CLOUDS of different hues unpeeled across the slate grey sky like the layers of a celestial onion.
From this threatening vapour, sheets of morose drizzle enveloped us, forcing a hurried sprint from the car as we sought refuge in the quaint interior of the Foxcote Inn.
The premises would normally enjoy panoramic views of the Cheshire hills over Frodsham but on this hideous summer evening a fog of rain cloaked the cowering landscape.
It was no time for an evening stroll but just the job for a look at the Foxcote, a country dining pub that has been decorated with awards in recent years.
We had not booked and on arrival the premises were empty, although within seconds a herd of chattering customers descended which seemed to catch the hosts off guard initially.
The pub won a seafood award in 2001 and the chalkboards displayed an imaginative array of fishy dishes along with menus for vegetarians and carnivores. Children can have half portions or other meals such as scampi and nuggets.
It is laid out in an L-shape with tables stretching around from those with the best views to ones on the roadside. The 19th century building has low ceilings and exposed beams, providing a cosy setting.
After some of the diners had drifted away from the menu boards I went over to peruse what was on offer. My eye was drawn to a starter of pan-fried foie gras with mash and a red wine jus. Orders were taken promptly and awaiting its arrival, I asked for a glass of wine and this is where I did have a gripe. One of the pleasures of dining, indeed the essential element to my mind, is matching the food and wine. Unfortunately the young lady taking orders and serving drinks was hopelessly outnumbered and the meal turned up before the wine.
After making a second request I had to attack the food before it went cold. A waiter appeared with the wine list asking me to restate the request but by then it was too late. Needless to say, the quality of the dish largely passed me by.
Meanwhile, my dining companion was quietly wrestling with a fanfare of king prawns and their colourful salad courtiers. However, there were nervous glances which I easily interpreted; I leaned over the beady-eyed crustaceans and whispered assurances that I wouldn't make a scene. A drama averted, she returned to the task of relieving the aquatic arthropods of their armour, eventually declaring them delicious.
And so to the main event. I was presented with roasted monkfish and battered haggis, the robust pair vying for attention in the presence of their delicate whisky cream sauce chaperone. The partners made an unusual alliance.
There were a couple of reasons for this selection apart from enjoying a culinary challenge; one being a love of seafood and the other the fact that I had just spent a few days in Scotland without seeing hide nor hair of a haggis. Ultimately I was intrigued rather than won over by the combination.
My companion had opted for escalope of chicken melded with crispy bacon and melted cheese, an amalgam more suited to the hearty appetite than shelling fish. This safer dish met with full approval, the remorseless chewing and hoovering of the plate bearing witness.
We had also been given a dish of vegetables; the selection including courgettes, boiled potatoes and carrots was a welcome touch of crispness and colour on an evening of drab grey surroundings.
The children, aged four-and-a-half and five-and-a-half, had been chomping at the bit to get stuck in and happily munched on scampi and chips while acting out their favourite game of chef and waiter - future careers already mapped out it seems.
We had hit the usual dilemma, forgetting to request the junior meals with the starters and as a result the youngest, Sam, quite reasonably asked vociferously where his dinner was. A roll and butter managed to placate him although in between mouthfuls he insisted on demanding the whereabouts of the chef.
Earlier, and in time for the main course, we had received a bottle of wine, a French white, and here is another criticism in this department for it was overchilled and therefore unable to display any of its characteristics - not good form for £14.50.
The restaurant is run in partnership by Cathy Golding and Leigh Parry - due to marrying soon - and is a franchise of the Pubmaster chain. Being affiliated to a large organisation does not detract from the individuality of the business nor the food however.
Leigh has worked from the Grosvenor Hotel in Chester and was the youngest head chef of the city's Rosset Hall Hotel when just 21. He sources fresh fish and vegetables from North West markets on a daily basis.
Clearly the pair have already made an impression, picking up Seafood Pub of the Year, Catering Pub of the Year and Dining Pub of the Year in recent times. It is a little off the beaten track and despite reservations about the wine situation, I would not dissuade anyone from seeking it out.
Station Road, Little Barrow, Cheshire
Tel: 01244 301314
Ordering hours: from noon-3pm and 6-11 pm.
Closed on Monday.
Disabled access/toilet: Yes
Child friendly: Yes
Booking: Advisable at weekends
Smoking area: Yes