With a selection of marinated artichoke on toast, lamb shank with Pommes Anna, and poached pear with rum and orange syrup, this was clearly not going to be an ordinary pub, or even gastro-pub, experience.
Chef Chris Rawlinson, formerly of The Red Cat, has moved down the road, underneath the M65 bridge, taken the Hoghton road and set up in Riley Green… and has taken quality with him.
The Royal Oak has always been as good a country pub as you could wish.
Now it has superior restaurant quality food, and it remains to be seen if the combination will draw in enough customers to make a go of it. It deserves to.
I had checked out beforehand if The Red Cat style of food was to be served, and the answer had been ‘Yes, but more casual.’
That showed in the less formal setting, and the inclusion of pub classics, burgers and pizzas on the more extensive menu.
Settled, armed with beer from the good choice of real ales, into a little alcove by the old stone wall and wood panelling, one of a team of exceptionally efficient and friendly waiters makes her first approach.
Artichoke on toast was so intriguing a choice on the Specials Board I had to try it.
The artichoke heart has been marinated, and the toast, soft and lightly warmed, itself has a moist extra flavour of something I can’t pin down, possibly just the juice from the vegetable which has that amazing flavour.
A handful of water cress and a circular drizzle around a plate of walnut pesto complete the contrast of tastes.
A tasty and chunky ham hock terrine has a small green leaf salad sprinkled across the top.
Within it are scattered tiny picked dill and onions with tiny cubes of Lancashire cheese. A malt bread cob is slightly warmed.
A hefty lamb shank is glazed with what turns out to be a distinctive red wine jus.
The lamb falls from the bone on the merest prompting and is moist and richly flavoured. Green beans, a perfectly cooked section of thinly sliced and browned potatoes in a variant of pommes dauphinoise, and an imaginative mix of peas and shredded Savoy cabbage complete the ensemble.
The fish pie – golden brown creamy cheese mash on top – is a perfect balance, I’m informed, of fish (salmon, white and prawns) in a rich cream sauce which includes peas and carrots.
The same mix of Savoy cabbage and peas, this time buttered, are in a separate bowl.
Choice of desserts again shows invention.
The pear is soft, lightly marinated and in a delicious syrup of white rum in which are little sprinklings of orange zest.
A spoonful of soft vanilla ice cream rests on a base of zest, and a toffee flake is just big enough to use as a spoon.
The Knickerbocker Glory comes in a traditional glass with a long spoon.
The ice creams are vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, and in the mix are raspberry sauce, pieces of honeycomb and chunks of chocolate. It’s topped with vanilla whipped cream and a raspberry.
The bill: £60.
Name: The Royal Oak
Address: Blackburn Old Road, Riley Green
Contact: 01254 201445 or www.royaloak-rileygreen.co.uk
Opening hours: Monday-Fri day: Noon to 2.30pm and 5.30pm to 9pm, Saturday: 1Noon to 9pm, Sun day: Noon to 8.30pm
Access for disabled diners: Good