For me, the true beauty and best thing about reviewing food places in Lancashire, is the stark contrast of what’s on offer, even in the same town.

And I don’t just mean the food, but the service styles, interior design and furniture, presentation and cooking practices, price and drinks menu.

Last week, I visited Greekouzina in Preston, a no-fuss Greek and Mediterranean restaurant where you order at the counter, your meal is served on a plastic tray but the flavors are as genuine as you’ll get at a taverna in Athens.

READ MORE: Review: The Barn at Moor Hall – every dish is beautifully-crafted poetry on a plate

A 10-minute walk away is fine dining establishment 263, housed inside the Winckley Square Hotel, offering an evening tasting menu for £ 70 a head, with a wine flight accompaniment available for an additional £ 45.

The restaurant was ‘reawakened’ in late 2021, with celebrated chef Oli Martin coming in to head up the kitchen, after being shut for the majority of the pandemic, having only only first opening its doors in autumn 2019.



The Scandi-chic look of 263

Crafting a menu hyper-focused on wild ingredients is 263’s aim, but that thinking overflows to the overall aesthetic of the interior and fit-out of the dining area, too.

It’s Scandi-chic, with pale, beautifully shaped wooden chairs and tables, earthy, olive green wood panelling with pops of pastel colors coming from paintings by local artists neatly hanging on the walls.

It’s natural and minimalist and there is a particular attention paid to sourcing handmade products by skilled traders from Lancashire, including Poulton-based potter Dylan Cross, who supplies the fabulous plates, jugs and bowls.

We could have stepped into a tiny restaurant in the middle of a Nordic forest, a side street in Copenhagen or Scandinavian Kitchen in Sweden.

The 10-dish tasting menu made sure we kept harping back to this feeling, and for the third course we were served the Spent grain bread, meticulously prepared and baked with leftover grains from Rivington Brewery, served with fluffy, whipped butter.



The bread we nicknamed 'Viking bread' as part of the 263 tasting menu
The bread we nicknamed ‘Viking bread’ as part of the 263 tasting menu

It came with a Viking boat-esque paddle to smother the butter on the chunky, thick-crusted, hearty, interestingly flavored bread, which was salty, hoppy and sweet.

We instantly dubbed it ‘Viking bread’ as it had the characteristics of the seafaring heroes – strong and intriguing – while it also reminded us of the stocky loaves and kind of diet we see medieval TV warriors such as The Witcher digging into.

We began with a miniature caramelised artichoke tart on a bed of roasted seeds, which was sharp in flavor and a required, but welcome taste.

Paying homage to its Lancashire foodie heritage was the Goosnargh fried chicken, which was piping hot, almost unbearingly so, making it hard to hold or eat as cutlery was not automatically provided, we assumed because it wasn’t supposed to be required.



The the Hen of the Woods mushroom broth with Leagram's curds was one of the most unusual dishes on the tasting menu
The the Hen of the Woods mushroom broth with Leagram’s curds was one of the most unusual dishes on the tasting menu

And although the crust was a little too salty, the chicken was succulent and juicy while the neon green wild garlic dip was a revelation and we could have happily eaten spoonfuls of the stuff.

It was remarkable how the Hen of the Woods mushroom broth with Leagram’s curds gave you something different with every spoonful, before somehow giving you even more as you chewed through the plethora of textures.

It traveled the whole scale and back again, from tangy and crunchy to smooth, soft and herby.

Now, from someone who ate seven different butter pies this week, 263’s deconstructed version is easily the most adventurous, standalone effort and I can confirm it most probably is the ‘world’s poshest pie’.



The 'world's poshest pie' at 263
The ‘world’s poshest pie’ at 263

It’s cooked with fine filo pastry, topped with chives sitting like the happiest duck in a pool of gorgeously-creamy gravy. A delight.

However, it was the North Sea cod with mussels buttermilk that was my favorite dish of the lot and my dining partner’s indifference to seafood was to my advantage as, while ignoring any fine dining table etiquette completely, I leaned across and swiped them from her plate onto mine.

It was one of several examples of why tasting menus are so effective and I certainly enjoyed ingredients I’d not eaten before, some I’d never even heard of.

Not everyone has the same palate, tastes and preferences and, especially for me, I feel more comfortable not quite finishing a dish I’m not particularly fond of if is a smaller portion, as there is less waste.



The duck breast, a dish on the tasting menu at 263 in Preston
The duck breast, a dish on the tasting menu at 263 in Preston

For instance, and in contrast to our differing feelings on the cod dish (main pic), I’m not the biggest fan of dark chocolate or heavy cocoa-based desserts so I found the baked hogweed chocolate with sorbet far too rich.

However, my friend absolutely adored it and devoured hers faster than ABBA’s Dancing Queen gets people on the dancefloor at weddings.

I will add that the sorbet combined with the sauce had a wonderful fresh zest to it and I could have eaten that on its own.



Baked hogweed chocolate with sorbet at 263
Baked hogweed chocolate with sorbet at 263

Before we get to the remaining sweet dishes, the final two savory ones were both duck-based, the first a duck leg ragu and the other a salt-aged duck breast with pickled walnut.

The former was fascinating with the tender strips of meat meat strips buried under, what I can only describe as Pom Bear crisp-flavored Rice Krispies, without the sugar.

The duck breast was divine and perfectly cooked making it one of the most memorable dishes.



The duck leg ragu was one-of-a-kind
The duck leg ragu was one-of-a-kind

Another first was tasting woodruff cream and Yorkshire rhubarb, with the fruit ice cold and crystallized in texture, while the cream was jelly-like but the lack of flavor did not remotely match the wow factor of the presentation.

After a piece of a moreish salted malt fudge each, we were sufficiently full and content and opted against the additional British farmhouse cheese course (£ 15).

From the cheerful, warm greeting on our arrival to happily answering our questions and enthusiastically talking to us about each dish, the service was efficient but not imposing and whether it was a conscious effort or not, they created a truly Hygge environment.



The woodruff cream and Yorkshire rhubarb looked great but was ultimately disappointing.
The woodruff cream and Yorkshire rhubarb looked great but was ultimately disappointing.

After all, 263 is on the ground floor of a characteristic 1801 Georgia terrace house, with the original front door and bay windows retained, really making it feel like you are stepping into a dining room, not an acclaimed restaurant – and it’s all the better for it.

The tasting menu is full of experimental flair, unusual flavors, with a distinctive wild undertone and takes you on a culinary ride that’s so well crafted, it is as thorough and expertly designed – but far easier and more fun to negotiate – than an IKEA flat -packed wardrobe.

Read more reviews from Denise Evans: Slug & Lettuce, Preston – An over-the-top celebrity baby shower turned night club with food almost an afterthought

Read more about food and drink in Lancashire: Experimental Preston brewery is an open city center micro pub

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