Hosts Malcolm and Mandy are getting it right in Derbyshire picture postcard village
On a perfect June evening it looks idyllic.
Close enough to the Peak District to be picturesque, near enough to town to be cosy, the country pubs and des res demeanour of Holmesfield present a tranquil and contented vista.
But don’t be fooled.
Beneath the surface of its chocolate box churches and winding lanes an evolutionary battle for survival is raging.
Pubs, even here, are fighting for their lives.
In the 2.4 miles from Dronfield’s Wreakes Lane Sainsbury’s to the Angel at Holmesfield there are eight – sorry, make that seven, the Old Horns has already gone.
That’s a lot of competition.
Those that survive offer what the marketing boffins call a USP - Unique Selling Point.
The Angel has three. Good food, a specialism in gluten-free dishes and a menu for dogs - yes, a menu for dogs. All those Busters and Poppys can have their favourite snacks - lamb and rice kibble, salmon and potato or chicken and rice flavours in the bar area for £1.99 or £2.99.
The Angel also has Moonshine and Peak Ales and like all good pubs comes with tales and characters.
Like the couple who regularly travel from Grimsby to eat fish there and the lady who left cash for a wake in her favourite pub last week. More of those later.
My mate Bob had eaten there before and marked my card on their mega pâté starter and the giant fish and chips – neither of which, strangely, either of us had.
It’s Wednesday at 7.45 and the Angel, next to St Swithin’s Church and opposite the George and Dragon, is busy. The old lounge is the main eating area and there’s extra seating in the conservatory out front.
We order drinks and choose Thai fishcakes on stir-fried vegetables and crispy red pepper risotto balls with chilli mayo to start.
Both look sensational.
The fish cakes are light and crisp and tasty - though there doesn’t seem to be a lot of fish in them. The stir-fry is crisp, hot and nicely spiced.
The risotto balls are also crisp and with a nice gooey centre and a refreshingly spicy chili sauce.
Then the star of the show. Bob chose rump steak, medium rare, for his main course.
This was the steak of your dreams.
Seared on the outside, soft and pink in the centre with a hint of blood, melt-in-the-mouth tender, bags of meaty flavour and a hint of barbecue smoke.
Five-star steak that came with excellent chips and is an example of the local quality that Angel bosses Malcolm and Mandy Drewery try to provide.
“We have used Gary Hancock of Stoney Middleton for 10 years,” said Mandy, originally from Hull who came with husband Malcolm 13 years ago to run the Peacock at Owler Bar after spells in the south east.
“He is a farmer and a butcher who keeps cattle on Eyam Moor. The meat is excellent.”
Malcolm and Mandy also use the Bakewell Pudding shop in Bakewell for their puddings and William Howe on Maltravers Road, Sheffield, for their fish.
I resisted the temptation of fish and chips and chose Seafood Chowder with smoked haddock, mussels and prawns with a good wedge of granary bread.
It was a creamy, smoky delight with bags of flakey haddock, mussels, new potatoes, peas and prawns.
For dessert I had Bakewell Pudding with cream which was a delight – light, crisp pastry with almond and strawberry jam filling in the traditional style.
Bob, being Bob, wanted cheese and biscuits which wasn’t on the menu. So waiter Will rustled him some up - a decent piece of Brie, a rich blue cheese and a creamy cheddar.
We asked about the legendary Grimsby couple - they used to go to Malcolm and Mandy’s previous pubs the Peacock and the Derwentwater Arms in Calver.
“They would come most weeks to the quiz and order grilled fish, very plain with potatoes. Nice couple.”
Any idea why they travel from Grimsby to Derbyshire to eat fish?
“Not really. He’s a photographer and they just like it round here.”
Whatever the future holds for pubs it seems Malcolm and Mandy are getting it right.
Their gluten-free menu attracts coeliacs who can get their favourite meals – 90% of the menu is gluten free - and not worry about their wheat intolerance.
Whether local Angel-lover Eileen had a wheat intolerance is not known, but if she did she doesn’t have to worry about it any more.
They had a wake in The Angel for 83-year-old Eileen on Wednesday at her request.
She left money for food and drink all afternoon for those who turned up to celebrate her life.
“She used to come for the quiz and food and she wanted us all to have a happy afternoon,” said Mandy.
She picked a good place.
With a pint of Moonshine and a glass of Montevista Sauvignon Blanc, our bill came to £60.20.
Star ratings out of five:
* Last week mentioned Anchovy Snow at the Chequers at Froggatt without saying it’s made from Abzorbit - a carbohydrate extracted from tapioca starch - mixed with anchovy oil. So now you’ll all be at it…