Pubs have traditionally been an important part of British culture, although popping in for ‘just the one’ at lunchtime or after work seems to be a pastime steadily on the decline.
With local ales and conversation at the bar no longer the main attraction, it is now increasingly the food that draws customers in. Fast becoming destination venues in their own right, these pubs are notching up awards and accolades and attracting visitors from further afield.
Over the past few weeks, we have been seeking out the best food pubs our region has to offer, compiling our very own Good Grub Pub Guide to give you the heads up for when you fancy heading out of town and trying somewhere new. Because sometimes a change is as good as a rest, or a pub as good as any restaurant.
For our excursion out of town this week we head to Lymm in Cheshire. Meaning ‘place of running water’ (perhaps the inspiration for one of the town’s most famous residents Ian Brown and the Stone Roses hit, Waterfall), the town certainly has its share of water features.
Both the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canal pass through this conservation town, as well as the famous Lymm Dam. Not actually a dam at all, but a lake, with surrounding parks and woodland to keep the walkers and cyclists happy. And anglers can take their pick from the carp, pike, catfish, chub, perch and bream in abundance.
Standing on the bank overlooking Lymm Dam is the Grade II listed St Mary’s Church designed by architect John Dobson, its tower containing a ring of eight cast bells (I believe ringing takes place every Thursday evening.)
Built in local sandstone, the church sits beautifully amongst the churchyard framed by some rather magnificent trees. In the neighbouring plot stands an impressive 900 year old yew tree, thought to fend off evil spirits – welcome news to those visiting this site on which stands our destination today, The Church Green.
Owned and run by chef Aiden Byrne and wife Sarah, it is easy to see how anyone visiting (i.e. me) might have certain pre-conceptions.
As well as being the youngest chef at the time to win a Michelin star at only 22 years of age, most Manchester folk might recognise Aiden as the previous head chef at Manchester House and currently heading up the city’s glitziest restaurant, 20 Stories, with panoramic views, fine dining, matching wines, and equally matching sky-high prices to boot.
So yes, it is fair to say I had preconceptions before I arrived at The Church Green. And they were completely wrong.
The space is, dare I say, very normal. There’s lot of outside garden, a large conservatory, and two comfortable dining areas as well as the bar itself. I like the fact the space is very light and airy, and each table has lots of space. Less so the café interior style chairs you used to see in pretty much every restaurant about twenty years back.
But overriding any negative thoughts is the absolute feeling of relaxation you experience as you sit down. It’s like getting to the end of a long week at work, taking a sigh of relief and grabbing a bottle of wine to take home. It’s lovely. Not pretentious at all. And you can talk and offload at any volume you like, as I did with my companion who I hadn’t seen in a long time.
The menus are equally surprising – simple with not too many dishes, which I love as you know firstly everything is fresh, and secondly it won’t give me a headache deciding what to order.
There are six of most things. Six starters, six mains (plus some steaks and specials), six desserts, six reds and six whites. See, I told you it was simple. And priced at £23.50 for two courses or £29.50 for three, possibly very good value. But we can’t decide that until we have eaten, now can we?
Kedgeree scotch egg, smoked haddock, lemon mayonnaise
What a fantastic take on the humble scotch egg. Nice and runny middle with a lightly curried smoked haddock surround. Golden crumb. Generous in size. Paired nicely with our South African Percheron white, a blend of Chenin Blanc and Voignier from the Western Cape (£4.40 125ml glass.)
Pan-fried scallops, samphire, radish, fennel slaw, lemon oil
Well-cooked plump scallops. The side slaw and samphire a beautifully balanced accompaniment. But the plate needed one other element we both thought. We couldn’t put our finger on what was missing. Then again, we aren’t the chefs.
Pie of the Day: Ox cheek, Guinness and mushroom
Oh my. We both agreed this has to be one of the best pies we’ve tasted. Ever. Everything was superb. The ox cheek was soft and richly flavoured, the Guinness and mushroom gravy thick like a stew, with some buttery shortcrust all round (as in not just a lid, but a real ‘proper’ pie.) The mash was smooth and dreamy, with some more lovely gravy on the side. This dish needed nothing else.
With it we drank individually decanted glasses of Romanian Lautarul Pinot Noir (£5 for 125ml small glass). A nice touch.
Courgette flower, spring vegetables, wild garlic, cep macaroni cheese (v)
A vegetarian main course that doesn’t feel like an afterthought or token veggie dish. And probably here we could most see evidence of Aiden’s calibre in the detail. The courgette flower was jam-packed with some creamy cheese, and we both love the hint of truffle oil on the high stack of macaroni cheese. So many elements make up this vegetarian show-stopper.
Beef dripping chips £4
Good chips. Enough said.
Iced berry parfait, blackberries, meringue
Parfait. I have tried so many in an attempt to sway my opinion. The cold set dessert made with berries, cream and eggs feels like a pate of sorbet, and is topped with some very tart blackberries and shards of meringue. Although I can appreciate the techniques, I still don’t really like it. My guest enjoyed it though.
The Church Green in Lymm may not have been what I expected, but it was a whole lot better for it.
You can absolutely see Aiden’s culinary pedigree in every dish. Although it’s not fine dining here, the modern British food is all at a very high standard. Served in this setting, it’s made more accessible to everyone, especially at this price point.
And although this place doesn’t look like your more traditional local, it ‘feels’ like one. Which is far more important in my book.
We had a smashing lunch, the staff were gorgeous, and we enjoyed every minute of being in there. A fine pub. A good grub pub for sure.
Higher Lane, Lymm, WA13 0AP