Cricket Inn bowled this maiden over

The Cricket inn's Head Chef Marco Caires with some Early Bird dishes
The Cricket inn's Head Chef Marco Caires with some Early Bird dishes

It’s got a great reputation, the Cricket at Totley.

Deservedly so. Nestled on a picturesque country lane next to rolling fields, this quintessentially English pub has top Sheffield chef Richard Smith umpiring.

It’s a jewel in the crown of the local BrewKitchen group, a local foodie pub chain run by Richard and Thornbridge Brewery.

Hearty, homemade food cooked from seasonal ingredients by head chef Marco Caires draw south-Sheffielders in their droves.

I’ve never been; I assumed you’d be on a sticky wicket if your budget was slim.

Not so. The pub has a bargain of an Early Bird menu - two courses for £12 or three courses for £15 when you eat between noon and 7pm Monday to Friday.

We dashed through the rush-hour traffic on a Friday night and go there at 6.45pm, just in time to get our orders in.

Decision-making didn’t take long - there are three choices of starters, mains and desserts on the blackboard. The most difficult bit was keeping our eyes from wandering right, to the chalked-up daily specials. They sounded fabulous; pork three ways with black pudding mash and apple and cider gravy at £17, and seabass with crab and lemon mash, buttered asparagus and tiger prawns - a whopping £25.

Sticking to the left, I opted for a chorizo and olive salad, a simple little affair, yet flavour-packed, nicely scattered on an oblong plate. Black olives and fried hunks of smoky chorizo nestled amidst balsamic-dressed leaves and diced red pepper.

The husband’s broccoli soup (with hand-made bread) was a verdant veggie delight. Use of creme fraiche instead of cream brought out the flavour of the broccoli and gave the soup lightness.

Service was slick - though a bit too prompt. Main arrived in no time. We’d barely supped our drinks - a pint of Thornbridge Brother Rabbit (£3.70) and a splendid house merlot (large for £5.50) and taken in the surroundings.

Originally a farmhouse, the building became a pub when the Totley train tunnel was built in the 1800s - and one previous owner was a relative of Richard Smith’s.

It makeover has carefully added style while retaining character. We’re in the dining room to the left, all vaulted ceiling, smudgy walls, big gilt mirrors and a huge French crystal chandelier. Manager Martin Winn reckons it was once used as the village morgue.

The husband had seized the opportunity to have fish and chips. A big square of cod, so fresh it tasted creamy, came in a feather-light batter with a pot of proper marrowfat peas. Strange chips, though - long, skinny, brown and limp as an Ibiza clubber’s at 5am.

I had big, succulent, pan-fried chicken breast with perfect wholegrain mustard mash, buttery slivers of savoy cabbage, a smattering of peas and a glistening coat of proper gravy; comfort on a plate.

From the choice of three puddings we sampled a curd tart that was too crumbly and classy Swiss ice cream, gladly paid £39.25 for a three-course meal with drinks, and were on our way home by 9pm. We early birds need our shut-eye.

The Cricket Inn,

Penny Lane, Totley S17 3AZ

Tel: 0114 2365256

My star ratings out of six:

Food: 4

Service: 4

Value: 5

Atmosphere: 5