A call to Arms wins couple top food prize

Winning team: Devonshire Arms saviours Jill Swift and Glenn Saint. PICTUREs: barry richardson
Winning team: Devonshire Arms saviours Jill Swift and Glenn Saint. PICTUREs: barry richardson
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What does it take to run an award-winning pub and restaurant?

Years of experience in the licensing trade and a clutch of culinary qualifications, surely?

Serious about food: Devonshire Arms chef Josh Seaward, left, with head chef Lee Vintin

Serious about food: Devonshire Arms chef Josh Seaward, left, with head chef Lee Vintin

Glenn Saint and Jill Swift had neither – yet the Devonshire Arms, the pub they bought in Middle Handley five years ago, has just won Sheffield’s biggest local eating out accolade.

It was named Restaurant of the Year and top gastro pub in October’s hugely popular Eat Sheffield Awards, which canvases votes from the public.

How they did it, in a time when venues in highly capable hands are going to the wall, could well be a lesson for the industry. Keen foodies, they used their own expectations of a good night out as the aim, and threw in the business acumen they had each gained – Jill as a national account manager for a major insurance company and Glenn from running his own construction company.

Their achievements are all the more impressive given that Glenn only bought the pub out of sentiment.

“I was totally led by my heart. It wasn’t a business investment,” says Glenn. He grew up in nearby Staveley and the pub was his dad Frank’s local.

“It came up for sale when the region’s oldest serving landlord, Tom Walker, died. It was just the traditional village pub. The only food was crisps.”

Frank’s and Tom’s ashes now share a place under a tree at the 150-year-old Lightwood Lane pub, once a Chatsworth Estate farmhouse.

The Bakewell couple carried it on in simple style until their own love of food pushed them to go down the gastro route 2½ years ago.

Unsure where to start, they did the sensible thing and asked for help... from Cary Brown, the Sheffield chef whose restaurants they had long favoured.

He came in as a consultant and put them on the foodies’ map. In 2010 they were finalists in four Eat Sheffield Award categories.

For the last two years the open kitchen and a reputation for quality ingredients imaginatively cooked (think hand-dived scallops on black pudding crumble; Pog Lane chicken with tarragon mouse and shallot mash) has been down to Lee Vintin, the ex Walnut club chef who once cooked at an Elton John party.

The daily specials board is inspired by what is in the larder that day. It could be a fresh supply of Ridgeway beef from Andrew Birks, the Singing Butcher, apples from a villager’s garden or pheasants handed over by a local farmer in exchange for beer – gifts which all feature on a Food Heroes board.

While there’s seriously gastro food, this is still a local pub. Says Jill: “We have a music night and a pub quiz. We don’t want to lose that relaxed, friendly feel.”