The Lord Derby’s location in St Annes could hardly be more ideal.
At the very heart of town, equidistant between seafront and shops, it has the potential to be an absolute haven for residents and tourists alike, with its appeal intensified in good weather by its extensive outdoor seating area, complete with children’s play features.
Yet, in all the years we have lived locally, the abiding memory on too many visits has been of long waits to be served at the bar because of what appeared to us to be not enough staff on duty.
On many more than one occasion over the years, the struggle to buy even a drink in reasonable time – even allowing for the pub’s central location and its big screen TVs ensuring it is a magnet for sports fans – has put us off sampling what has often struck us as a tempting food menu.
But after hearing of a six-figure refurbishment for the premises, with the creation of five new jobs and a brighter look for the interior, we thought the Lord Derby was well worth a go for a midweek evening meal.
It wasn’t a match night, but quite a few of the tables were already taken as we arrived around 7pm. We had actually booked online beforehand but when we asked the first staff member we saw if we should sit anywhere specific, she just indicated that any vacant table was fine.
We found a window table and made our choices from a comprehensive Flaming Grill menu, which includes a range of steaks and pub favourites, with plenty of choice for vegetarians – something, it seemed, to suit everyone.
But as we went to order at the bar, we saw there was a queue to be served, with just one person taking orders for food or drink.
A bar full of dirty glasses just added to our fears that nothing much had changed in terms of our service experience despite the refurbishment – but I have to say well done at this stage to barman Liam, who was in exemplary form all night.
Once it was our turn, he swiftly, courteously and perfectly accurately took our order – and them lo and behold, it was then Liam himself who delivered our food to the table.
We only saw two members of staff all night and all credit to Liam and his front-of-house colleague for working as commendably hard as they did, but surely even on a relatively quiet Thursday evening, we would have expected more on duty.
We enjoyed the two starters we shared between the three of us – nachos (£4.99) and garlic bread with cheese (£2.99) – which were delivered in reasonable time.
But even hard-working Liam’s best efforts couldn’t make up for the disappointment that followed.
The wait for the main courses was a lengthier one than ideal but we assured ourselves it would be worth it, particularly as two of us had ordered a family favourite - fajitas, salmon for me, at £9.29, and halloumi for our teenage daughter, at £8.29.
Listed on the menu, as we would have expected from experience elsewhere, as coming served ‘with fried onions and flame-grilled peppers on a sizzling skillet’, we were rather shocked at what was delivered.
The tortillas and dips were there, as were the warm red peppers, some salsa and lettuce, but there was no sizzling skillet to be seen - just a salmon fillet in my case and three pieces of halloumi for the teen, each sprinkled with some spice, on white plates.
They were tasty enough, but bore little relation to any fajitas we had ever eaten before.
My wife was happy enough with her miso and hoisin veggie burger with mayo and sweet chilli sauce served with chips (£5.99) but the unusual fajitas, following the lengthy wait for the mains, became the abiding memory of the evening.
It was a reasonably-priced meal, at £35.75 including soft drinks, but I don’t think we will be rushing back.