photograph of said fungus taking up the whole of one wall of the room, which looks like it was once the hayloft.

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On the Sunday Lancashire Life visited, the inn was busy with diners making a jolly hubbub. Happy looking staff made us feel welcome without ever calling us ‘you guys.’

The menu is interesting with nibbles of this and wood platters of that, but we stuck to convention and had a starter of goat cheese and red onion in a filo tart and scallops in a shell with cauliflower and b�chamel sauce. The presentation, particularly of the tart, would not have looked out of place in Nigella’s latest tome and both tasted as good as they looked.

Our main courses included a salad Nicoise, a dish which is different in every restaurant and in every country. Here, it came with a nice steak of fresh tuna. It was ordered pink and came a little overcooked but still succulent with a good hollandaise, which tasted homemade. Green beans and potatoes gave some more bite. A little lettuce might not have gone amiss. The other main was the Cartford’s take on cassoulet with Cumberland sausage replacing the more conventional Toulouse bangers.

It didn’t suffer from the local twist and the confit duck leg had substance and a deep flavour. It came in a rich broth of haricot beans, carrots and ham hock. A rib-sticker for a cold day.

Dessert was two spoons and one slice of lemon tart with a sharp-as-a-tack raspberry sorbet. Pre-meal drinks and two good glasses from an impressive wine list brought the bill for two to a very reasonable �56.

The next stage for Patrick and the team is the completion of a chic new restaurant overlooking the Wyre, another eight bedrooms and an outside dining area. So is the Cartford Inn in safe hands? Mais oiu! The Cartford Inn, Cartford Lane,Little Eccleston, PR3 0YPTel: 01995 670166

Pub Review - A monthly look at locals

The Stork Inn, Carricks Lane, Conder Green, near Lancaster. LA2 0AN

If Charles Dickens had ventured as far as Conder Green during one of his visits to Lancashire he would surely have used this atmospheric area as the setting for a novel.

At low tide, the River Conder is a muddy spur from the Lune, snaking through the reed beds. The hulks of long-forgotten boats litter the water’s edge - all that’s missing is Magwitch and a misty churchyard.

On the north side stands the Stork Inn, a pretty, whitewashed pub with restaurant and rooms. This is no Bleak House - it’s just the place you’d want to find during a dark and stormy night.

There’s no doubting its history when you spot a board inscribed with the names of licensees going back to the 1600s. It’s big inside but it doesn’t feel like you are drinking in a barn. Beamed ceilings and the fact it is divided into sections create an intimate feel.

As you enter there’s a welcoming snug with a fire while further on you find a smart, contemporary dining room. In between, the Stork is mainly open-planned with old oak panels. At the back is a conservatory and garden.

A wall bears witness to local activities of bygone times. What looks like a length of drainpipe is, in fact, a punt gun, a small cannon mounted on the front of a skiff and used to blast wildfowl from the sky. There is also a stuffed stork in a glass case.

There’s nothing inanimate about the bar staff who seem helpful and efficient, serving some decent beers - most notably Lancaster Blonde. There’s also the twang of a South African accent, which might explain the interesting menu.

Among the pub classics and locally-sourced breads, you find things like bobotie, a spicy South African cross between moussaka and shepherd’s pie. There’s a good specials board which looks like it changes regularly and when we visited an unusually good mix of vegetarian dishes.

An array of stickers in the window proclaim that the inn welcomes pets, cyclists, families and walkers making you feel that the Stork will not suffer the same fate as the bird it was named after.

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