Each week we are visiting the best food pubs that Greater Manchester has to offer to give you the heads up for when you fancy a jaunt out of town. Jump in your car, take the train, get your walking boots on, dig out the leathers, get on your bike (in your lycra if you must). Whatever takes your fancy. Because sometimes no fancy restaurant can better show just how good our traditional British fare can be.
This week we are in Ramsbottom. Home of egg rolling, black pudding throwing, steam trains, and countless festivals including Head for the Hills, Jigsaw, and our favourite – the Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival.
With its stunning views across the Irwell Valley, this old industrial town of mills, cottages and cobbles is especially popular with walkers. Climbing Holcombe Hill to view the historic landmark, Peel Tower, named after its most famous local Sir Robert Peel, former PM and founder of the police force.
Ramsbottom has a thriving food and drink scene, servicing both locals and increasing numbers of visitors. One particularly popular place is the multi-award winning Eagle & Child Inn further down Peel Brow Hill on Whalley Road, which is where we are going to eat today.
The man behind this Rammy favourite is Glen Duckett, having taken on the boarded-up pub in 2011 and filling the last seven years with renovating and expanding to the impressive standard we find today.
We enter through the bar, part of Thwaites brewery, which stocks a solid selection of draft and hand-pulled cask ales on rotation with regular favourites Lancaster Bomber, Wainwrights and Top Bunk.
It feels part modern/ part traditional, very comfortable, tasteful and well-considered; as are each of the five rooms upstairs, all named after owls, and with bespoke owl artwork by Fran Giffard (we get the impression Glen is rather fond of the old, knowing bird.)
Particularly impressive is the garden, or should I say the Incredible Edible Beer Garden as is it officially called. Not only a fantastically large garden great for eating, drinking, and playing in – it’s very kid-friendly – it’s also a social enterprise scheme employing young adults who support the Incredible Edible Ramsbottom team to inspire and engage the local community to get involved with growing, cooking, and eating fresh produce.
Yes, it’s a full on allotment with fruit ‘n’ veg Gregg Wallace would be proud of, supplying their own kitchen to boot.
The restaurant is through the bar in the extended orangery (a fancy conservatory), where you can also enter the building from the car park. It’s light and airy, and it’s also very full.
The place is popular with diners, with new head chef Ben Morris gradually introducing his personality and style to the seasonal menu. Using the produce from their garden and local Lancashire meat from the Bowland Fells, the offer is modern but still pubby.
One thing that isn’t quite so traditional is the wine list on an iPad, something I’m not a personal fan of being an old-fashioned kind of girl.
Butter poached lobster, squid ink risotto, caramelised mango £11.95
Quite a dramatic looking starter. The risotto was cooked well, with the squid ink adding a distinctly maritime creamy saltiness to the whole ensemble. The sweet and sunny mango paired well with the lobster. But I do think there should have been more of the lobster on the dish for a starter at this price. It went really well with the crisp and smooth Spanish Borseo Macabeo white wine (£5.95 250ml).
Slow braised heather-fed Bowland lamb shoulder, harissa sweetbreads, cauliflower, hummus, pickled Scarisbrick mushrooms £8.95
This was a beautiful starter. It may not have looked as exciting as the lobster, but it was our favourite dish today. In the Forest of Bowland they apparently have ‘superb sheep rearing grass and heather which shines through in the quality of the meat.’ It certainly does. The slow braised lamb is full of flavour, the sweetbreads only delicately spiced and just right. I even loved the hummus despite having nearly not ordered this dish because it was on there. The pickled Lancashire mushrooms and cauliflower were the finishing touch to this perfectly balanced plate.
Fillet of brill, thyme roasted leeks, samphire, saffron potato, lobster sauce £18.95
Served on the bone, this was a solid and hearty fish main course. Chunky white brill, buttery rich potato, salty samphire, and creamy lobster sauce were all good. We also liked the roasted leeks, although couldn’t taste any of the thyme.
Goosnargh sesame duck breast, Albert Matthews’ smoked bacon, pomegranate & treacle quinoa, caramelised chicory £18.95
My companion insisted we order this, although I have to say I was put off by the quinoa. I think I just hate the name and all it stands for more than anything. But if every time I ordered quinoa it tasted like this I would have no qualms. This was such a delicious dish with the lovely smoked bacon. But who is this Albert Matthews, I hear you say? He’s a celebrated butcher from Bury, keeping it local. The duck was unfortunately slightly overdone but we still enjoyed this immensely.
Chocolate truffle torte, Amaretti, almond praline, rum & raisin ice-cream £7.95
This torte was very rich, like one giant chocolate truffle. A chocolate lover’s heaven, and maybe all those chocolate festival goers too. A great one for sharing. And we loved that rum & raisin ice-cream.
Yorkshire rhubarb, blood orange, ginger & rosehip trifle £6.95
Like a deconstructed trifle put back together as a giant sponge-layered mille feuille. A very attractive dish but it looked better than it tasted. The sponge was a little dry, the custard too hard and firm, and the rhubarb lost. We would actually have preferred a proper old-school trifle. Sometimes traditional and simple does the trick.
We spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in the Eagle & Child despite the drizzly weather, with some good solid pub food.
The staff are attentive and the service friendly, genuine and warm, which is impressive as many of them are training alongside the horticultural students in the garden through the business’s youth training project aimed at unemployed 16-24 year olds.
We applaud Glen and his team in this social enterprise, not only growing their own produce, but also training and growing young people from the local community too. How refreshing is that?
3 Whalley Road, Ramsbottom, Bury, BL0 0DL