Yesterday my mother Yvonne and I made an impromptu stop for lunch at The Otter’s Pocket in Preston city centre.
I had been once before when it opened in November 2018, but was disappointed that they had run out of half the pies listed on the menu, most of the desserts and some of the sides. I’d paid an extra pound for colcannon instead of plain mash, but they gave me plain mash and kept my pound, which it would appear I’m still outraged about.
The front part of the restaurant was cosy with the bonus of a real fire, but the tables were taken so we sat in the back half which wasn’t quite as welcoming. However, we received a friendly greeting from the barman and were told to take a seat.
As soon as we sat down a customer walked out of the only toilet cubicle about ten feet away but left the toilet door wide open which was quite off-putting, but a member of staff shut it when we asked. It isn’t in their eye line, so would benefit from a self closing mechanism.
We had a look at the menu which had a smaller selection of pies than when the restaurant first opened, but there was a choice of sandwiches available that I don’t recall having seen on the menu last year.
Read more: Taste testing the Otter’s Pocket when it opened in Preston city centre
The thin cardboard menus looked a little the worse for wear, and I was dismayed to see that they had smears of grease and unidentified stickiness on them. Resting my arms on the table I found that the stickiness was also on there as well as in front of Yvonne.
We asked the waiter who came to take our orders to wipe the table which he did, but would also have sprayed the cleaner on our cutlery if we hadn’t have snatched it out of the way. The table got a quick wipe, but the stickiness remained, to the extent that we could flatten a paper napkin on the table and blow it without it moving. Eek.
We had both ordered the steak and Garstang Blue pie with mash. All pies were priced at £8.88, which explains why there weren’t any pies containing evil, squeaky mushrooms as they must only be priced at £6.66. There was a butter pie for vegetarians and a roast cauliflower and chickpea number for the vegans.
As well as pies there were a few sandwiches on offer at lunchtime, all for £5.55. There was no option for vegans and no mention of what kind of bread they use. All sandwiches are served with homemade coleslaw, ready salted crisps and salad. I noticed that customers can have a different flavour of crisp for an extra 55p, presumably because cheese and onion and salt and vinegar crisps are painstakingly hand whittled by master craftsmen.
I asked for extra gravy as last time I felt they were a bit stingy with it, and we Northerners don’t forget insults like that. We also both ordered a side of mushy peas because that’s the law around here.
There was an apricot and sage beer on draught and we both thought it sounded interesting so I gave Yvonne £10 and she went to the bar. Ten minutes later she returned, loaded with beery information from the knowledgeable young man behind the bar. I wasn’t listening because our food had arrived, but it was probably something about a local brewery, with a random story about her holiday in Moraira or about someone I don’t know whose dog has died strung onto the end of it.
While Yvonne thought I was distracted with the food, she pocketed my change and poured a third of the beer into my glass, and kept the rest in hers. When I asked what she was playing at she said that I probably won’t like it as much as she does, which was outrageous even for her. She started pouring the beer back and forth between our glasses, throwing it around and frothing it all up until I was so stressed that I told her to keep it all and bought another one, which I suspect was all part of the plan. It was lovely, I’d definitely have it again.
That ordeal over we started on our food. The pies were amazing, packed full of lean meat and not skinny on the Garstang Blue. There was no trace of stodge in the pastry, the mash was smooth and the peas were the right level of mush. They had also redeemed themselves with the generous amount of gravy, and none of it needed further seasoning.
As we ate we saw pies being well received by other customers, delivered by a young man with his trousers halfway down his legs, which made me dreadfully uncomfortable. I know it’s the trend, and I know it’s a cool restaurant, but I’d rather it be my own creepy choice to know what his undies look like (khaki, mustard triangles, red waistband, can’t un-see them).
That aside, both of the young men serving were cheery, enthusiastic, smiley and polite, which was the overwhelming impression we took with us. Yvonne thought they were delightful and kept talking to them, despite me frantically signalling her to stop.
Read more: Blog Preston’s “Where to eat” guide for students
With this review, I can’t help but think of how someone once told me that during SAS training, soldiers are given a rabbit to protect, love and take care of for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks they are told to kill the rabbit and eat it. There are a few negative things about our experience at the Otter’s Pocket that I really do have to mention, and the nicer the staff were the more I’ve felt like the SAS soldier with the rabbit.
The pie was easily the best pie I’ve had since last Christmas’ terrifyingly cut-throat Annual Pie Competition, held in a secret location at exactly 3.14pm on the day after Boxing Day (Blog Preston will be reporting on the next one early in the new year).
However, if I were to return to Otter’s Pocket I would look at the cleanliness of the menus and the table before I sat down, and if they were the same as on this visit I would leave and probably not return. The grubby tables are mentioned in too many TripAdvisor reviews to be just the odd slip-up and clean tables are the most basic of requirements in a restaurant. As the Otter’s Pocket gets so many things right, it’s even more frustrating that it falls down so badly on something so easily remedied.
Have you been to Otter’s Pocket? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.