Malcolm Morris stayed local for his latest review at The Red Cat in Whittle-le-Woods
Lightning flashed overhead and the air was rumbling with thunder.
It wasn’t the only rumbling going on, to speak personally, and I reckoned our party of four was in a similar state of anticipation. Or, as one put it: “I’m absolutely starving.”
We’d booked for 7pm, and so relaxed is the conservatory and bar area as we offered up our choices to the French maitre de that we were convinced we’d beaten the rush, only to be confounded moments later to see the place was packed.
It’s stylish, intimate, with a friendly buzz of conversation uninterrupted by the background music: all set up for a gastronomic treat.
Now, as regular readers will know I’m no name dropper. After a 40-year career I could roll off a couple of former Prime Ministers, lots of ex-sports stars, politicians, comedians, a world famous naturalist ... if I were immature enough to want to impress. But one name I will allow myself to drop is Michelin.
I’ve dined at Michelin starred restaurants, so knowing The Red Cat’s aspirations, I was eager to compare.
The menu is sensible, offering just pork, beef, venison, chicken and hake as the main courses. The aim is quality.
There’s a taster menu, at £50 a head, which would have been ideal to assess the range of food, but it requires a unanimity we can’t muster.
We’ve gone for a bottle of Chablis, which is especially fruity and fresh, and a Fleurie Beaujolais at £30 each to cover all options.
We are brought a small black slate carrying two little canopes of melting goat’s cheese in bread crumbs, swiftly followed by a choice of three homemade breads, white, granary and bacon flavour: on the house.
I settle on seared Shetland scallops. It’s minimalist, and I could have done with a little more searing as there is barely any browning on the flesh.
The taste is not particularly strong, so the complimenting salsa, jelly and vinaigrette all of apple leaves me wishing for something a little sharper. An unusually chosen bread-crumbed ‘cigar’ of ham hock provides some contrast. A little bland, and a touch pricey at £10.50.
The word from across the table is that the Goosnargh duck terrine is tasty with excellent “bitey” firmness, and comes with a “gorgeous duck a l’orange” chicory and orange compote, raisin and anise puree, candied walnut, sourdough crostini, at £7.50.
The next report in is the pan fried smoked haddock on saffron risotto with straws of parmesan, a beetroot salad and black olive dressing. (£7.50) It’s tasty, but the combined effect is a saltiness which intrudes.
We men go for the venison, while the ladies opt for the fish.
Small slices of saddle are beautifully cooked, moist, flavoursome and with a hint of pink at the centre. They are placed atop a bed of braised red cabbage cut very thinly and given a lovely tangy taste.
Further contrasts come from artichoke hearts, parsnip puree and thyme jus, and quality vegetables in the shape of fondant potatoes and fine beans. It’s excellent at £20.50.
Equally pleasant murmurings are coming from the fish wives ... no, no, no, I can’t possibly say that. The wives who are having fish, then.
It’s a nice thick chunk of hake with a yummy looking browning and is, to quote: “Melt-in-the-mouth delicious.”
It sits on a generous bed of chervil mash and wilted kale, and oozes in a shallot compote. Saffron mussels add display and taste. (£16.50)
We then suffer another crisis of democracy in action. Some are full, some (me) want to eat on, but I have to leave a steamed whisky pudding with stem ginger ice cream, honeycomb and orange custard for another time.
Our food at The Red Cat was excellent, if at times a little over-priced. There appeared to be a wide range of quality ingredients. There is a lot of imagination going into the choice of combinations and the presentation.
It is getting closer to demonstrating the subtlety and sophistication of cooking and combinations of flavours which would take it to the next level, which would be very high.
NAME: The Red Cat
ADDRESS: 114 Blackburn Road, Whittle-le-Woods, Chorley
TEL: 01257 263 966
DETAILS: Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Wednesday to Saturday – lunch and a la carte menu 12pm to 2pm.
Ala carte and tasting menu 6pm till late.
Sunday menu 12pm to 6pm.
DISABILITY ACCESS: one step.