Arriving at The Cartford Inn on a Friday night we had expected a long wait for a table or to be turned away, especially as we hadn't booked ahead. After Chinese whispers through four staff we were told we had been squeezed in to a table, but they were completely full and we would have to relinquish it by 9pm at the latest (it was 7pm at this point so we weren't worried).
As we were 'squeezed in' we were lead upstairs to the slightly more formal mushroom dining room where surprise surprise, we were the only ones in (and there were at least six or seven tables up there). For the next two hours (we were good and left at 9pm) we were only joined by two other couples - very busy indeed.
I'll stop moaning now and talk about food - I know that's why you're here.
The Cartford Inn is a sleek gastropub, recently renovated in light wood, contemporary wall paper and many pictures of mushrooms. This is mirrored in their menu with it's mix of British classics, local produce and Mediterranean influences - though not many mushrooms (much to the delight of my dining companion, the massively mushroom phobic male solicitor).
To start we decided to share two of the wooden platters between the four of us - the antipasti and the Fleetwood seafood. Both were laden with food and good value for £8.95 each. Especially worth a mention was the smoked duck breast; pink, soft and with a delectable hint of wood smoke. The crevettes on the seafood board were massive, two of the largest specimens I have seen in my life and cooked brilliantly to boot.
Antipasti platter (minus quite a few bits, the boys were tucking in)
Following this came the mains, the boy's Chef's signature dish was a well executed oxtail and ale suet pudding (he's Northern, he needs suet to survive). The oxtail unctuous, soft and comforting in a rich gravy; the suet soothing, salty and warm all served up with a massive beetroot salad (there must have been at least three beetroots in there), plus a smooth mash and some seasonal British beans.
The chef's special and all its beetroot
Having spent the whole weekend feasting my way round the outskirts of Preston and the lower Lakes I wasn't feeling up for a whole main, so instead chose two starters to come out with the main dishes. The Lancashire Cheese tart was just a tasty cheese and onion tart as you'd find in any good pub. But it was the soft shelled crab on the shore that raised a smile.
Lancashire cheese tart
Consisting of soft shell crab, potted shrimps, samphire and chili jam, the dish could have come out with some pretty standard presentation. However, the chef had the good sense to make a beach scene and present the whole crab breaded, the shrimps as a sandcastle (replete with little plastic spade) and a jelly fish made of samphire and chili jam.
Soft shell crab on the seashore
If the taste level of the dish had matched the level of fun then we'd have been on to a winner. The chili jam was great, as were the local shrimps, the contrast in textures created an exciting dish - it was just the crab and the samphire that let the dish down. The samphire was cold and soggy and the crab was more breadcrumb than meat - the crumb was nice, I just wanted some more crab!
Overall The Cartford Inn is a great place for sleek pub food, served in in a comfortable and modern environment. Other than what I guess was an attempt at pushy table-turning by the manager the service was impeccable and attentive - the waiter was very knowledgeable about the food. And other than the soft shell crab being more style than substance - the food was pretty good.
And the gin and tonic issue? This is the only establishment I have been where I have asked for a cucumber in my Hendricks and been given one - they even went to the trouble of going to the kitchen to cut me a slice without a grumble and asked my opinion on the advantage of it over lime or lemon - what jolly nice people, gold star!
Ps - if approaching from any other way than through Little Ecclestone, then take change for the tollbridge - it's 40p each way.
Price for four including: two starters, two platters and three mains (we ordered drinks at the bar): £70.82
Value for money: 7/10
The Cartford Inn, Cartford Lane, Little Eccleston, Nr Great Eccleston, Preston, Lancashire PR3 0YP - 01995 670166, firstname.lastname@example.org