DON’T you mistrust those desperate road houses plastered with signs saying ‘Great Pub’, ‘Hearty Welcome Guaranteed’, ‘Home-cooked Food Served All Day’, ‘Hand-pulled Ales’, ‘Sky Sports’, ‘Psychotic Landlord’? OK, we made the last one up, but you get our drift.
So mounting the stairs at the Bird, past the motherly toy hen nesting in a houseplant, when you are hit by the chutzpah of ‘Great Lancashire Fayre (sic), with flair and imagination’ painted on a lintel it should be a warning sign.
But then you remember Mein Host is one Andrew Nutter, much given to exuberance at his eponymous flagship restaurant in Norden and coming soon to a party near you, and all fears are allayed. The boy isn't given to short-changing. Even Ye Olde ‘Fayre’ is forgiven as you survey the classy upstairs dining room with its floor to ceiling windows welcoming in the rolling moorscape beyond.
The former Bird in the Hand straddles the B-road borderland between Bury and Rochdale. Up here Greater Manchester Metropolitan County (shortly to have its own mayor, y’know) is soon forgotten and I can’t resist ordering Cheese and Onion Pie. Forget Lorraine’s quiche, this has Lanky imprinted on its DNA. It costs £13, but it’s worth that for the melting crust alone before you spill the tangy Lancashire cheese and onion innards on to your fat chips.
I was glad I replaced the usual beans accompaniment with a side of vibrant, peppery greens.
Across the table, the roast sea bass fillet (£17) is being mightily enthused about. Perching it on a rosary goat cheese tart and almost transparent discs of beetroot is an unusual ploy by Bird chef Carl Tait (below), who has worked for Nutter for over 15 years. It works sublimely well.
The fine dining finesse shows in a dish such as this but also across the more pubby spectrum. Observe the gorgeous presentation of my starter of finely marbled ham hock terrine, a not so distant cousin of French classic jambon persillé, topped with a subtle take on piccalilli and accompanied by a halved black pudding Scotch egg, bright yellow yolk oozing from it.
My companion’s scallop with a squash puree is equally accomplished – the wheel is not being reinvented but name me another gastropub in the immediate area, even the Good Food Guide stalwart Waggon down the road, matching this quality.
The trio of cask beers on hand pump on our visit were all from Moorhouse’s of Burnley; in the past Robinsons has featured – both safe but unexciting choices, much like the wine list where quirky names took our eye. Shall we go for Giddy Goose (a Kiwi sic) Sauvignon or a Merry Mole Chardonnay from Moldova? Goose it was for her, a Cabernet dominated South African blend for me.
Puddings were on the same high level as the rest of the lunch. I continued on a down home path with a sumptuous rhubarb and apple crumble with more custard than I could handle, while the ‘chocolate indulgence’ across the table was a beautifully balanced end to a nigh on perfect pub lunch, hosted adroitly by another Nutter protege Hannah Jane Powell. This place is prospering. It’s not hard to see why.
Bird at Birtle, 239 Bury and Rochdale Old Road, Birtle, OL10 4BQ. 01706 540500.