A new start for an old favourite – but is the location and managers’ enthusiasm enough? Lesley Draper reports
MOST young couples nowadays are lucky if they can start life together in a poky flat, so imagine how the new landlords of the Peacock Inn felt as they surveyed their new home…
The newly-refurbished inn stands in splendid isolation at the Owler Bar hilltop crossroads, with panoramic views across the Peak District in one direction and Sheffield in the other.
There’s no problem with noisy neighbours, no cramped kitchen, no rubbish-strewn yard – in fact almost nothing but acres of unspoilt countryside as far as the eye can see.
Jane Young and Stuart White live ‘over the shop’ – and still can’t believe their luck.
“It’s so gorgeous: the scenery and everything about the place,” says Jane, bubbling with enthusiasm.
“This is our first joint venture. We’d been looking for a pub together and we couldn’t believe it when we saw the Peacock; it was love at first sight.”
Stuart agrees: “You wake up in the morning and the views are absolutely beautiful.”
The coaching inn was built in 1818 by the Duke of Rutland. It stands on the Baslow to Sheffield turnpike, near the old toll cottage – whose alder bar, some say, gave the area its name.
In those days Owler Bar was renowned for its popular horse trotting races and prize fighting bouts; today the area’s sporting associations are restricted to walkers, climbers and cyclists who flock to the inn and its nearby rival, the Moorlands.
The Peacock is part of the Chef & Brewer chain, which boasts “tradition with modern standards”.
The recent refurbishment certainly fits the bill, taking a 200-year-old stone building and bringing it up to the minute with new carpets, lighter decor and comfortable furnishings.
It’s undeniably brighter than it used to be but I have to admit to a certain affection for the erstwhile candle-lit gloom; and some might say that part of the character has been stripped out along with the stained wood and bare floorboards.
“The reason for the refurb is so you get the same standard and the same presentation wherever you go to a Chef & Brewer pub,” says Jane, adding weight to my reservations.
The same is true of the menu, which relies largely on a central kitchen.
The point of this, we’re told, is to ensure consistency. The downside is that locally-sourced produce is impossible and many dishes arrive ready made, merely being cooked on site, although the chefs do have control over the specials.
“It’s company policy, so our hands are tied. It’s up to us to make our mark in terms of service and environment,” says Stuart.
He has worked for the company for 15 years and Jane for six, so they know the business inside out.
Stuart specialises in the bar side – along with fire lighting – while Jane oversees the restaurant.
They see the Peacock as a long-term commitment and are determined to make the most of their exciting new challenge: “We’re treating the new year as a new start. We’ll be moving the business forward and building it.”
To the left of the entrance is a cosy bar, while a more formal dining area is to the right. We take a corner seat, stopping at the bar en route for a glass of house red (an unremarkable Chilean merlot) and a pint of Black Sheep (other options include Adnams, London Pride and Stones).
The menu is typical of a chain pub: a bit of everything and too much choice.
Headings direct us to starters, sharers, classics, fish and grills… plus chef’s recommendations and the blackboard specials. Or there’s an evening meal deal with yet more selections.
I plump for stilton and peppercorn mushrooms: three small specimens drizzled with sauce and served with two thin slices of what appears to be a baguette, toasted and dry.
My companion’s chicken and honey pâté is over-salty but quite pleasant by pub grub standards. It comes with more of that hard toast (it’s billed as ‘artisan bread’) and a dollop of caramelised red onion chutney.
Main courses are equally hit and miss. Achari Chicken, from the specials board, has been marinated in Indian spices and tossed with red peppers. The result is a nicely spiced curry, with a real kick.
But the current fad for serving everything in separate bowls makes it awkward to eat and it’s spoiled by the accompanying lukewarm rice, clinging together in rubbery clumps, which we send back to the kitchen.
My venison pie looks great: deep and golden with a separate jug of red wine gravy. But appearances deceive.
The ‘crispy suet pudding’ has been cunningly replaced by shortcrust pastry. To make matters worse it’s only partly cooked and the meat is disappointingly bland.
I leave my companion to do the honours with dessert. Crumble sounds appetising, so he asks our waitress if ‘home baked’ means prepared on the premises. “Er… we’ve got it in a tub but I didn’t actually make it myself,” she tells us.
So we opt for lemon meringue cheesecake, a kind of deconstructed version comprising lemon cream topped with lemon curd and crumbled meringue on a biscuitcrumb base.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks, is £36.58.
lVerdict: a new start for an old favourite – but it remains to be seen whether the managers’ enthusiasm can triumph over the vagaries of a central kitchen.
lOpen: noon to 10pm daily; Sunday until 9.30pm.
lPeacock, Baslow Road, Owler Bar, Sheffield (0114) 236 1789.