I’m torn. I am out for a pub Sunday lunch and I can’t make up my mind whether to have the roast of the day or the lamb and
mint suet pudding.
But then I think that the main thing you want to know when I’m reviewing a traditional Sunday lunch in a pub is whether the roast is up to snuff.
There’s a choice of beef or pork and I go for the beef.
We’re at the Red Lion in Litton, North Derbyshire, a boozer since 1787, buried deep in the Derbyshire Dales.
I remember the pub dimly from many years ago through a red mist of clove-flavoured toothache tincture. A tooth had started playing up just before I set out.
I might have been hallucinating but I recall an unconcerned rabbit nibbling away at the village green as I drove up. I can’t remember much else other than I enjoyed the old fashioned-looking pub.
Apart from the toothache and the rabbit, it pretty much looks the same today.
The Red Lion is the sort of English pub you might see in a Pinewood film set, an almost- too-good-to-be-true mix of small wood panelled rooms, coal fires, steps, sliding doors, horse brasses, copper pans, wooden settles, friendly landlady, bags of atmosphere and good beer.
It’s for real. The pub has evolved organically down the centuries without the hand of any brewery designer since three farm cottages were knocked together by first landlord Thomas Sellars.
Its website boasts “Real Ale, Real Food, Real Fire, Real Pub,” and it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Today’s landlords are Louise Parker and her partner Andrew Holland, who gave up their shopfitting business 18 months ago to take over the pub.
Although Andrew had been brought up in the trade they knew nothing about the village or the pub “but love it,” says Louise from behind the bar which has at least three local or regional real ales on tap.
The food is home made. Chef George McKenzie does a two-course menu for £9.99 or three courses for £12.99, which looks a bargain, as well as a pricier one featuring pub favourites such as fish and chips, pie and burger.
He’s also got a sense of humour. We were coming up to Valentine’s Day on our visit and noticed that the night’s menu offered a rump in the hay – lamb cooked in hay.
We’ve booked a table in one of three dining rooms, just off the bar, by a roaring fire, one of two. Louise doesn’t skimp on fuel for she tops it up with coal from a scuttle three times while we’re eating.
I stick to the set price menu while my wife, who had been hoping for fish (the catch of the day was off) took herself by surprise and ordered the steak and kidney pie from the specials menu.
Both our starters were substantial portions. My mushrooms and black pudding on toast in a peppercorn sauce was a very decent, rumbustious dish while my wife’s chicken liver pate was smooth and tasty although it wasn’t until I checked the menu later that we realised it was missing its promised onion marmalade.
The Red Lion, fronting the long strip of grass which is the village green, is the only pub in the village. The rival Hare and Hounds closed in 1955.
It gets customers from all over the country because holidaymakers drop in for a pint and walkers find a convenient start or end point on strolls through Cressbrook Dale.
If you’re thinking of coming with young children make sure it is a sunny day. Children under six (including babies) are not allowed inside and there isn’t a beer garden but there are seats on the village green.
The steak and kidney pie, made with a thick, crumbly, beery pastry, was excellent. It was a generous portion from a tray, with a rich, meaty filling and, gratifyingly, plenty of kidney. It came with a pot of gravy and proper chips.
I was not so lucky with my Sunday lunch. I might have been bowled over by the pub but not the roast beef, two thick, tough slices with not a lot of taste. Yet it had a decent gravy, good crunchy roast potatoes and a crisp Yorkshire pudding.
The accompanying vegetables were carrot, roast parsnips and leeks.
The beef must have been a blip because we went on to enjoy some really good desserts. Louise’s son Lewis pressed us to have the New York cheesecake. Was it good? “I’ve just seen it being made.”
My wife was tempted but also fancied the ginger sponge so Lewis suggested I be a gentleman, order that, and share it with her. This boy will go far.
The cheesecake was elegant with a good pastry and firm tasty filling. The sponge was rewardingly gingery in a sea of custard.
“Lovely,” said my wife, taking another Lewis-approved spoonful.
Our bill, with a pint and a half of the Wincle Brewery’s Litton Pride, came to £39.34. Despite the disappointment over the beef I’m giving a high rating because Sunday lunch out is about the whole experience, the atmosphere as much as the food.
But if you’re asking me I’d dodge the beef and go for the pie.
The Red Lion, Church Lane, Litton,Derbyshire SK17 8QU. Tel: 01298 871 458. Open daily 12-late (no food Mon). Real ale. Gluten-free dishes. Credit cards. Parking outside. No children under six.
Sunday lunch rating 4