For me the real beauty and best thing about reviewing places to eat in Lancashire, is the stark contrast of what is on offer, even in the same town.
And I’m not just talking about the food, but about the styles of service, interior design and furnishings, presentation and cooking practices, pricing and drink menu.
Last week I visited Greekouzina in Preston, a no frills Greek and Mediterranean restaurant where you order at the counter, your meal is served on a plastic tray but the flavors are as authentic as in a tavern in Athens.
READ MORE: Review: The Barn at Moor Hall – every dish is beautifully crafted poetry on a plate
A 10-minute walk away is fine dining establishment 263, located inside the Winckley Square Hotel, offering an evening tasting menu for £70 a head, with wine flight accompaniment available for an additional £45.
The restaurant was ‘awakened’ at the end of 2021, with celebrity chef Oli Martin at the helm of the kitchen, after being closed for most of the pandemic, only opening in the fall 2019.
263’s goal is to create a menu that’s hyper-focused on wild ingredients, but that thinking also spills over to the overall aesthetics of the interior and the layout of the dining room.
It’s Scandi-chic, with beautifully shaped pale wood chairs and tables, earthy olive-green wood paneling with pops of pastel color from paintings by local artists carefully hung on the walls.
It’s natural and minimalistic and careful attention is paid to sourcing handmade goods from skilled Lancashire tradesmen, including Poulton-based potter Dylan Cross, who supplies the fabulous plates, jugs and bowls.
We could have entered a small restaurant in the middle of a Nordic forest, a small street in Copenhagen or Scandinavian Kitchen in Sweden.
The 10-course tasting menu brought us back to that feeling, and for the third course, we were served the Spent Grain Bread, meticulously prepared and baked with leftover grain from the Rivington Brewery, served with butter fluffy whipped.
It came with a Viking ship-like paddle to smother the butter on the thick, thick-crusted, hearty, interesting-tasting bread that was salty, hoppy, and sweet.
We immediately dubbed it ‘Viking Bread’ because it had the characteristics of seafaring heroes – strong and intriguing – while also reminding us of chunky loaves and the kind of diet we see medieval TV warriors such as The Witcher digging into. .
We started with a mini tartlet of caramelized artichokes on a bed of roasted seeds, which tasted spicy and tasted sought after but welcome.
Paying homage to its Lancashire gastronomic heritage, the Goosnargh Fried Chicken was piping hot, almost unbearable, making it difficult to hold or eat as cutlery wasn’t automatically provided, we assumed because they weren’t supposed to be necessary.
And although the crust was a bit too salty, the chicken was succulent and juicy while the neon green bear’s garlic dip was a revelation and we could have happily eaten spoonfuls of it.
It was remarkable how the Hen of the Woods Mushroom Broth with Leagram’s Curd gave you something different with every spoonful, before giving you even more as you chewed the plethora of textures.
It ran the full scale and back again, from tangy and crunchy to smooth, sweet and herbaceous.
Now, from someone who ate seven different butter pies this week, the deconstructed version of 263 is by far the most adventurous self-contained effort and I can confirm that it is quite possibly the “most pie ever”. chic of the world”.
It’s baked with a thin filo pastry, topped with chives sitting like the happiest duck in a pool of beautifully creamy sauce. A delight.
However, it was the North Sea cod with buttermilk mussels that was my favorite dish of the lot and my catering partner’s indifference to seafood worked to my advantage as, while completely ignoring any etiquette fine dining table, I leaned over and slid them from her plate onto mine.
It was one of many examples of the effectiveness of tasting menus and I certainly enjoyed ingredients I had never eaten before, some I had never even heard of.
Not everyone has the same palate, tastes and preferences and, especially for me, I feel more comfortable not quite finishing a dish I don’t particularly like if it’s a smaller portion because there is less waste.
For example, and contrary to our differing feelings about the cod dish (main photo), I’m not the biggest fan of dark chocolate or cocoa-based desserts, so I found the giant hogweed chocolate with much too rich sorbet.
However, my friend absolutely loved it and devoured hers faster than ABBA’s Dancing Queen gets people onto the dance floor at weddings.
I will add that the sorbet combined with the sauce had a wonderful fresh zest and I could have eaten it on its own.
Before coming to the remaining sweet dishes, the last two savory ones were both duck-based, the first a duck leg stew and the other a salty duck breast with pickled walnuts.
The first was mesmerizing with the tender strips of meat buried under what I can only describe as crispy Pom Bear flavored Rice Krispies without the sugar.
The duck breast was divine and perfectly cooked, making it one of the most memorable dishes.
Another first was tasting the cream of woodruff and rhubarb from Yorkshire, with glazed fruit and a crystallized texture, while the cream tasted like jelly, but the lack of flavor didn’t match the wow factor at all. of the presentation.
After a piece of richer salty malt fudge each, we were sufficiently full and satisfied and opted for the extra course of British farmhouse cheese (£15).
From the cheerful and warm welcome when we arrived, to the happy answering of our questions and the enthusiastic discussion of each course, the service was efficient but not imposing and, whether it was a conscious effort or not, they created a real Hygge environment.
After all, 263 is on the ground floor of a typical 1801 Georgia townhouse, with the original front door and bay windows retained, which really does feel like walking into a dining room, not in an acclaimed restaurant – and all the better for that.
The tasting menu is full of experimental flair, unusual flavors, with a distinctive wild undertone and takes you on a culinary journey so well crafted it’s as in-depth and expertly crafted – but much easier and more fun to negotiate. – than an IKEA apartment. – full cupboard.
Read more reviews from Denise Evans: Slug & Lettuce, Preston – An over-the-top celebrity baby shower turned nightclub with food almost as an afterthought
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