REVIEW: Lancashire Evening Post (October 2017)

Bringing a Golden oldie back to life with a transfusion of real quality

They’re not afraid of a bit of competition in Longton, never have been. Four pubs on the village’s high street and one down the lane testify to that. Three high end tea shops as well.

Once upon a time they even had two breweries, just yards apart. And bitter rivals they were too.

Add some good local restaurants to the mix and you have something of an oasis for the hungry and thirsty in this well-served corner of South Ribble. So you’ve either got to be totally self-assured or bordering on reckless to set up another food and drink venture in Longton.

Welcome to the confident new team at the historic Golden Ball. And wow, what an impact they’ve made in just a few short weeks.Boss Chris Buckley is a former Heathcotes manager who took over top Manchester restaurant Per Tutti in 2013 and has now branched out into Longton. Group executive chef Phil Whitehead is in charge of both kitchens, splitting his time and his expertise between the two.

With their team they have brought a touch of city centre class to a village centre pub and the result is a stunning new eatery to challenge anything in the area.

An admission straight away: I’m no stranger to this ancient alehouse. It has sat at the top of our lane for the best part of 200 years. That said, I haven’t been a regular there either.It has never quite grabbed me by the arm as I’ve walked past. But that will all change now after what can only be described as an outstanding opening night performance.

The transformation, inside and out has been incredible. What strikes you straight away as you walk in is how warm and inviting they have made the place – a huge improvement on the dark and dated interior which greeted drinkers in the past. The place is full of pastel shades, striking wall coverings, staff in tweed waistcoats – there’s even a butcher’s block in the bar area for those who like to just stand and enjoy a drink. And the staff are some of the friendliest you could wish be served by.

But the biggest renaissance has come with food. It is as good a gastro- pub as you’re likely to find for miles around. That may be largely due to having a top quality chef on the pass. But it could also be down to knowing exactly what customers want.

For a start there is no pretentious- ness. Forget foams or foraged fungi. And you won’t find terms like pommes puree (mashed    

potatoes) or haricots vert (green beans) on the menu. Instead they’ve got good old Lancashire fare like black pudding Scotch egg, potted shrimps and even parched peas.

That doesn’t mean the Golden Ball is like any number of other places serving basic pub grub. Not at all. They have some subtle touches and unusual twists on old favourites, like salt and vinegar sauce with fish and chips, piri piri salt and bacon mayo with their cockle and mussel popcorn and truffle potatoes with the lamb Henry. We planned our visit for a busy Friday evening. If you are going to put a place to the test then do it when they are likely to be pushed. Chris was everywhere, as a great host should be. So too manager Anita, whose service pedigree as cabin crew shone out like a beacon.

We had a drink in the bar which, I have to say, was as full of atmosphere as it was people. But when it was time to eat we were ushered into one of three rooms – ours was the Pantry, but there were also diners in the Brandy Snug and The Garden Room.

On the menu I counted nine starters, 13 main courses and two sharing platters. And there were a handful of other dishes on the specials board. If I’m being honest I could have stuck a pin in the page and enjoyed anything on there.

To start Mrs E chose the ham hock terrine with sun-dried tomatoes, piccalilli and toasted bread (£6.00). It was, she said, delicious.

Miss E went for soy and honey chicken wings with sesame seeds and spring onions (£5.50) and loved every mouthful. And I opted for the black pudding Scotch egg (£5.50) which was just divine.

For mains the boss decided totry the 10oz ribeye steak with air dried tomato and roast mushrooms (£19.00) and declared it one of the best she’d had for a long, long time. Daughter chose the fish and chips with crushed peas and salt and vinegar sauce (£11). It wasn’t whale sized, but it was still huge on taste. And for me the Lancashire bangers and mash with crispy cabbage and red onion gravy (£12) were absolutely banging.

So the Golden Ball gets a 24-carat recommendation from us. The fact it is within walking distance for the Ellis’s makes it platinum-plated.

Brian Ellis - Lancashire Evening Post - October 2017

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