Food Review: The Black Lion

The Black Lion, Firbeck.
The Black Lion, Firbeck.
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9 New Road, Firbeck, S81 8JY. Tel: 01709 812575. Category: Country Pub

The Black Lion at Firbeck has been on my to-do list for 25 years ever since it was recommended by a former editor.

OK it’s a good trek from Sheffield and you pass a lot of pubs and restaurants on the way to it but sometimes you need to have a run out.

And sometimes the wait and the extra miles are worthwhile, other times, a disappointment.

This was both at once.

Firbeck is a South Yorkshire village between Maltby and Oldcotes in Rotherham borough and famous for two things.

Three if you count the Black Lion.

Firstly it is said in folklore to be the original home of the St Leger.

An oval field in the village - once owned by Anthony St Leger after whom Doncaster’s classic race is named - was a private racecourse in the 18th century.

Secondly it is famed for Firbeck Hall, stately home spa of the 1930s smart set, featured in Vogue magazine and the very essence of chic for the pre-war elite.

Not so now.

The place is in a bad state of repair and despite several proposals to restore the buildings – some parts of which date back to the 16th century - still need rescuing.

None of which anyone needs to know before they eat at the Black Lion but we try to educate as well as titillate.

We arrived on a cold March Tuesday with open minds and curiosity and first impressions were good.

A log fire, beamed ceiling, leather settee, lots of real ales and a nice feel to the place.

A real country pub with charm and imperfections.

Not one that’s been done up to look like a real country pub.

Apart from two blokes standing outside for a smoke we were the only people there when we arrived.

The bar staff were extremely friendly and helpful as we got a drink and sat at a window table.

Then they started coming in.

All over 55 years old, solid, sensible citizens out on a windy Tuesday for only one reason.

Quiz night, more of which later.

The beer I had was excellent, called Iron and Steel from Rotherham’s Chantry brewery, bitter beer as it should taste, rich, rounded and not overpoweringly flavourful, worth a return visit.

For starters I ordered a Thai fishcake that was fine but more cake than fish and not spectacular, as was the chicken liver pate my wife had.

The fishcake came with chilli jam and sour cream and had a crisp breadrumb outer and a warming hit of spice and the pate came with salad leaves, a chutney and some decent chunks of good bread.

By the time we got our main course most tables in the pub were occupied - though the barmaid insisted it’s normally a lot busier.

The quiz was developing a theme as teams wrestled with the picture round: “I’d have got that one if the light had been better in here,” chimes one, not for the first time by the look on his wife’s face.

Questions followed like: What’s the name for open land around an urban area?

What two words describe an innate skill in growing plants?

Engrossing stuff.

Then, the star of the show.

I had what our barmaid described as the locally sourced and home-made Game Pie with chips and peas - I’m salivating right now just thinking about it.

As rich and tasty a gravy as you’ll get anywhere and an assortment of meats – venison, rabbit, partridge and pheasant – with a rustic shortcrust top.

Cracking stuff with beautifully cooked venison that melted in the mouth and with good home-made chips.

My wife had the herb-encrusted chicken with saute potatoes and a portion of veg with a bit of crunch left in.

The chicken was well presented with a good crust and a beautifully herby sauce that made the dish different. The sauté potatoes were good without being outstanding but overall a good plate of food.

Desserts looked promising too, orange bread and butter pudding with cream or custard – I was cheeky and asked for both and it was no trouble – and a chocolate and salted caramel tart.

The bread and butter pudding had a nice crispy top and was soft and moist underneath. A marmalade orange layer gave it some fruity bitter-sweetness and it went very well with both cream and custard.

The salted caramel tart was extremely chocolatey and rich and slightly overpowered the caramel but only a churl would make that a basis for complaint.

So was it worth the miles and the 25-year wait?

Yes, it’s hardly the Black Lion’s fault that I haven’t got round to going there for a quarter of a century.

If you live in that area and want wholesome local food at a great price - £40.80 for three courses each and one pint of great bitter - it’s well worth the trip.

And you might learn a thing or two if you go on quiz night.

Star ratings
out of five:

Food 4

Atmosphere 4

Service 5

Value 4