Lancashire Life Luncheon - The Spread Eagle, Sawley
The latest Lancashire Life Luncheon travelled to the Ribble Valley where an historic inn has been given a new lease of life
Sunday drives through the beautiful Lancashire countryside often took the young Martin Clarkson along the Ribble Valley. A favourite route often found them negotiating a very sharp bend where the road traces a graceful loop in the river. On this bend stands one of the region’s truly historic inns.
The Spread Eagle at Sawley, is a sturdy, stone building full of character and just across the road from what’s left of the abbey, founded by Cistercian monks in 1148. By comparison, the Spread Eagle is a mere stripling - it didn’t start taking guests under its protective wing until sometime around the16th century.
In modern times, it has had many ups and downs. Currently, it is very much on the up and, many years after those Sunday drives came to an end, Martin Clarkson has played a part in its modern success.
Martin and colleagues Ewan Harries teamed up to bring together decades of experience in the pub and hospitality trade to create a company called Individual Inns. This business has grown steadily, taking over famous old northern inns - often venues that have seen better days - and returning them to their former glory.
Happily for Lancashire, their portfolio has included the Spread Eagle for the last two years. Within a couple of months of taking it over, the pub closed and an extensive restoration and modernisation programme was launched.
More than �500,000 was spent. ‘Basically, they pulled the place apart and then put it back together,’ says manager Kate Peill. The bar, restaurant and function room were all upgraded and restored to maintain their oldworld charm. Much attention has been paid to the bedrooms, which provide 21st century comfort in a setting steeped in history.
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‘We are very happy with the way the Spread Eagle has turned out,’ said Martin. ‘It has been a caring and careful restoration and I’ve been very pleased to be involved because I have known the Spread Eagle since my childhood. � We are hear for the long term.’
Lancashire Life guests were given a chance to test out the new Spread Eagle at a reader luncheon, sponsored by Wellocks, of Colne, and Lakes Speciality Foods, of Kendal. The refurbished function room overlooking the river provided the backdrop for long-serving head chef Greig Barnes, chef/manager Gary Peill and their team to impress. They didn’t disappoint. Rakesh Jain, of wine merchants House of Townend, introduced some delicious liquid accompaniments.
Their opening shot, a chilled slow-cooked ham hock was elegantly presented and the flavour of the meat indicated that this came from a happy pig (or, at least, a once happy pig.) Brian Blessed couldn’t matchthis for ham and it worked well with a crisp Riesling which only Rakesh could pronounce.
The main course was a trio of lamb which included a roast rack and some slow cooked shoulder. Lead singer in a dish full of high notes was a little suet pudding made with lambs’ kidneys. The backing was a deliciously ripe Rioja Vega Reserve.
Individual treacle tarts packed with lemon zest brought lunch to a memorable conclusion.
During its recent history the Spread Eagle has had some fine owners and some inspired chefs but you can’t help but feel the current team is as good as its has ever been.