Nestled, almost hidden, half-way between Blackpool and Garstang is the Cartford Inn in the village of Little Eccleston.
The pub is built next to a private toll bridge, and whilst this might give the appearance of being a barrier to entry, the food should be considered anything but.
The inn has been a presence in the village for centuries, but in recent times has transformed, chameleon-like from a mere local into a Lancashire food destination.
On a busy Saturday evening, the inn provides a warm welcome to drinkers and diners alike. We ventured to the Cartford following an evening at Blackpool illuminations. This meant our booking of 9pm was later than we’d normally care to dine. Despite this, the pub was still full and continued to welcome fellow diners even after we arrived.
Following a short wait – which offered us time to consider our drink and dining choices, and soak up the eclectic decor – we were sat at a comfy table in one of the cosy rooms.
The bar offers a welcoming range of drinks for all tastes, including a handful of decent real ale choices, gins for every week of the year, and wine and cocktail choices that would be the envy of most bars. Our picks were served quickly and without fuss.
While the bar was impressive, it was the food that really made this trip memorable. From the moment we arrived and were handed the oversized, A3 menus, we knew we were in for a treat.
The options combined traditional pub classics, with brasserie and restaurant dishes. It was clear that the menu had been put together with intelligence and that each option was thought through to ensure flavours complemented each other.
Our starters demonstrated this. Charlotte opted for an intense Jerusalem artichoke and goats’ cheese gnocchi, which was served in a delicate, fresh mushroom consomme with confit tomato and pickled mushrooms.
Each element added to the dish – offering a contrast of sharp and sweet flavours, with the fried gnocchi delivering a crisp texture against the smooth liquor.
I went for a lobster bisque which was accompanied by fresh lobster and scallop, a fish gratin and cheese on toast.
Whilst this sounded like a busy dish, the elements were perfectly matched. The lobster bisque was the star of the show – the rich, smooth sauce was beautifully flavoured with lobster and sherry. It was silky smooth, and the pieces of seafood, gratin and cheese toast all tasted delicious when combined with it.
This was a course that has stayed with me since that point. I can still taste the bisque to this day. Long may that continue!
After starters this good, we had high hopes of the main course, and were not disappointed.
Charlotte chose the steak suet pudding which is a pub classic that managed to impress Jay Rayner when he visited. I chose fresh turbot – something I rarely turn down when I spot it on the menu.
Two different dishes, but both were impressive once again. It was clear to see why the suet pudding proves so popular – it was as dense as you’d expect a suet pudding to be, but with a light, warm, hug of a filling. The meat was soft and tender, and served with a gravy that once again emphasised that this is a restaurant that knows its sauces.
The turbot was a simple affair, but with high quality fish, that’s just what you want. The beautifully cooked portion was served with a light butter sauce and fresh vegetables. It was light yet filling – the perfect main.
Despite the choices sounding tempting, we decided to swerve desserts on this occasion. We instead crossed the border back from Lancashire to Cumbria, knowing we’d return soon enough.
As well as delicious food, the Cartford Inn offers comfortable accommodation, with an eye for the extravagant. This includes two quirky cabins nestled in the grounds.
If it were up to me, I’d suggest going for the food, but stay the night.