Food Review: Spencer Arms

The Spencer Arms, Cawthorne. Pigeon on a bed of roasted roots
The Spencer Arms, Cawthorne. Pigeon on a bed of roasted roots
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21 Church Street, Cawthorne, South Yorkshire, S75 4HL. Tel: (01226) 792795. Category: Gastro pub

Serendipity. A rich and undulating word that if it were a food would probably be served with warm, crusty bread or crostino to dunk.

But serendipity is: ‘the ability to make lucky discoveries by accident,’ and in the Barnsley village of Cawthorne the other night we had two wonderfully serendipitous moments.

The first was finding the Spencer Arms, serendipitous because we were actually heading to Beatson House but when we arrived there without reservations on a Tuesday evening we were told that a local millionaire - I reckon there’ll be a few of those round there - had booked the whole restaurant for a party.

Fair enough, we can’t compete with Barnsley big-bucks.

So we asked the very polite and helpful staff if they could recommend anywhere nearby.

“See those lights?” said one chap pointing to an area behind Beatson House and over a wall.

“That’s the Spencer Arms. Follow the road round to the left and you’ll come to it. The food is pretty good.”

What we found around a minute later was a pub with a very smart restaurant area and a bar dining room, good beers - Farmers Blonde is always a beautiful sight - a warm welcome and posh cars parked outside.

We also had our second moment of serendipity by going on a Tuesday night when sous chef Jessica Arnott was in charge - at the tender age of 20. More on Jessica later.

We were seated and presented with menus in the restaurant area between two couples who, from their conversations, seemed to be on first dates - with contrasting dating techniques going on.

One man was going down the ‘I’ve been everywhere and done everything’ route talking full-throttle about his lifelong love of motorbikes and his 100mph crashes as his companion tried to look interested.

The other couple were more attuned with quieter exchanges on who likes what and why.

For starters my partner ordered the pulled pork terrine with mustard, home-made real-ale chutney and a salad of pickles. I had the pigeon breast with blackberries, warm roots, liquorice, figs and topped with excellent home-made parsnip crisps.

The dishes arrived with magazine-cover attention to detail. The pigeon breast - shot locally - was a little rare for me but went really well with the earthy liquorice jus, berries and what chef Ben Atkinson calls a ‘coleslaw-style’ combination of warm roots, including beetroot.

Great combinations.

The pork terrine was rich and chunky and the pickles a piquant delight, again classy and creative combinations.

I had the main course of pork fillet cooked ‘blush’ pink rather than done all the way through which made it tender and moist. It came with hunks of beautifully seasoned black pudding from Huddersfield, again nicely presented and with excellent flavour, with a hash of leeks, wild and shitake mushrooms and a cider jus. The combinations were a delight.

Our other main course choice was a poached pear with walnuts and Stilton and a warm winter salad which again looked sensational.

Apart from some rather large hunks of carrot the dish worked really well though a little more Stilton would have added oomph among all the veg.

All this food so expertly cooked and well presented was the work of Jessica Arnott. Two years ago Jess was working on the Spencer Arms potwash.

Today the 20-year-old Barnsley college graduate is running a kitchen in a gastro pub turning out great-tasting, great-looking food on her own.

That’s quite a leap.

“I’m very impressed with her,” said chef Ben Atkinson.

“She’s really come on. We work well together and she does everything the way we want it to be done. She’s dedicated, hard-working and passionate and has real potential. She is one of a very young team that is turning out really good food.”

Jessica was keen to praise her mentor Ben.

“I have only been a sous chef for three months and I have learned a lot from Ben on flavours and presentation. If it doesn’t go out right we get done so we make sure it looks and tastes as it should.

“I’m loving it here and learning a lot.”

Desserts were equally creative with a Sticky Black Parkin a variation on the Yorkshire favourite with a blob of home-made vanilla ice cream and a rich ginger and toffee sauce with chocolate crumbs. Absolutely gorgeous and a light Parkin that Ben claims as his own recipe.

We also had chocolate orange brownie which was a brownie covered in a donut-style, deep fried batter, again with vanilla ice cream, a hot marmalade sauce to add a hint of bitterness and a chocolate crumb garnish. Glorious. Quite a find and all by lucky accident.

But what about those first dates?

By the time we were mid main-course the loud motorbike lover and his very patient date had sped off but the more agreeable pair were still looking into each others eyes and comparing their likes and dislikes well into dessert. They were still there together when we left.

Serendipity? Maybe.

It seemed like a night 
for it.

With a good glass of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and an excellent Americano the bill came to £67.05.

Category: Gastro pub

Star ratings
out of five:

Food 5

Atmosphere 4

Service 5

Value 4