Nigel Haworth's Northcote Manor was more than just a finishing school for Warrick Dodds. The 29-year-old chef was there for seven years, during which time he picked up the Young Chef Young Waiter gong, in 1999, and was made head chef aged just 24.
Stepping out from Northcote's shadow was therefore always going to be hard, but Dodds is now heading up a kitchen a few miles down the road at the recently refurbished Stanley House hotel. He's been there for a year and four months and is, he says, now developing his own style. "I want to try things for myself and get my own influences," he says.
That said, Haworth's mantra of sourcing the best local produce available has obviously been well heeded. Dodds uses local butcher Birtwistle's and there are namechecks on the menu for Goosnargh duck and chicken, Anne Forshaw's yogurt and Bowland lamb and beef. "I'm simply aiming to use the best ingredients I can," he says.
French-inspired However, unlike Haworth's, Dodds's menu doesn't speak with a British accent. Instead, there's a good helping of French-inspired fine dining, as in steamed fillet of brill, shallot, truffle and foie gras mousse, roast salsify, trumpet mushrooms with roast garlic (£22.50); there are Mediterranean flavours like baked cannon of lamb with an olive and herb crust, herb scented couscous; then there might even be the odd sushi dish, such as panaché of peppered seared tuna and ika (squid) sushi, with nori-wrapped rice (£7.95).
"It's important for the guys in the kitchen to learn different dishes," says Dodds. "So we'll study together exactly how to do each one."
The sushi dish involves cooking squid very slowly in hot but not boiling water with vinegar. Rice flavoured with chilli, coriander and lemon is stuffed into the squid tube and then the whole thing is wrapped in nori. Meanwhile, the tuna is seared and dipped in a mix of peppercorns and kaffir lime leaves. For the lamb, Dodds dried out the olives to increase their pungency then blends them into a chicken mousse, which he pastes on the lamb.
Despite the variety, Dodds's style is based on simple assemblies, and eschews too much clever technique. "People often forget how to do the basics," he says.
The pan-fried breast of Goosnargh duck, Agen prunes, potato and garlic gratin (£19.95) is a case in point. The fat is rendered from the breast while on the carcass to obtain a crispy skin, then the breast pan-fried and finished in the oven. The prunes are marinated in tea and orange juice with lemon, sugar and cinnamon, and the liquid reduced to give the prunes a good glaze. Three prunes appear on one side of the duck and three perfectly round turnip and potato gratins on the other.
The clientele seem to like the straightforward approach. Tellingly, Dodds says the best-selling starter is the smoked salmon with buckwheat blinis (£9.95). "That and the beef fillet main course are the two dishes for those customers who don't want to eat extravagantly," he says. "There's no point cooking food if you're not getting customers."
Dodds has also positioned the menu in an affordable price bracket for this level of fine dining, with a menu du jour at £25 for three courses and a seven-course tasting menu for £45. The 55-cover maximum restaurant usually does around that number on Friday and Saturday nights, and there's also decent lunchtime business trade.
He gives particular praise to his pastry section, headed up by Peter Colleran, and especially his artist's palette of ice-creams (£6.50) - complete with a paintbrush designed out of sugar. There's also a 25-strong cheese trolley, supplied by Peter Pendrill.
Dodds is a calmly spoken chef, but behind the reserved manner there's a quiet determination. "A lot of money has been spent on this place and it has potential," he says. "It's a wonderful opportunity I've been given and we'll do our best to do it right."
What's on the menu
Roast ballotine of quail, wild mushroom ragoût, pickled beetroot, truffle sauce £9.95
Cannelloni of lobster, crunchy fennel, lobster and citrus foam, £11.95
Duck foie gras cooked "au torchon", spiced apple purée, Madeira jelly, £10.95
Poached fillet of sea bass, braised fennel, tomato refogado, basil purée, £18.95
Caramelised confit pork belly, celeriac and apple purée, black pudding beignet, £17
Slow-cooked breast of Goosnargh chicken, ravioli of wild mushroom, garlic and mushroom purée, Jerez and fino sauce, £17.95
Chocolate delice, mascarpone espresso parfait, walnut espuma, £6.50* Prune and Armagnac soufflé with Anne Forshaw's yogurt ice-cream, £6.50
Iced banana parfait, pistachio nougatine and a rum and raisin sabayon, £6.50
Chef's tip With the foie gras cooked "au torchon", I prefer to marinate the liver in Madeira and a bit of Armagnac rather than port, because I think port leaves too strong a taste.