Lancashire Life Luncheon - Assheton Arms, Downham

At just 27, Joycelyn Neve has already achieved two major ambitions - and one was to host a Lancashire Life luncheon

As a youngster, Joycelyn Neve went to several Lancashire Life luncheons with her father, Chris, head of the famous Fleetwood fishing family, and mother Jane. As they sat enjoying their meals, they were unaware their girl had quietly started to cook up an ambition of her own.

Chris explained that those lunches convinced Joycelyn she wanted to run her own dining establishment. Not only that, she wanted to host her own Lancashire Life lunch.

She can now put a tick next to both following an outstanding lunch at her new establishment, the Assheton Arms in Downham. ‘This wasn’t just a function for me – this was a Lancashire Life lunch and that’s a landmark in my career,’ she said.

For someone just 27, she already has several landmarks. Her first venture, the Oyster & Otter at Feniscowles, near Blackburn, has steadily built up a reputation for the quality of the food produced by executive chef Anthony Shirley and his team.

Just before Christmas, Joycelyn pipped a TV chef to secure the Assheton Arms, a famous old inn on nodding terms with Pendle Hill. They kept the pub going until the time came to start a substantial but sympathetic renovation to this Grade II listed pub. The result is quite exceptional, combining great taste with country charm and a menu strongly influenced by her father’s passion for fresh fish.

Joycelyn didn’t want to turn the place upside down. ‘We are a relatively young team and I was anxious people would be happy with what we were doing,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want customers to come in and think “what are they doing to our pub?”’

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The simple answer is that they’ve improved it no end. The kitchen is now five times bigger, the decorations and furniture compliment a pub of this vintage and a large side section has been transformed from a disused storage area into a swish dining room.

‘In its heyday that area used to be a dance hall and some people can remember it when it had a glitter ball hanging from the ceiling,’ says Joycelyn.

Judging by this lunch, the heyday has just begun. Anthony and the team conjured up a fine set of little seafood plates as a deliciously different starter. There was a seafood salad, scrumpy battered langoustines, tiny poppadoms with crab and smoked haddock and Lancashire cheese croquettes.

Topping that would have been hard but with the help of Chris Neve’s eye for an excellent piece of fish, guests were treated to a sumptuous plate of halibut with celeriac mash. A brown shrimp butter and hazelnut dressing was superb.  

The finale was an elderflower and prosecco jelly with the sort of wobble rarely seen outside a Carry On film.

Joycelyn summed up it up perfectly. ‘You’ll find no pretentious foam, dots or swipes on our plates – just honest, high-quality food cooked and presented the way it should be.’ With a philosophy like that, it’s hard to see them going wrong.

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