Never before have I felt moved to eulogise over an egg – but there’s a first time for everything.
The ‘poached’ egg in question is a culinary marvel: hot, soft, yet not runny. Cut it with a knife and the yolk oozes pleasingly, but holds its shape with a consistency like soft butter… or thick cream. Exactly what you want, in fact, to slick over the new season’s asparagus.
We discover this gem at the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley – last year’s Eat Sheffield Restaurant of the Year.
It should come as no surprise that such a well respected kitchen produces top quality food. But since the awards were handed out, head chef Tom Lawson and manager Alistair Myers have moved on to take over Rafters restaurant in Nether Green. This is our first taste of Devonshire Arms hospitality under the new regime – and it’s good to be able to report that standards seem as high as ever.
Taking over the manager’s role is Julia Swift, daughter of owners Jill and Glen, who is clearly a natural.
New head chef is Russell Caines, who brings fresh experience to the restaurant, having earned a coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand for his own restaurant in Ripon.
After moving south and dabbling in Mexican cuisine, he was keen to return home when the Devonshire Arms vacancy arose and he was urged to apply for the job.
Now Russell is relishing his new challenge. And the Devonshire Arms has gained too – not only in the form of a skilled head chef, but also one with his own water bath and vac pack machine.
This, it emerges, is the secret of the egg.
“If you get eggs to the right temperature in a water bath you can treat them like play dough – or spread them into a sheet,” says Russell.
Chefs are divided in their opinion of this high-tech addition to the professional kitchen. Some swear by its precision – meat or fish cooked sous vide, at exactly the right temperature, can be guaranteed to emerge hours later, tender, succulent and still pink.
Others dismiss this as ‘cheating’, preferring to rely on their skill and experience rather than a thermometer.
I can see both sides of the argument, but in 20 years of food writing I’ve never had an egg to beat this one…
Anyhow, it’s good to find all is well at this stylish village pub. (It would have been an archetypal ‘gastropub’ before the term fell out of favour.)
Nothing else has changed. It still boasts a comfortable lounge bar and a dining room that’s all scrubbed wood, mismatched chairs and clean, contemporary lines.
The menu has been updated: there are fewer classics and more ‘modern British’ features: “You work to your strengths,” says Russell.
But local produce is still the key – and that includes wine.
The Devonshire Arms has recently become the only local bar and restaurant to serve a range of wines made at nearby Renishaw Hall.
The vineyard, planted by the late Sir Reresby Sitwell some 40 years ago, was for a long time the most northerly in the world.
We sample the Renishaw Hall Rondo – a fruity red at £25 a bottle (£4.30 per glass) – which is pleasant, if slightly acidic, with a tannic aftertaste.
At the outset, owners Gill and Glen had firm views about what their customers should expect: “This is a pub,” they said, “so don’t expect waitresses to pour your wine or deliver complimentary bread to the table.”
Well, it may be a pub, but these are restaurant prices and it still rankles that we’re expected to shell out £4.50 if we want bread and olives.
Nor is there a jug of water on the table – which should arrive without being requested when the cheapest main course on offer is pie of the day at £13.50.
There’s a choice of six starters, with ingredients ranging from skate wing to wood pigeon.
Ham hock fritter looks like a fat fish finger, stuffed with shredded Moss Valley pork, crisp fried in breadcrumbs and and served with tangy goats curd and a poached egg.
My asparagus is perfectly al dente (though there’s not much of it), with succulent lobster medallions and That Egg. It’s supposed to be poached, but I’d swear this is the confit yolk that’s meant to go with the ham hock. Either way, it’s delicious.
Mains include steaks as well as the classics and five of Russell’s specials.
Pie of the day is a proper job, with a crisp suet crust that goes under the filling as well as on top. It’s packed full of flavour in the shape of chicken, ham and cabbage, and comes with a jug of gravy, and veg including cauliflower cheese and triple-cooked chips.
My monkfish is firm and chunky, served with shelled mussels, mushrooms, dauphinois potatoes, more of that asparagus... and nutty pistachio gremolata, once we point out that it’s missing.
There’s a good range of cheeses and desserts too. We share a Kraken rum baba – like a mini loaf of yeast-risen sponge, soaked in rum-flavoured syrup and finished with caramel-topped banana pieces and toffee ice cream.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £55.
lDevonshire Arms, Lightwood Lane, Middle Handley (01246) 434 800 www.devonshirearmsmiddlehandley.com
lRussell Caines features at Sheffield Food Festival this weekend. He will be demonstrating ways with fresh fish at the marquee on The Moor at 4pm on Sunday.