Duke of Portland @ Lach Dennis

Being “award-winning” is something of a double-edged sword for a restaurant. On the one-hand it’s often a well-deserved pat on the back for under appreciated hard-working staff or the vision of its proprietor. But on the other hand, customers arrive with high expectations and the likelihood of winning the award several years on the trot is slim leaving the impression that standards might have dropped when the title moves onto another.

The Duke of Portland
is one of those places riding high in the award stakes at the moment. Not only is it Cheshire’s only new entrant for a coveted Michelin pub award, but the banners outside proudly declare that it’s one of the top ten gastropubs in the country according to the Times as well as having been voted the best pub in Cheshire.
So we took our critical high-expectations for a drive out into the leafy lanes of Lach Dennis (near Northwich) to sample some of this prestigious grub.The lofty dining room provided a spacious seating area with the ubiquitous stripped floors and tasteful neutral colour scheme, presumably installed during its refurbishment by the Mooney family (owners of Knutsford’s renowned Belle Epoque Brasserie for the past 30 years) who took it over in 2004.
After being presented with menus the size of dinner trays, we selected some anti pasto to share to start with and received a generous helping of green and black olives, a restrained Lebanese flatbread but a frankly, mean, serving of extremely tasty and well-textured humous.
A good selection of wines by the glass as well as a good choice of cask ales with prices remaining on the sensible scale and a choice of glass serving sizes led us to indulge in a couple of glasses of the wine of the month.
It turned out that those menus needed to be large as they revealed a lot about the dishes on offer with local producers mentioned by name. As the Mooney’s say on their website:”We use only the most highly regarded suppliers who know the source of their ingredients and are happy to put their name to them”.
dukesteak.jpg
So Himself knew exactly who to thank for his perfectly cooked, tender sirloin steak (£17.95) – It was Ken Webb from two miles away who produced the generous cut, half-ringed by just the right amount of juicy golden fat.
(I realise even writing that last statement could lead the nutrition police to swoop at any time but there’s times when a little fat adds to the flavour and, with a steak as handsome as that one, the time was right so I’m risking the wrath).
My lamb curry(£10.50) didn’t have any claims to fame but it was a delicious, subtle and generous concoction of meat, fresh chili, coriander and a hint of coconut. Another flatbread made an appearance and we shared a succulent side order of green vegetables dressed with just a turn of sea salt.
Deserts didn’t disappoint either. The thyme creme brulee(£5.50) could provoke a little poetry. the menu reveals that more than 340,000 of these have been served up over the years at the brasserie, so plenty of people will understand this description.
The caramelised topping provides just the right amount of resistance to the spoon, then crack, you’re through and into a creamy centre. Tasting it – first is the vanilla and I can’t trace any thyme then, whoosh, a passing wisp of the herb comes in as an aftertaste. Oh, I just want to repeat that again and again. Those 340,000 plus customers (plus one) weren’t wrong.
The cheeseboard(£5.50) proved to be equally interesting with a range chosen by Peter Papprill aka television’s ‘Cheese Detective’ who makes it his mission to seek out artisan cheese makers. Faultless regional cheese with a selection of gourmet biscuits to boot.
This was simple food but made with fine ingredients and well-cooked. Those awards judges certainly knew they were onto a good thing with this pub.

The Duke of Portland
is at Penny’s Lane, Lach Dennis, Cheshire CW9 7SY Telephone: 01606 46264 Email: info@dukeofportland.com.
For more pictures, visit the Flickr group.

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