THERE’S nothing like a burst of early sunshine to send city-dwellers hurtling towards the countryside. And the obvious stopping place for Peak-bound Sheffielders is the Fox House at Longshaw.
This rambling collection of stone buildings, set around a courtyard, is a favourite watering hole for ramblers, climbers and anyone else who happens to be passing by. And after a major refurbishment, it had to be worth a run out.
The inn was built in 1773, on the site of an old farmhouse. It was originally called the Travellers Rest – appropriate since it was a regular calling place for carrier carts and stagecoaches.
This was later changed in tribute to the Fox family of nearby Callow (and not, as is commonly thought, to any cunning mammals that might inhabit the area).
The place has been extended a number of times over the years – first by then-landlord the Duke of Rutland in the 1840s and most recently some 15 years ago when the owners took over a disused petrol station next door.
It has been part of the Mitchells & Butlers stable for the last decade or so but has lost none of its charm: the rustic beams, mullioned windows and quaint nooks and corners are still much in evidence.
In fact the inn is looking better than it has for years after its recent spruce-up.
“It’s been redecorated throughout; we’ve had new furniture and the front entrance has been opened up, but the changes are mainly cosmetic,” says landlord Wayne Morton, who has managed the inn for the last three years.
The muted colours and traditional furnishings are fairly corporate; tartan carpets and fireside chairs are part of the Vintage Inns brand. Old tables have been reconditioned and chairs reupholstered. But regulars approve of the changes, he says.
“The biggest difference is the lighting, that’s made quite an impact. Instead of bright pools of light we can now create different moods by dimming the spotlights.”
There’s no question that the Fox House retains a cosy country appeal, even if it’s not quite as spontaneous as it once was.
We choose a table tucked away in one corner and order drinks at the bar.
The pub is Cask Marque accredited and offers a range of ales: Black Sheep, Yorkshire Terrier and guests which can include Bradfield or Thornbridge.
The wine list is good: a varied choice of two dozen bottles, from £10.95, with most also available by the glass (from £3.25).
We order a bottle of Jake’s Point, a fruity red Italian zinfandel; nothing special but it goes down a treat once the lipstick-stained glass has been replaced.
This is a chain pub, so we adjust our expectations accordingly when perusing the menu.
It proves a wise move when it’s later confirmed that much of the food is delivered from a central kitchen and simply finished on the premises.
“You can’t have ten chefs in the kitchen any more,” says Wayne, a tad defensively. “And there’s the calibre and the consistency across the brand to consider.”
I’ll leave you to make up your own minds about that one.
There are two menus to choose from – à la carte or fixed price (£8 for two courses, a tenner for three, available until 5pm) – and a choice of daily specials.
We start with a shared mezze platter. There’s a couple of falafel each – little spicy chickpea patties – with grilled flatbread, a bowl of olives and preserved lemon wedges, and a selection of dips.
The tzatziki is indifferent, and tomato and basil mayonnaise tastes fresh from the bottle, but hummous has a spicy Eastern kick.
We’re still tucking into our starter when a waitress appears with laden plates to ask: “Are you guys ready for your mains?”
My companion has lamb shank from the alc. It’s beautifully tender, if a bit greasy, and comes with dauphinoise potatoes and a fricassée of peas, broad beans and spinach.
My frito misto platter is less successful, despite being picked from the specials menu.
The ‘selection of fried fish and vegetables’ turns out to be some hefty sticks of courgette, a couple of jalapeno peppers, a lot of rather chewy squid and some salmon – all of which is delivered, pre-prepared and thickly battered, ready for the deep fryer.
The promised paprika and lime mayonnaise has been replaced by more of the tomatoey stuff from our starter and it comes with an unremittingly average salad of lettuce, half a tomato and a slice of cucumber.
My companion ploughs on dutifully to dessert. Sticky toffee, date and ginger syrup pudding is nice and light, but not nearly sticky enough and even the sprig of decorative mint has gone limp.
I finish my meal with coffee instead. Dinner for two, excluding wine and service, is £42.55.
lVerdict: A country inn with bags of charm but don’t expect gastro-pub food.
lOpen: Mon-Sat noon-10pm; Sun until 9.30pm
Fox House, Hathersage Road, Longshaw, Sheffield (01433) 630 374