WE went to admire the new bedrooms and ended up swooning over the food. It should have come as no surprise – Ramsbottom’s Eagle and Child has won ‘Britain’s Best Sunday Lunch’ in the 2013 Observer Food Monthly Awards, has twice been named Manchester Food and Drink Awards’ Food Pub of the Year (in 2014 and 2016), while current kitchen incumbent Alex Shaw was Chef of the Year in 2015, while at Volta.
Shaw fed us royally after our tour of the five newly created boutique bedrooms on the first floor with stunning views across the Rossendale Valley towards Holcombe Moor. They are part of a major refurb that completes the transformation from the boarded-up pub that owner Glen Duckett took on six years ago. While the latest work was done the E&C went into pop-up exile in Bolton, but is now fully operational again and has upped its whole game big time.
We dined in the glorious, opened-out Orangery dining room (“folk used to fight to get the one window with the view; it’s changed now,” laughs Glen). The bar too is ultra smart, though it's a shame the pub is still committed to Thwaites' lacklustre beer range. The budget hasn’t run to a spanking new kitchen for Shaw – who once worked at Michelin-starred The Old Vicarage outside Sheffield – but it’s no hindrance. The succession of dishes that came out are evidence of his quietly assured inspiration flourishing on this blustery Rammie hilltop.
My carpaccio of venison (main picture) with abundant shrimp, pickled mooli and mustard leaf (£6.95) was an inventive marvel, ditto a plate dotted with a pressing of leeks, whipped goat cheese, blood orange segments and chives for the same price. A similar finesse applied to tuna seared tataki style (£8.95), strewn with a juicy pineapple salsa and pocked with black sesame seeds.
Our neighbours seemed equally satisfied with less ambitious pub classic mains (£12.95) of beer battered haddock and dripping chips and ‘Double Bomber’ cheese and onion pie. This new-fledged Eagle is not deserting the punters who make it such a community hub (check out the maazing garden)
For our main course we shared – out of curiosity – a veggie option of aubergine, truffled celeriac and thyme lasagne with a spinach veloute (£13.95) and a carnivore’s fantasy plate of Forest of Bowland hogget.
The lasagne was browned to a crisp and despite the whoosh of chlorophyll from the veloute it felt a bit dried out and token veggie. But the hogget, basically sheep meat just past the lamb stage, was a triumph – a huge grilled chop pink and richly flavoured, the fat crisp, the braised shoulder even richer, rosemary adding herbal oomph, peas and dauphinoise-like galette potatoes completing the harmonious whole.
A chocolate terrine with white chocolate crisp from the specials board fell short (but it’s only relative) of the main menu’s less dense dark chocolate bavarois with a mango sorbet and caramelised slices of in-season alfonso mango (£7.95). Perfect pud.
By this time we would happily have crashed out in one of the bedrooms, all owl-themed (Glen has a thing about owls) with bespoke artwork to match and lots of quirky extras that make such an operation stand out from the more corporate lodgings that dominate the Valley.
We’ve long admired Glen for his commitment to ethical food sourcing and to helping disadvantaged youngsters. With a background in youth justice at Gateshead Council and community regeneration at Leeds charity Groundwork, he has a track record of recruiting unemployed under-25s, including young offenders through a scheme called EAT Pennines. A sister operation at Heaton Park’s eateries, The Stables and The Pavilion, provides similarly enlightened employment opportunities.
The new look Eagle and Child proves, too, that all this worthiness is not at the expense of the pleasure principle. Book a meal, treat yourself to a room, go the whole hogget, enjoy the view.
Eagle and Child, 3 Whalley Road, Ramsbottom, Lancashire BL10 ODL. 01706 557181. Room rates start at £75 and rise to £100 at weekends; suites with juliette balconies and views from £100 to £150.