north west 1320

The Cartford Inn

Little Eccleston, Lancs.

The great Jay Rayner loaded The Cartford Inn with promise following his fond review in late 2017. My festive micro-tour of Lancashire gifted the chance to test his assertions, as well as stop over at The Inn at Whitewell.

Partly owing to the switch from rural hostelry to bustling pub, my first impression of The Cartford Inn was the sheer volume of people up at the bar. I expected something mellower in light of the almost twee passage into Cartford, which takes you just shy of a dinky ferry crossing and provides a view of the Inn’s antiquated building off to the right, next to the water. Yet – astonishingly – the pub was not unlike my local Slug & Lettuce on a Saturday night: lots of groomed youngsters, lots of noise and not much standing space. Maintaining an open mind, I let the atmosphere wash over me and looked forward to the tastes and spectacles of the forthcoming meal. Brief aside: I stayed over at The Cartford Inn and, after being shown in to my room, with its bat-shit crazy wallpaper of portrait faces, the gent who presided over the check-in (who was clearly a senior staff member and who popped up variously) brayed about the quality of food in the restaurant. Was his hyperbole desirable? I’d just come from the Inn at Whitewell – essentially the scoff and respite pinnacle of the north-west – and had been told, most boldly, to expect even better chez Cartford.

Rib of beef (to share)

With the option of dining room A (smart but noisy) or dining room B (plain but with a sort-of-river-view), I took B. It was basic to look at, calm and breezy. The windows were unsexy PVC in the 1980s-and-onwards style but, through them, I could see a little external lamp light glisten on the black surface of the Wyre.

Though I’d hoped for much, nothing leapt at me from the Inn’s wine list. It pains me when I see lists with no vintages. So much is then left to chance. Frankly, even with a bit of age on it, not one bottle on the list was exciting to anyone with a serious interest in wine. It’s difficult for that statement to seem level … and I suppose Jay perceived things (maybe) which I did not. Simply, my position is that a restaurant, even within a pub, needs between five and ten wines designed to appeal to any passing wine geeks. The friendly manager allowed me to drink my own wine (a 2009 Syrah from The Foundry winery in South Africa) for a corkage fee of £10.

Back aboard my personal rollercoaster of expectation and reality, a starter of game pasty was a let-down. It sounded so good, in theory. It could have been deep-filled, oozing and full of the bitter, savoury and forest-y flavours of game meats. Instead, it was mainly pastry, with a painfully small and semi-dry filling of something in its centre.

A little step up followed with the main, particularly in visual terms. I’d ordered the rib of beef from a particular breed of cow that the barman mentioned amidst the din, and indeed it looked the part. It’s always good to see salt crystals sitting atop slices of charred beef with pink middles. I largely enjoyed it but, despite wishing desperately to not find fault, fault there was. The best way I can describe the steak is by reference to Neapolitan ice cream. Each slice of rib steak had three levels of cookedness within it – overcooked on the far edge, blue in the centre and medium rare on the near edge. I essentially ate one third of every piece of steak. At £60 for such a heap of beef, the overall feeling was one of value. I’ve had worse and I’ve had better (and I’ve paid a lot more). What confused me was the choice, by the member of staff I referred to earlier, to baste me in the many praises of his restaurant’s food such as to leave me writhing and salivating in the run-up to 8pm. Of course, Jay found untold virtues during his visit… and I found two or three. But I was in no better a dining spot than the best of my local pubs.

While not really a dessert aficionado, credit is due in respect of the end course of chocolate delice. It seemed a pity to me that the most quality lay in the course in which I was least interested.

Fayre from Toti’s shop

I’ve said little about service because it was so efficacious. There was no fawning or fussiness and, likewise, no forgetfulness or inattention. All was fine on that front.

When I returned and wrote this up, I took the time to research the Inn’s lunch menu. It looks a real treat and has me in mind that Jay popped along to Cartford in the daytime. At lunch, there is not only the option of fruits de mer – a joy to any gourmand – there are also smaller plates provided by the adjacent Toti shop, such as Fleetwood seafood and the Toti deli sandwich (similar to a Reuben). I popped into Toti when there and, truly, it is a gem of a place – like a sort of Harry Potter tuck shop for savoury food enthusiasts.

In scoring the Inn, I’m mindful of the shadow that would almost inevitably be cast on it by The Inn at Whitewell the night previous. The fact is, and though I wish differently, I was disappointed. Just plain old disappointment.

You now have two reviews at different ends of the spectrum – so I suppose the only solution is to try it for yourself. I do recommend daytime in order to better see the river and sample the bountiful seafood.

The Cartford Inn
Food & Drink36
about our grading system

Cartford Lane
Little Eccleston