RESTAURANT REVIEW: The Top Lock, Wheelton

The Top Lock is situated in a lovely spot on the Leeds-Liverpool canal
The Top Lock is situated in a lovely spot on the Leeds-Liverpool canal

A country pub at heart, this lively local offers a few foody surprises

I’m going to start with a classic review cliché - The Top Lock is a pub ‘full of contrasts’. Sorry, but it is. On the one hand it’s in an idyllic location, nestled next to the Leeds-Liverpool canal within the beautiful countryside on the outskirts of Chorley. On the other, it’s only a couple of minutes from the M61.

Hoisin mushrooms, charred pak choi and coconut rice

Hoisin mushrooms, charred pak choi and coconut rice

From the outside it looks like your quintessential rural inn - a stone building with window boxes and shrubs. Inside, I expected horse brasses, sepia photos and open fires. What I found was cool grey paintwork, tall bar tables, lots of shiny gin bottles and a modern log burner.

The menu continues the theme. Pub favourites roast beef, steak and kidney pudding and fish and chips are all there but are offered alongside a range of dishes including squid, halloumi and beetroot hummus.

This is by no means a complaint though, it was all just a bit of a surprise. I knew The Top Lock had been completely refurbished a few years ago and I went expecting something smart but still with that traditional country pub feel.

It was Father’s Day when our little family arrived and though this probably accounted for a few of the reserved signs my impression is that this is a permanently busy establishment. But it’s popularity is reflected in its muted decor which is clearly ‘well-loved’ - tiled flooring has the odd one cracked or missing, upholstery is a little worn in places and that grey paint could do with a touch up.

Tomato and basil soup

Tomato and basil soup

But the bar is like a mini Aladdin’s cave - tiny and packed with shiny pumps and bottles offering all manner of tempting tipples. It was also packed with staff, no doubt in anticipation of that Sunday rush.

Warmly welcomed and settled with a drink the menu baffled me for a while. It’s not overwhelming but the range of choice is excellent and I was torn between the burst tostada (£5.50), salt and chilli squid (£5.75), fresh tomato and basil soup (£5) and hoisin mushrooms with charred pak choi and coconut rice (£8). And that was just to start!

The mushrooms won in the end. I found them on the vegan menu which is full of just as much choice as the ‘normal’ one - as someone who avoids gluten, a proper selection for a dietary requirement is a real treat.

As were those mushrooms, in fact it was one of the nicest starters I’ve had. With not a hit of rubber, the mushrooms were small and tender and the sauce rich and earthy. Topped with some fresh pea shoots to lighten it all up the tiny pot of accompanying rice was light and al dente. I didn’t taste the coconut but coriander and cardamom provided extra party for my palate.

Gluten free, vegan, courgette and chickpea burger with blackened red peppers and sweet potato fries

Gluten free, vegan, courgette and chickpea burger with blackened red peppers and sweet potato fries

The Younger had decided to wait for her spag bol but Father of the Day had gone for the soup, a thick, almost puree of vibrant red tomatoes, ‘bursting with umami’ apparently.

The main course decision was just as tough with all those pub favourites, hot sandwiches, pizzas, curries, burgers and roasts. I’d whittled it down to either grilled chicken breast with roasted vine tomatoes and Portobello mushrooms (£11) or a gluten free courgette and chickpea burger (£11)...or maybe the gammon....?

As FotD gets impatient I chose the chickpea challenge. I say ‘challenge’ as it was quite an ordeal to eat - notoriously crumbly, the gluten free bun couldn’t hold on to the fragile burger and some smooth, blackened red peppers didn’t help. Collapse aside, it was packed with flavour from the soft, nutty chickpeas to the crunchy courgette. The side of sweet potato fries were incredibly more-ish.

FotD’s fish and chips was perfectly done (although he claimed his fish was a bit of a tiddler) and The Younger’s spag bol with garlic ciabatta (£10) was also an excellent example.

Fish and chips with Top Lock batter

Fish and chips with Top Lock batter

Outside the heavens had opened and an influx folk probably added to our wait for desserts but it was welcome. An Eton mess (£6) was fruity, creamy and crunchy with mini marshmallows providing added texture, while a slice of chocolate fudge cake (£6) was without fault.

I had chosen an avocado chocolate mousse (£5.50), again from the vegan menu. Intrigued by the concept, I later discovered the avocado is to provide the smooth texture but without the dairy aspect. Mine, while OK in flavour was lumpy and didn’t quite work for me. The chocolate ice cream on the side however, was some of the best I have ever tasted.

So we finished as we started with another of those contrasts. But life would be dull without a bit of variety. And the Top Lock certainly isn’t dull.

A busy, bustling local, offering too much for me to include on these pages, if you’re looking for a quiet pint or romantic meal this might not be your best bet at the weekend. But if it’s an afternoon for you, every man and his dog you’re after - with some smashing grub - this is definitely a top spot.

The Top Lock, 01257 263328

Food: 4.5/5
Service: 5/5
Atmosphere: 4/5
Value: 4.5/5

Spaghetti bolognese with garlic ciabatta

Spaghetti bolognese with garlic ciabatta

Five More to Try

The Boars Head, Hoghton
A village pub, situated just a few minutes away from Hoghton Tower, offering a warm welcome and hearty, locally produced and seasonal food.

Dressers Arms, Wheelton
A family-friendly pub dating back to the 1700s, with real ales and home cooking and located in a beautiful countryside setting.

The Cavendish Arms, Brindle
A small country pub located in the outskirts of Chorley offering delicious fine food from a menu made up of all the favourite pub classics.

The Nabs Head, Samlesbury
Delightful pub in the picturesque countryside of Nabs Head offering proper Lancashire food and ale in a warm and friendly environment.

The Butlers Arms, Pleasington
Sisiter pub to The Top Lock, a beautiful stone building opposite Pleasington Priory offering a relaxed environment for drinking or dining.

Eton Mess

Eton Mess