TURN a corner and just when you think you are coming out of the pretty North Derbyshire village of Barlow you’ll encounter the Old Pump Inn, on the bend at Wilkin Hill.
It looks like many another picturesque English country pub, a long building of mellow stone, originally the village smithy. There’s history here.
Time to stop, perhaps, for a refreshing pint and soak some of it up?
Proprietor Craig Judson would rather if there was any soaking up to do you got some pub grub down you as well if he and Old Pump are to keep afloat.
For like almost all other English country boozers, pretty or not, it’s no longer here for the beer.
“If I concentrated on the wet (alcohol) side I’d be bankrupt. I only make 80p on a £3.60 pint,” sighs Craig a few days later. So my half of Marston’s Single Hop guest ale only earned him 40p.
You’ve heard my rants before about greedy pub companies, beer prices and changing social habits which have put Britain’s public houses on the At Risk register so we’ll take it as read. For the Old Pump is not so much a pub any more as a restaurant and it’s the food which keeps it going.
The menu covers all bases: they’ll do you sarnies and salads, pub favourites like fish and chips, posh nosh like seared tuna rolled in sesame seeds, a pie of the day, steak nights, fish nights, Early Birds and OAP menus, Sunday lunches and even as you read this the pub is awaiting a new pizza oven.
“We’re going Italian,” says Craig, who after a career in restaurants and running snooker halls took over the lease of the Marston’s pub nearly four years ago. “It’s been almost impossible for the last one and a half years but we’ve survived,” he adds.
The pub is pleasantly old-fashioned. The restaurant is on the left, with banquette seating around the walls under a beamed ceiling, with a couple of bars where you can also eat.
I’ve downloaded the menu and decided on the roast rump of lamb with couscous when I spot the game pie on the specials board and go all blokey. After checking that it’s a proper pie I order that.
But first the starters. The salmon and cod fishcakes (£3.95) my wife orders are rather good, small but perfectly formed with plenty of fish and a smooth texture. A cucumber relish is artfully piled into a ceramic spoon and there’s what the menu describes as cucumber carpaccio, rather a grand way of describing strips of raw cucumber.
I’m less impressed with my chicken liver pate (£4.10). It’s served in a little pot and is pleasant enough but the rest of the menu description just isn’t delivered.
The Melba toast has been replaced with three little triangles of brown bread (so I miss the contrast of smooth and crunch), a truffle butter needs a sight more truffle oil in it and there’s the oddest onion chutney I’ve yet encountered: simply caramelised onion in a pool of liquid.
Just then the Tornados’ Telstar comes over the speakers. “It’s been like Sounds of the Sixties all evening,” says my wife.
She loves her special of chicken breast stuffed with brie (£10.95) and it does look rather grand. The chicken has been hollowed out into two cylinders with the brie oozing cheesily out of the ends. There’s a little basket with new potatoes, several spears of asparagus, a smear of butternut squash and some salad. It tastes as fresh as a daisy.
My pie (£8.50) looks like it has been in a car crash. Head chef Lee Rodgers’ kitchen is upstairs and the journey down has shattered the ultra-short pastry so it has turned into a crumble. If I had been in charge I would have started again. But I like it.
The pie is billed as game but it’s not only got rabbit, venison and goodness knows what else but is bolstered out with beef, pork and very possibly lamb. There’s not only a hillside but a couple of fields in there. This is a game for anything pie.
So while my foodie tastebuds are struggling to identify a predominant flavour – there isn’t one – my inner Desperate Dan thinks it’s just dandy.
They do good chips here and less good mushy peas: a bit of mint and some vinegar would help, lads.
Me and the missus often divert ourselves on an evening out playing restaurant tennis. It’s quite simple. You win a set if your dish is judged better than your partner’s.
She’s winning two-love but I have high hopes of the summer food pudding terrine (£3.95). Having made two large-scale summer puds back to back with raspberries, strawberries and whitecurrants, I’m keen to see what the Old Pump does.
Basically it’s a layered sandwich sliced vertically, with too much bread and too little fruit, most of which doesn’t look very summery: blueberries and they could have been blackberries. Never mind, there’s always the berry compote but I would not describe one and half fresh strawberries and a physalis (cape gooseberry) as a compote.
My wife is winning three-love with an exemplary mango and passionfruit sorbet and homemade shortbread.
We pay £35.50 for food. There’s skill in the kitchen and the Old Pump’s heart is in the right place, it’s just that the Melba toast and pie crust wasn’t. On another night it could have been four stars for food.
The Dawes Verdict
The Old Pump
Hackney Lane, Barlow, Sheffield S18 7TD. Tel: 0114 289 0296.
Open for food daily from 10am-9pm. Vegetarian dishes. Credit cards. House wine £13.50 (lots by the glass).
Disabled access and toilets. Beer garden. Large car park.