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Starters, Mains & Wine for 2: £60 (average)
Not being English, it is rather pleasing to think that there are certain places that exude the expected characteristics of Englishness. Dalton Square is one of these. Built on an old Dominican Friary, the Square houses an enormous statue of Queen Victoria facing the coal-scarred Town Hall. As I walk towards the restaurant, I almost feel that I’m about to bump into Ebenezer Scrooge. Such is the Victorian charm of this Lancastrian corner.
The Borough continues in this manner, though with a little more luxury. It is pleasingly devoid of TV screens and Strongbow Dark Fruit. Pubs, after all, should be a happy hideaway from the real world and besides, what pint has been improved by muted X factor? I wander in to a warm, busy bar. It is always busy as I walk home from the day’s lectures. This particular walk, however, is different. I’ve come in.
The friend and I wander through to the dining room, a myriad of hard wood tables and low slung roofs. If it wasn’t packed with diners, I’d assume it were a 19th – Century counting house (Scrooge, again). The service is a little rushed and the wine, at first, is taken to the wrong table. This is soon rectified when it is served, along with a jug of iced water (it’s the little things) in a charming little wine jail. We order and settle in.
The menu is a good size, ranging from pub classics to inventive Vegan specials. Though the 5 a day tagine is tempting, it falls to the wayside as I spot the pork belly dish. The ambience is a pleasant mixture of busy chatter and dim lighting, occasionally descending into a pesky din as the large group on the obscurely located centre table order their umpteenth bottle of Prosecco.
The starters arrive swiftly. The chicken liver pate is well seasoned and the date chutney would have been perfect if it weren’t for the stones that snuck in. The soup is reportedly good. A struggle ensues in trying to spread the fridge-cold butter on the (delightful) warm bread. If it were taken out of the fridge an hour before, perhaps whipped with a little salt and pepper, well… it would have been stunning.
In the short wait between courses I spot a little terrier snoozing under a table in the bar. Dog – friendly? This place is quickly ticking all the boxes. The mains arrive and the comfortable ambience is immediately transferred onto the plate. In other words, the portions are huge. The pork belly is deliciously piggy and responds well to the silky mash. It’s a little dry, owing probably to its reheating to order, but the cider sauce (packed with umami) soon rectifies this. The friend enjoys the fillet steak, which is barrel-cut. This being a Wednesday, the Borough’s steak night, the fillet is an almost unavoidable choice.
The creamy fat of the pork is still going quite a while later, complimented by the freshness of perfectly cooked green beans. The roast veg is diced in only the loosest sense of the word. This resonates with me. It seems that The Borough is not, unlike seemingly everywhere else, pandering to the expectations of the Michelin guide. And why should it? This is a gem of a place, warm in spirit, serving locals and visitors with equal compassion. If it is 12 courses at 12 times the price one is after, L’enclume is down the road.
We linger in the restaurant until the busboy begins clearing the tables. The soundtrack has become questionable, probably the request of the kitchen. Let me say here that I do not miss the end of shift clean down one bit. It is approaching midnight, and staff mingle with regulars at the bar. It’s that type of place. The bill is given in an envelope stamped ‘the damage’, a light-hearted touch.
I struggle to leave the plush seat. The night is cold outside, and I’d rather slink up to one of the rooms upstairs than face the winter wind. Settled up, I face the creaking floors of the imaginary counting-house and step outside. The Borough may remind me of Scrooge’s counting-house, but I’m certain that if Dickens’ character was to eat here, he would relinquish all his misery.