July 3, 2013
When Paul Heathcote announced last September that he was removing his name from above the door of his Longridge restaurant, refurbishing the premises and slightly repositioning his menu and pricing, he half expected Michelin to take away the restaurant’s one-star accolade.
So he was prepared when the Red Guide came out a few weeks ago showing the Longridge restaurant, as it is now called, without a star.
“Obviously, I was very sad to lose the star after 10 years, but we’re still, in truth, cooking star food,” he says, leaning back in a fashionably beige high-backed chair. “It’s just that I’m not in the kitchen all the time any more and I wanted to reprice the menu, so we’ll see what happens next year.”
In practice, Heathcote shares cooking duties at Longridge with head chef Andy Barnes and Max Gnoyke, assistant managing director of Heathcotes Restaurants. And the menu – rejigged after Christmas – is a selection, “as near as dammit”, of Heathcote’s greatest hits. Home-made black pudding, locally reared Goosnargh duck and potted shrimps – all essential Heathcote for more than a decade – are all there.
It’s safe to say that Heathcote would be lynched if he took off his black pudding starter, although this, like most of the “old” offerings, has undergone regular tweaking. He has four versions, but this is the definitive one – served with crushed, earthy new potatoes, baked beans and a bay leaf sauce (£6).
Black pudding crops up again among the main dishes. Matching it with seafood, Heathcote resists the temptation to go with the trend and put it on a plate with scallops. Instead, its tongue-coating texture is contrasted with the white flakiness of roast fillet of brill and complemented by hash brown potatoes and the tried-and-tested bay leaf butter (£16).
The dish shouts Heathcote’s trademark of treating food (preferably locally reared) simply and with respect; and this philosophy pervades his other quintessential dishes too. Being a Lancashire lad, you’d expect him to have a hotpot around, and he doesn’t disappoint. It’s there, made with chump of lamb and complemented by the robustness of beetroot and broccoli (£13.50). Naturally, it sells well.
As does Goosnargh duck, also distinctively Heathcote, which headlines the mains selection, served with sweet and sour figs, root vegetables and rosemary (£15.95). The figs are lightly poached in a syrup of unrefined organic sugar and balsamic, with a little red wine added to deglaze at the end.
So, what are the signature-dish chart-toppers among the desserts? Well, bread and butter pudding accompanied by clotted cream and apricots (£5.50), which makes up 49% of Longridge’s dessert sales (“I’m not joking”). Then there’s a smooth buttermilk vanilla cream, very panna cotta-ish, served with a texturally contrasting and palate-cleansing green apple purée and blackberries (£5.25); plus, amazingly for the first time, a trifle (£4.95).
Heathcote calls it a “real” trifle, but forget any notions about retro 1970s sherry-soaked sponge, tinned fruit salad and lumpy custard. This one has tangerines and amaretti biscuits augmenting the sponge; yes, it does have nuts sprinkled over the top, but they are specially roasted almonds.
And just in case you think the nine/nine/eight-choice menu of starters/mains/desserts comprises only honest, down-to-earth favourites, a quick read reveals salads, terrines, duck confits and foie gras ballotines peppered with spiced chutneys, beer jellies and tapenades.
All of which seems to keep Longridge’s seats – now 72, formerly 60 – well occupied, particularly on a Saturday evening, when it’s not unusual for 90-plus covers to be put out. At an average spend of about £40 a head, it makes Heathcote’s decision to plough £50,000 into the refurbishment a shrewd move.
What’s on the menu
* Ham hock and ox tongue terrine, spiced pear chutney, drop scones, £5.25
* Confit duck leg, Savoy cabbage, bacon and potatoes, £6
* Mussels, white crabmeat, Pernod and saffron, £6
* Ballotine of foie gras, brioche and beer jelly £9.50
* Goosnargh chicken breast, layered potatoes, cauliflower fritters, shiitake mushrooms, cumin juices, £13.50
* Baked cod, cabbage and bacon, warm potted shrimps, red wine sauce, £14.50
* Winter salad of artichokes, beetroot and cèpes, horseradish cream, £12
* Caramelised mulled pear tart, rosemary ice-cream, £6.50
* Banana sticky toffee pudding, vanilla ice-cream, £5.25
* Pot of spiced chocolate cream, shortbread, £5.50