I’ve spent a few evenings at The Mad Ferret, now rebranded and relaunched as just The Ferret (one can only assume that antipsychotic drugs have been prescribed, and it’s been let out of the padded cell) after Preston’s top gastropub The New Continental’s owners took it over.
The venue has a sleek new grey look, with consistent branding, and is beginning to look more like a trendy music venue than a tired old pub. Part of the relaunch includes the addition of an American low and slow BBQ menu developed by Dr Sweetsmoke. Since I was left underwhelmed by the offerings at Hickory’s in Chester, I wanted to see what the good Doctor could give me to cure my BBQ blues.
On my first visit I had to go on my own, sadly none of my friends were free, and I was hungry, I ordered myself a half a pint of beer from Hardknott brewery (it’s nice to be able to get great craft beers in a town centre venue) and sat down… at table 13. Things didn’t bode well, being sat at an unlucky table number and being on my own. Fortunately somebody I knew came in shortly after me, and I joined them at their table so I didn’t look a complete loner.
I fancied sliders, having not had good sliders for ages, and opted for the BBQ Brisket Slider
s, which the menu describes as “Brisket, drenched in Ferret’s BBQ sauce + garnished with green stuff”. All sliders are served with a side and sour cream (sour cream which never appeared, but also wasn’t required), so I went for the “Southern Folk Mac’n’Cheese”
My thoughts returned to Hickory’s in Chester, “when’s the rest of it coming?” I thought. Whenever I have had sliders in the past, they have come in threes. When you search for images of sliders on Google, the majority of pictures show them in threes. Which makes me think why I only have one. At the time of visiting, The Ferret were offering half price food with the daily codeword (to be found on their social media pages and their website), so I didn’t feel too cheated, paying £4 for the meal, however at full price I would expect more than a single, solitary slider, I mean, a full size burger is the same price on the menu, and brisket is a cheap cut of meat! What is happening here!?
The mac n cheese tasted good at first, the crispy disc of cheese on top, but once that went, it tasted of a floury bechamel sauce, there was no tang of cheese to be found, it was cloying and I had to leave the last of it. Onto the slider
s, aside from the other two missing sliders, the meat inside was tasty, if a bit tough, I think it may have been cut along the grain instead of against it, making it a bit chewier, but the slow cooking made it bearable, and the BBQ sauce was subtle and not overpowering. The bun however was like a slightly crusty bread roll, making everything seem a bit chewier than it needed to be. I cannot stress enough that a brioche roll is the best thing for these sorts of dishes, they are soft, absorb the meat juices better and the sweetness works well with the rich meat.
I must say, I loved the coleslaw! Doing a pickled slaw rather than one slathered in mayonnaise really helps cut through the rich and fatty flavours, and a pickle is always a welcome addition, but only one slice? Come on, you can be more generous than that, can’t you?
A few days later I returned for my second visit with my friend, Mary, to try out more of the menu options, and as they have just opened, I wanted to cast my opinions over a number of visits.
Mary is a spice fiend, and can devour food smothered in sauces so hot that I get the chilli hiccups just from being in the same room, so she ordered the hot wings with the hottest sauce “Go Home, You’re Drunk”… it was only 1.30pm, she definitely wasn’t drunk. Although I would suggest crazy, I think I would only have the guts to order the second hottest sauce “wild”, and I think then I may struggle.
So, how did Mary cope with those super spicy wings? Well, quite frankly you could have given them to a child and they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Hell, I could have eaten them, they were that mild. And I am a massive wuss when it comes to spiciness. The sauce they were coated in, aside from being very mild, was also sickly sweet, so much so that Mary couldn’t bring herself to eat them. The staff were great about this, and offered a different option instead, free of charge. My gut feeling is that the mildest sauce, “Domesticated” was put on the wings instead of “Go Home, You’re Drunk”
Mary also ordered the Mac ‘n’ Cheese, to find out if my dislike of it was due to it not being great, or me not being used to authentic American mac n cheese, like she grew up with. This portion of mac n cheese already looked more appetising than the previous one. The garnish of chives helped cut through the richness, the cheese on top not so dry and crunchy, and there was a genuine tang of cheese in the sauce, however, it was still floury, perhaps the roux wasn’t fully cooked out?
I had the Baby Back Ribs, “marinated with a dry bad ass BBQ rub”, which were delicious ribs, the rub imparting a great flavour to the meat. I would have preferred the meat to come from the bone a bit easier, though. As before, the slaw was just fantastic, Mary commented on it, saying it was worth the train journey alone, high praise indeed!
The Sweet Potato Fries are brilliant, too. Sweet and soft, and generous. I do love sweet potatoes, and they seem to compliment very meaty meals so well.
Mary’s replacement meal was a “Bare Back” smoked dog. Mary was impressed about being able to get a properly smoked dog outside of the states. These dogs are properly smokey, and if you like smoked flavours, you will love this dog. However, the crusty bread roll is completely inappropriate for a dog, it makes everything very chewy and hard to eat. I’ve never seen hot dogs served in a crusty roll before, and I think that’s for a good reason.
Mary also really enjoyed the french fries that came with her dog. Despite an issue with the hot wings, dealt with brilliantly by the staff, things were looking better for The Ferret… but wasn’t quite done yet…
The following week, I had induction for my new job in town (working in the kitchen of a grill & bar), and decided to pop by with my friend Chris for a bite to eat and a pint of ale. I wanted to try one of the burgers, and I also wanted to give the hot wings another go.
I had the John Doe burger, a 6oz steak mince patty, with Swiss cheese. Why they are naming one of their burgers after a corpse whose identity is unknown, I don’t know why. A fine burger, good quality meat, though a little dry in the middle. This could be remedied by making the burger a bit flatter, and would also resolve the issue of my first bite being all bread. I had the Spicy Beans as a side, which tasted of ground cumin and chilli powder, no subtle spices that build layers, oh, and a massive slice of garlic.
Chris had the Yard Bird, spiced chicken burger, a generous chicken burger, it tasted good. There isn’t much more to say on this matter. Chris also had the beans as a side.
Hot wings, round two. I was pretty confident that the “hot” wings last time had been coated in the wrong sauce, so when Chris and I ordered a portion to share, we didn’t go all the way to the top, fearing that this time “Go Home, You’re Drunk” would blow our head off, we went for “Feral” wings, just one peg below “Go Home, You’re Drunk.” Sadly, it seems that somebody at The Ferret is afraid of spice, because these were mild, and sickly sweet. So sweet, I was worried about having a sugar rush later in the day, so sweet I couldn’t finish my half of them.
So, credit to The Ferret for trying something, and it’s better than not having anything at all, that’s for sure, it’s also great that The Ferret has a good range of real ales now, and the rebranding is smart and consistent, but there are too many misses for me to be able to rave about the food at this point in time. Mean portions when it comes to sliders, floury mac n cheese without much cheese, and hot wings you could give a child.
I hope these are just teething troubles, and that things do get better, but in the meantime, maybe you should go down and try it out for yourself… check their website for the more details on the menu.