As a boy, Lee Stocks cycled past the British Oak pub on Mosborough Moor every morning on his way to school.
A couple of decades on, his daily journey stops at the door – as both Lee and his local enjoy a new lease of life.
The ale house is the latest addition to Forum Café Bars, the group which has already transformed the fortunes of The York at Broomhill and the Broadfield at Abbeydale, as well as three venues in Devonshire Street and one in Barnsley.
Group founder Kane Yeardley has a knack of hitting on just what the locals want and his instinct hasn’t failed him here.
The Oak, in Mosborough Moor, dates back to the early 1800s. It’s a real community watering hole, steeped in folklore, and its latest incarnation is all the sweeter because it was plucked in the nick of time from the clutches of Tesco.
The structure of the place hasn’t changed, but the atmosphere certainly has.
New wood panelling and revarnished beams give the bars a homely feel; seating has been reupholstered and there are new light fittings, polished floorboards and fresh flowers on the tables.
Quirky features include vintage shotguns and stuffed animals in the lower bar. Look carefully at the ‘old’ photos and portraits on display and you’ll pick out some familiar faces… including Bart Simpson!
But the biggest change is in the pub’s food focus. Head chef Lee may be a local lad, but he comes with an impressive pedigree.
We’ve previously encountered him at the Cricket Inn, Totley, and The York, where he has been for the last three years, developing the menu in partnership with executive chef Andy Burns.
Working alongside Lee at both venues has been his brother, James, who has also moved over to the Oak – now as chef de partie.
“It’s a new venture and I’m really enjoying the challenge,” says Lee. “It definitely feels like coming home. And, having grown up in Mosborough, you push it that bit more to succeed.”
The menu is based on tried and tested dishes that have proved popular at The York and The Broadfield. But Lee plans to put his stamp on it too, adapting classic combinations to suit local tastes.
One speciality is his chicken, ham and pigeon pie – an unusual combination, dreamed up in tribute to a local pigeon fancier…
The Watford family had a bird which always came last in races, so they wrung its neck and left it in the pantry. But the following morning, when the larder door was opened, the pigeon flew out… and proceeded to win every race it entered.
From that day on it was known as ‘Watford Pie Crust’, and now the legend has inspired Lee’s pies.
Beers too have a local flavour. A selection of cask ales includes Barnsley Bitter from the new Stancill Brewery, owned by the Forum group. It’s a “classic session bitter” according to my companion, who knows about such things.
Other specialities include both whiskies and cocktails and there’s a decent wine list.
We order our drinks and settle in the ‘butterfly room’ (so called because of the framed prints). Service is friendly and efficient and our starters arrive promptly.
My smoked mackerel is served cold, with a peppery coating that perfectly balances the fish. It comes with a watercress salad, mustard dressing and a delicious, crunchy apple, celeriac and kohlrabi rémoulade, with just a hint of sweetness.
Feeling adventurous, he goes for cauliflower and feta cheese fritters. There’s enough bite left in the cauliflower to complement the crisp fried coating – which has a spicy kick that’s countered by cool cucumber and mint raita.
Main courses look good and my salmon is judged to perfection. A huge fillet is beautifully crisp skinned and comes on a bed of crushed sweet potato with leeks a watercress garnish and a delicate mussel chowder, complete with a dozen mussels in their shells and the requisite finger bath.
My companion is trying out the celebrated chicken, ham and pigeon pie. Expectations are high because the Broadfield’s pies are the best we’ve ever tasted and these are made to the same recipe.
But sadly we’re in for a disappointment. You could make a pair of boots out of the raised hot water crust, never mind a meal.
“Ah,” says Lee, grimacing ruefully. “The new ovens are a bit of a work in progress…
“But we don’t take criticism as negative. We listen to customer feedback and there’s always something to be taken from it.”
(I’ve since heard the team has got to grips with the ovens and things are back on course, so we’ll be back to give them a second chance.)
Indestructable pastry aside, the chicken, ham and pigeon combination is good, served with chunky chips and mushy peas.
And other customers clearly like them – the kitchen served up 289 pies in the second week alone!
Desserts are too tempting to miss, so we share a portion of pecan and chocolate brownie. It’s moist and warm, topped with chopped nuts and served with vanilla ice cream. Sublime!
We finish the meal with decent americanos and hot milk.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is a very reasonable £34.25.
* The British Oak Ale House, 1 Mosborough Moor, Mosborough, Sheffield (0114) 248 7969 British Oak Ale House