The Waggon & Horses, Bolton Rd, Hawkshaw, Bury, Lancashire, BL8 4JL Tel 01204 882221
Open regular pub hours, serving food, Weds - Sat 12-2pm 5.30-9pm Sun - 12-5pm. Monday and Tuesday closed.
A perfectly relaxed setting with meticulously-made offerings...
The owner and chef of Hawkshaw’s Waggon and Horses restaurant, Steve Paton, left the hotel industry so that he could do things his way. He subsequently set up a small establishment in which each dish is responsibly sourced and lovingly prepared.
With his popular pub in its seventh year, it’s a formula that is working– not just for Steve and his wife, manager Liz, but for the pub’s large number of regular customers.
Steve is not your average chef. He’s determined to keep integrity on the menu, and as such The Waggon and Horses are intensely focused on customer satisfaction. This is reflected by a widely-varied selections, Steve’s willingness to improvise, and his refusal to expand his pub to a size that outstrips his ability to cook for every single customer.
After ordering our starters, my husband and I are welcomed by Liz, who explains that the small number of covers in this homely red-and-cream-coloured restaurant translates into high demand on weekends. We’ve booked in for tonight, a Friday, and good thing, too, as the tables are filling up fast. The vibe is friendly, no-frills, and the place strikes me as a perfect, low-key night out for foodies.
When our first course arrives, we find our starters to be superb; Thai fish cakes with a sweet chili sauce for my husband and a bowl of steamy mussels served in a white wine, garlic and cream sauce for me.
The fish cakes, my husband’s starter, are all fish and all flavour. Made without potato or breadcrumb fillers, a mix of blended fish and diced fish are used to vary the consistency. Subtly spiced, they’re cooked to slightly crispy, and fragrant without an overly strong smell of fish. My plump mussels pull away from the shells with gentle tugs. The sauce is creamy and buttery, but light, and though it compliments the taste of the mussels, I’m very happy sipping it on its own as a soup. In fact, we’re both very pleased so far.
My starter is affordable at £5.50, though it’s one of the chef’s specials. The Thai fish cakes, on the regular menu, are even more so at £4.95. For the best value for money, the pub offers a ‘two courses for £10’ deal on Wednesday to Friday 5:30 to 9pm, which began as a temporary offer but was so popular Steve and Liz decided to make it permanent. Other examples of their “whatever it takes” approach are the flexibility they show for timing (they do sandwiches in the evening) and, for those with food allergies/intolerances, they’re happy to make special allergen-free versions of any of their dishes.
My husband is pleased with his main of paprika roast chicken with chorizo red wine jus (£10.95). It’s Goosnargh poultry, moist and served on the bone, which is paired well with the complexity of the red wine jus. For me, it’s a thick piece of fragrant salmon, served with leek and garlic mash (£12.95). The size of the salmon leaves me no doubts as to whether I’ll be leaving with a full stomach. The portion size is almost, dare I say, American.
When my dish arrived, I noticed this second dish was also served with a cream sauce and was slightly worried that I may have ordered a main that tasted the same as my starter. But to my relief, the cream sauces are in fact very different flavours. This cream sauce served with my main isn’t just another version of the same sauce, but completely different in flavour and consistency, this time infused with lemon, a very good match for the salmon. It’s clear that the dishes aren’t produced quickly, using common bases for sauces or other time-saving tricks chefs may employ. My dish reflects that the proper attention and methods have been spent in making it its own statement.
Dessert is a warm apple charlotte (£4.95) shared between us. Served on a beautiful cobalt-blue plate, with powder sugar scattered like constellations around its delectable soft layers. With brandy cream and maple and walnut ice cream, it’s a combination of familiar flavours that together become something distinctly different. It’s lovely and wholly enjoyable, sweet and soft, and the walnut maple ice cream is a nice touch.
Personally, I’m impressed by the Waggon and Horses, by its quality and its unwillingness to compromise. In this world of Jamies and Hestons, it’s nice to hear that for Steve and Liz it’s not about the glory, it’s about the food.
They host half a dozen special evenings throughout the year, including a Burns night and other special menus through the holidays. We will be back, particularly when we want to be taken care of by a chef who doesn’t just see glory, but sees every individual diner.