I’D HEARD only two things about the Fox and Goose pub at Wigley, near Chesterfield, before our visit. The first was that there’s a great chew with a view over North Derbyshire from the Orangery restaurant.
It’s true, I checked it out but didn’t stay because there was a festive party of 25 and things can get rowdy.
But on my way to a table in one of the beamed and flagstoned rooms next to the fire I kept my eye out for the other.
A Trip Advisor contributor had warned darkly of encountering “ageing Footballers’ Wives in sequins.”
There were none on my day, with or without sequins. They must have been seen at one of the many weddings the Fox & Goose stages.
To be honest, I’d not been aware of this inn until driving to Baslow and seeing a sign on the A621 advertising its new menu (just turn off left on Clodhall Lane and keep going) but there’s been a boozer there for 500 years.
The story is that monks used to meet here and play a board game called fox and geese to pass the time, hence the name.
You wouldn’t guess that from the building now because there’s been a lot of redevelopment, what with the Orangery, the bar, a function room and, a sign tells us, a “luxury smoking shelter.” It looks like it could have been built yesterday.
Nor would you guess that a place which runs George Michael tribute nights (turkey curry included) for £15 would also offer very superior snap.
But who could resist taking a chance in a place which must have the best address in Britain for an eatery: Pudding Pie Hill?
The menu doesn’t give much away, looking pretty conventional with fishcakes, duck liver pate and a terrine or two on the starters, mussels or potted haddock as lighter dishes, the usual burgers and bangers and mash and a quartet of more expensive dishes such as lamb shank or seared hake with chorizo, plus steaks. And there are a scattering of blackboard specials.
“We don’t brand ourselves as a gastro-pub intentionally as this is a clever marketing phrase used by run-down pubs in the South to convince their customers that it’s cool to perch on a wooden bench and pay £20 for sausage and mash,” says a manager in a Trip Advisor reply. They have wooden benches at the Fox but bangers start at a more realistic £7.
Ordering the soup is a good idea if you want to discover the subtleties of a restaurant kitchen. It is also a good idea if you’ve just been to the dentist and had a temporary crown fitted, as I had.
At the Fox on our visit they did pea and ham or potato with white truffle (£5). The latter was classy, smelling of woodland floors, silky textured but not over creamy with a single crouton with a garlicky kick.
Potted smoked haddock with blue cheese (£7) combines two ingredients which make your tastebuds want to dance for joy. It is served here with a good Nicoise salad for contrast. A great many of the dishes here come as small or large portions. You could have had a larger version of the haddock for £11.
My wife chose the smaller size of the Whitby fish and chips (£9), tasty whitefish with a crisp beer batter ballooning gently away from its sides, proper home-made chips and mushy peas.
I had the belly pork (£15.95) with crispy crackling – taking a chance, I know, with that tooth. It should have come, the menu promised, with bubble and squeak. That’s why I’d ordered it but it didn’t.
The kitchen, working flat out with a party of 25 in the Orangery and a funeral tea for 100 upstairs, substituted the trimmings from the Christmas menu.
Normally I’d have grumbled but they were so good that I didn’t. You’ll have to look hard for a better glazed carrot, pan-charred Brussels sprout or chestnuts than here. Anyway, head chef Tim Doolan could argue that the saute potatoes and sprouts were deconstructed bubble and squeak. The meat itself was roasted to soft, melting tenderness with plenty of flavour.
By now we’d clocked that this kitchen, under head chef Tim Doolan, certainly knows what it’s doing. Tim, who arrived in April, started cooking in the Sydney Opera House for money to finance a round-the-world trip, has run his own restaurant and earned AA rosettes for a couple of country house hotels.
The best word to describe the puddings (£6) is elegant. An imposing, substantial cube of chocolate and orange bread and butter pudding scored for lightness, while a Bakewell tart fairly zinged with almond. They looked pretty, too, like all the dishes.
I asked Tim later if he was happy cooking good stuff along with curries for tribute evenings. “We keep the sides of the business separate and have more specials at weekends,” he said.
Gastro-pub? Perhaps not. It would take a few ritzier dishes on the menu to convince me it’s that. But good, confident cooking scores highly with me no matter where it is. Our food bill was £48.95. Happy New Year.
Fox and Goose
Pudding Pie Hill, Wigley, Chesterfield S42 7JJ. Tel: 01246 566 335.
Open all week for lunch, dinner and sandwiches. Sunday lunch menu (£18 three courses). Children’s menu.
Credit cards. Disabled access and toilets. Large car park. Website: www.thefoxandgooseinn.com