About 3 miles from Clitheroe is the small parish of Great Mitton. It is home to a 13th Century Grade I listed church, an ancient manor house and two pubs.
One of these, The Aspinall Arms, has closed down. The other, The Three Fishes, has just enjoyed a full refurbishment.
The Three Fishes is the flagship pub in the Ribble Valley Inns group, co-owned by Craig Bancroft and Nigel Haworth, which has an annual turnover of £10m.
Today I was dining at the Three Fishes with six of my family. Recently I had been let down by bad service at the Three Fishes, and was interested to see how they would manage with my table for six. I was running late, and my companions were already enjoying a drink in the reception/bar area when I arrived.
The bar is a treat for real ale drinkers, always well stocked with three or four of the local brews. For the price of a pint you can order a ‘Paddle Of Ales’ – 3 glasses of three different local ales – often Moorhouses which is based a few miles away in Burnley.
To say The Three Fishes is proud of its location, and the local produce, would be an understatement. It goes out of its way to let the customer know that. Their website declares that they use ‘only the freshest ingredients harvested by our local food heroes’. Photographs of local farmers, butchers and cheese makers peer out at you around every corner. A full wall in the restaurant boasts a map of the ‘Tolkien Way’, centered around Stonyhurst College, just a few miles down the road.
Even the place mats feature local imagery; beautifully illustrated maps show just how locally ingredients are sourced.
I assume it is award winning, local produce champion, Nigel Haworth’s, ‘inspiration’ that drives the passion for all things local. Although, rather cryptically, we are told the menu is ‘inspired’ by Nigel. Does this mean he wrote it? I’m not sure, but I think it does. It certainly features dishes that he created, and feels very much the kind of menu he would endorse.
Back to my meal. After greeting my fellow diners, we were escorted to our table by the polite and friendly maitre d’ and handed the menu. Although the menu is physically quite large, the choice is refined and concentrated down to just a few of each type of meal.
The menu continues to emphasise the local message. Dishes such as ‘Goosnargh Chicken’, ‘Lancashire Hot Pot’, ‘Morcambe Bay Shrimp’, and ‘Lancashire Cheese Souffle’ (which was enjoyed by one of my fellow diners!).
One of the lovely things about a trip to the Three Fishes is the ‘Nibbles’ section of the menu. We ordered one of everything on offer and a selection of breads. A short time later and our bounty of nibbles started to arrive! A special mention goes to Harvey’s Mini Bangers and the ‘Bacon Puffs’. A new addition to the menu, that is super delicious, like bacon infused with air!
For the main course I sampled the ‘All In Burger’, which did not disappoint. It was tasty enough without relish, but came with a fine selection of piccalilli, chili pickle, and Black Berry Farm Streaky Bacon, topped with Lancashire cheese. It was juicy and delicious.
After looking at the dessert menu I decided to share the cheese board with two others in my party. Rather than being an exciting crescendo, the dessert menu – put together by the head chef at Northcote Manor, Lisa Allen – is an anticlimax. On offer are traditional favorites like cheesecake, crumble and pancakes. All of which are lovely, but a little uninspired and nothing to get excited about – but the cheese board was good, a mix of Lancashire favorites including a slab of the delicious, Blackstix Blue.
Overall, we had a great time, and to my relief the service was fast and efficient, and all the staff were polite and helpful, especially with children, and the food was enjoyed by everyone.
Yet, the Three Fishes has just undergone an impressive refurbishment and aside from the decor, walking into the Three Fishes reminds me of walking in to my grandmother’s front room; it’s warm, welcoming and feels safe. I just can’t help feeling that The Three Fishes plays it a little too safe, and could push to be a little more adventurous and exciting.
That said, it has set the bar for standards of consistency and quality in the Ribble Valley. For value for money, it’s hard to beat The Three Fishes.