Stosie Madi and Kathy Smith have transformed a failing pub into a gastronomic destination that combines Middle Eastern and modern British influences. Amanda Afiya reports
With breathtakingly beautiful views of the Trough of Bowland, the Parkers Arms, which has been owned by chef-patron Stosie Madi and her business partner Kathy Smith for 11 years, is situated in the heart of the tiny village of Newton-in-Bowland.
The pair, who have worked together for some 25 years, took over the property a few years after launching their first restaurant in the UK, Weezos in nearby Clitheroe, which followed hot on the heels of restaurants they had operated in the Gambia where Senegal-born Madi had been brought up.
Madi comes from a family of hospitality operators – her father Alexander Madi opened the first hotel in the Gambia – and she owned and operated three restaurants there (one in partnership with Smith) before moving to East Lancashire to set up shop.
“I head the kitchen, Kathy runs the show front of house as well as looking after admin and our pastry section, and Kathy’s brother, AJ Nolan, runs the pub part of the business and is seen as the Parkers’ face – he’s effectively the ‘pub landlord’,” explains Madi.
With a cosmopolitan CV and an unusual heritage (with roots in the Gambia and Senegal, Madi is half-French, half-Lebanese), the chef brought a fresh approach to cooking at the rural location.
“When we arrived in 2007, the pub had been closed for some time but the freezers were full of ready meals. We couldn’t risk making the menus unaffordable, so we consciously decided to use the ingredients around us. We focused on the terroir and made it a feature of the business – and it ensured we survived as well.”
The strategy paid off, giving Madi ultimate flexibility. Business can be hugely affected by weather – on cold winter days custom can drop to 15 covers a day, but when the sun shines, cars stream in over the hills and they often do 120 covers in one seating. “Because our suppliers are based locally, we can get hold of them – we are not reliant on imported items. Apart from chocolate, vanilla and spices, we don’t venture too far away from the terroir.”
The eclectic, daily changing menu is led by the seasons, with dishes staying on as long as they are in their prime. In July and early August, for example, cherry tart stayed on the menu because English cherries were magnificent, but when produce starts to wane, dishes come off.
Madi had to redefine her repertoire when she arrived in the area given the popularity of meat and game among locals: her customers would never forgive her if she took steak off the menu. A typical menu might have an 8oz rump of Bowland beef (£19) served with triple-cooked chips, dressed watercress or greens, but it will also have plenty of fish and vegetarian options such as Morecambe Bay wild bass, Lancashire courgettes, baked potato dumplings, tomato water dressing (£20); charcoal-grilled Dorset clams and Lancashire peas with elderflower vinegar (£8.50); and fermented Preston summer cabbage and pomegranate slaw served with macerated tomato and garden mint juices (£7.50).
Middle Eastern dainties pepper the menu, such as Madi’s labneh, Lancashire pod vegetable hummus and whipped in-house cured cod’s roe ‘tarama-style’, but equally, Madi and Lancastrian Smith, a former insurance underwriter, have also built up quite a reputation for their pies, which include Cockerham salt marsh hogget, mint and cockle pie in hogget fat crust, served with chips or mash, wild samphire and cockle gravy (£17). “I design the recipes,” explains Madi, “but Kathy rolls all the pies and trains the team to do them.”
Despite a clutch of awards, including eighth in this year’s Top 50 Gastropubs, Madi, like many, wouldn’t say no to more business. “The landscape is very inspiring because it’s so rugged and rural, but sometimes it feels so bleak and cut off. I did fall in love with the setting – it was a romantic notion – and if I did it all again I wouldn’t be so romantic, but I appreciate what I do every day and I will continue to find a way of making the Parkers’ voice heard.
“It all helps to bring us to our goal of serving lovely food in an incredible setting and offering great hospitality. And when I’m sitting here and there’s nothing to do but go in the kitchen and create, that’s when the best ideas come.”
From the menu
• Soused herring, fermented rhubarb dressing, horseradish potato salad £8.50
• Seared peppered Newton venison loin, new season hedgerow vinegar dressing £12
• Roasted Ashcroft’s cauliflower, tarator, cauliflower carpaccio £16
• Summer potato dumplings, wild Newton field mushrooms and peas, fresh curds £16
• Roast Morecambe Bay fish of the day, Lancashire pod vegetables, potatoes £22
• Valrhona 70% chocolate pot, white chocolate mousse, chocolate meringue £8
• Baked cheesecake, James and Charlotte’s wonderful blackcurrants, Gisburn cream £8
• Gooseberry meringue, elderflower ice-cream, Chantilly cream, lime £10
Parkers Arms, Newton-in-Bowland, near Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 3DY