We all love a bargain, especially since the recession hit.
Suddenly it’s fashionable to eat inexpensively. Folk now brag about shopping at Aldi and Lidl and brandish the till receipt like a badge of honour.
On the restaurant scene, we’re shamelessly wolfing down early bird offers and value set menus. The award-winning Devonshire Arms at Middle Handley has just launched one which, at first glance, doesn’t seem to be taking on its rival gastro pubs in terms of price. It’s not cheap-cheap - £24 for two courses or £28 for three courses.
But the proof is always in the pudding. And the starter. And the main. We put it to the test one Saturday afternoon with the family.
We had the cosiest seats in the house - in the nook by the real fire, our table was bathed in early spring sunshine. This lovely pub, on the country lane that passes through Middle Handley ( just off the B6056 from Sheffield to Chesterfield) has windows on all sides. It’s always filled with light.
Owners Jill Swift and Glen Saint did a great job when they took over a couple of years ago, transforming an old-fashioned pub into a bright and contemporary venue which didn’t stray too far from traditional; mis-matched wooden tables and chairs, Farrow & Ball on the wainscoting, chintsy cushions merrily clashing with bold stripes on the upholstery. It feels stylish, but not too done-up.
Head chef Russell Caines, who has already earned the inn a Michelin listing in 2014 and 2015, has created the set menu to offer great food at sensible prices in the hope it will attract the eye of the Michelin Bib Gourmand inspectors. The price range sits within the framework required for the section of the guide which highlights venues offering “exceptional good food at moderate prices”. (Russell earned a Bib at his own place in Ripon a few years back).
There’s a fabulous choice. Dishes display real creativity - and a wealth of local produce, something the Dev, a former Eat Sheffield restaurant of the year, prides itself on. For starters, fresh, sweet Devonshire Brown Crab with tasty titbits of chili and avocado on an upmarket salad verdant with pea shoots, was impressively simple. My scallops were perfect - lightly-seared and sweet as a nut. But the fennel broth they came in was so watery as to seem accidental rather than an addition.
Rump and Shoulder of Bakewell Lamb was wondrous; tender hunks, medium as asked, with butternut squash, caramelised pears and pungent, deep-fried sage leaves. My Moss Valley’ pork belly had previously been brined to pinkness, was moist inside, crispy outside and had barely a trace of excess fat. A fine jus was packed with meaty flavour and there were hints of heat from togarashi (red chilli in Japanese). A 28 day-aged beef, £8 extra, was good quality but sadly had been cooked beyond the medium-rare requested. Sides of cauliflower cheese punchy with gruyere (£3.75) and broccoli with toasted hazelnuts (£3.50) were terrific.
Portions are good, but not hearty - a plus, we felt. Even after an apple mille feuille with white chocolate sauce and caramel praline ice cream, plus a dark chocolate delice (ganache on a biscuit base) , we didn’t feel over-faced. A glass of merlot and a Farmers Blond brought the bill to £70.45 - good value for food of that quality.
Star ratings out of six: