White Swan, Fence, Ribble Valley
‘A decent pub in Fence?’ said Jill with incredulity. ‘There was nowhere worth going when I was a courting teenager’. Well times have changed, oh co-writer, you’d score good style if you were on the pull today. Granted, from the outside it looks like some old boozer, because it is. But walk in to a wonderland. It’s not about interior design. It’s about something more subtle, hard to put your finger on. A glance over the bar starts to give the game away. Huge glass jars the colour of Liz Taylor’s baubles are brimming with home brewed blood orange and grapefruit gin – and the damson one looks damn fine too.
The style creeps up on you; battered roccoco gilt frames round odd prints, stuffed animal heads (still with price tags, like the Mad Hatter’s hat) and rather sweetly, fresh daffs in old bottles. But to hell with the bloody decor, it’s the food that does the talking. Our chum Jay Rayner creamed his jeans here a week or two ago and as the first course arrives it’s easy to see why.
Herdwick mutton cottage pie, smoked potato and mint. Couldn’t be simpler, eh? You’d think so but crikey, how much flavour can one boy (chef Tom Parker, all of 14 years old*) stuff into a starter called that? As it turns out, the entire circumference of the world’s worth. Astonishing. He’s no slouch in the soup department either. ‘Morel mushrooms and a soft egg’ it says. Minimum words, maximum impact.
And then. And then. Cumbrian roe deer, liquorice, roast carrots. How in tarnation does the 14 year old* have the chops to deliver a dish like this? It’s sublime, faultless, looks great but tastes better. Ditto Goosnargh chicken and cauliflower. I can’t summon the superlatives. Then just when you think it’s a fluke, puddings come. Gauriguette strawberries (nope, me neither) panacotta and basil is just sublime but who would’ve thought that rice pudding could blow your mind? Not me, and it did. Jay had it, I had it, and he’s right. It’s an explosion in a sweet shop and a million miles away from that, that TRAVESTY they gave you at school. All this for 25 quid for three courses. Prices hike at night, and rightly so.
*He’s a bit older than 14 of course but not much. He’s Lisa Allen’s protege from Northcote so he learned at a good pair of knees, and says, somewhat disarmingly, that he just sees what comes into the kitchen in the morning and makes something to eat. Yeah, right.
You’re going to be hearing a lot about Tom Parker in the months to come.