The Parkers Arms, in the picturesque village of Newton-in-Bowland near Clitheroe in Lancashire, has been named the country’s best gastropub.
The pub, famous for its show-stopping pies, edged last year’s winner, the Unruly Pig in Suffolk, into second spot on the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list 2023, announced on January 23.
“We’re delighted,” founder and head chef Stosie Madi told The Telegraph. “It’s a wonderful morale boost for the whole team.
“We weren’t expecting it, not because we don’t think we fully deserve it, but being in the Top 50 Gastropubs list is always a huge achievement. Whatever comes with it is always a wonderful bonus.”
Madi took over the pub with her business partner Kathy Smith in 2007 and showcases local produce and cuisine, from historic Lancastrian dishes to elevated modern favourites.
Her celebrated curried mutton pie has become a signature dish, Lancashire hotpot is served during the winter and a traditional Lancastrian pudding, the Wet Nelly, is often on the menu.
“It’s rib-sticking, hearty, robust fare,” says Madi.
The three-course menu costs £45. Yet it is a far cry from a typical rural gastropub. Madi, who is of Lebanese and French heritage, was born in Senegal and raised in the Gambia.
From a young age she helped at her father’s hospitality business and, with Smith, whom she met in the Gambia 35 years ago, opened three successful restaurants in Africa.
When her daughter was 10 years old, Madi left the Gambia, having witnessed three coup d’états. Eventually settling in England, she fell in love with Clitheroe, near where Smith grew up.
After opening a small restaurant called Weezos in Clitheroe, they upsized and relocated to nearby Newton-in-Bowland by taking over what Madi describes as “a dilapidated, quite tired old pub”. However, she admits that it took a while for locals to appreciate her cooking, which had an element of French influence – especially when pies could be bought for much less elsewhere.
Eventually, realising there was something special on their doorstep, they came round, and thanks to the smart use of social media and a rising profile in industry awards (the pub first entered the Top 50 in 2017), the Parkers Arms has become one of the country’s go-to culinary destinations.
Alongside game pies and pork scratchings, more refined dishes take inspiration from Yorkshire – such as a rhubarb-cured mackerel – or further afield, like Lebanese-spiced spatchcocked partridge, though the menu changes daily.
A pub at heart
The Parkers Arms remains, however, a pub at heart. While the past year has seen a resurgence of dining-and-drinking venues, particularly in London – with the likes of the Baring in Islington, which debuted at 23 in this year’s Estrella Damm list, or the George on Great Portland Street earning rave reviews – Madi says she strives for a pubby feel.
“We did not want to stray from the fact we’re a rural pub,” she explains. “From day one we were adamant we weren’t going to do fussy, frilly fine dining. We’re all about hearty, rustic, delicious but contemporary dishes.
“You should be able to come into the pub, buy a pint of ale, a packet of crisps, or a wonderful three-course meal, without feeling like you’re in a restaurant.”
Dogs and muddy walking boots are welcome. “Parkers deserves that first place,” says northern hospitality expert Thom Hetherington. “Stosie is an unwaveringly brilliant chef and her food is just perfect. Classic but contemporary, technically immaculate, delicious, generous, seasonal and responsive, yet never chasing trends. Just supremely confident. I love it.”
Rise in fortune
With the Freemasons at Wiswell, just 20 minutes down the road, finishing third, this year’s list marks a continued rise in fortunes for Lancashire and the North more generally. Last year, Moor Hall in Aughton was named the country’s best restaurant.
Madi believes it is the region’s rich farming land that produces some of Britain’s best produce. In 2022 the number of pubs in the UK fell below 40,000 for the first time, with the pandemic and spiralling costs leading to a wave of closures.
Communities, both rural and urban, have become accustomed to seeing their favourite locals dying out – a fact that is not lost on Madi. “Running a rural pub is one of the biggest challenges in our industry,” she says.
“We knew that the Parkers Arms had to attract people not just from our area but from afar, to be a destination.” Thanks to this latest award, they’ll come from far and wide.