THERE’S something about sunny weather and bank holidays that draws even the most dedicated townies into the countryside – which, for most Sheffielders, means a trip to the Peak.
And it’s a fair bet that many of them will head for Baslow, whether their chosen pastime is walking, cycling, climbing or merely enjoying the countryside.
Such was the case last week as we set out on a favourite yomp along Birchen Edge, where Nelson’s monument surveys the three vast boulders named after his ships.
As we parked the car in its habitual spot we glanced at the nearby Robin Hood pub… which reminded us that it had just changed hands.
Cue food-writer’s curiosity and a booking for dinner.
The Robin Hood is one of those places that we tried years ago, wrote off as overwhelmingly average and simply never bothered visiting again, despite the fact that we pass it at least twice a week.
But a pleasant surprise awaited.
Dave and Nicki Horry, who live in nearby Curbar with their three children, took over the lease at the beginning of this year and opened six weeks ago.
Dave was managing director of a distribution company, on the look-out for a new challenge. But Nicki had been in catering most of her life and the empty pub seemed like a perfect opportunity.
“It’s a lot different from the Royal Hospital or Lady Manners School kitchens, but the principle’s the same – and I love cooking,” she says.
The new venture certainly presented a challenge. The harsh winter meant that the pipes had burst during the time the building lay empty.
By the time they got the keys, the family were faced with severe water damage, the kitchen ceiling had collapsed and decomposing food had been left to rot in cupboards and fridges.
It was a daunting task but they set about transforming the mess into the inn of their dreams.
The kitchen was gutted, rewired and replastered, new drains and roofing were installed and a local builder was called in to lay flagstones in the bar.
Dave and Nicki rolled up their sleeves and took care of the decorating, cleaning feature stone walls and painting others in soft heritage greens.
Pews and monks’ benches were brought in to divide up the space, with farmhouse tables and chairs for diners. Nicki’s hand-made curtains and tartan cushions add a homely finishing touch.
The inn is dog friendly throughout – much to the delight of the Horrys’ black Labrador, Obi, who is as keen to play her part as the rest of the family.
As a tied house, the Robin Hood serves Marstons ales, but the menu is entirely down to Nicki and her team.
She specialises in good, wholesome home-made dishes: “It’s comfort food really but it’s going down very well. We’ve still got quite a bit to do on the building but we’re gradually settling in and people seem to like it.”
The Robin Hood has always been popular with walkers and climbers and the bar fills up as we place our order and settle down with a pint of Cumberland, a glass of quaffable house white and a couple of magazines from the selection lying around.
A blackboard menu offers the kind of dishes that makes choosing almost impossible.
This is exactly the sort of food you want to tuck into after an exhilarating walk, or a couple of hours on a windy rockface.
Soup of the day is roast butternut squash – a thick, hearty dish that’s more of a purée than a broth, with a hunk of sweet rye bread and soft butter.
My Thai fishcakes are salmon based, with a fragrant hint of ginger, coconut and lemongrass. They come with little dishes of sour cream and sweet chilli dip, and a salad garnish. Not just a lettuce leaf and a slice of cucumber, but peppers, red onion and tomatoes too, nicely dressed with vinaigrette.
It’s the little touches that make such a big difference when it comes to pub grub.
Sticking with the seafood theme, my main course is salmon fillet topped with home-made tomato and herb salsa.
It’s simple fare but nicely done. The fish is succulent and not overpowered by its accompaniments: more salad, crisp sugarsnap peas and a mountain of buttered new potatoes.
My companion’s pan-fried chicken breast is golden and maybe a touch overcooked but a creamy casserole of leeks and beans – broad, butter and cannelini – keeps it moist, with green beans and new potatoes on the side.
Puddings sound irresistible, so we don’t attempt to abstain.
Sticky toffee pudding is a sponge that’s surprisingly light, doused liberally in syrupy sauce, but so humungous in size that even my resident pudding taster admits defeat.
My treacle and coconut tart is sublime, wrapped in a beautifully short pastry case and served warm with vanilla ice cream.
We finish our meal with cups of strong, dark Illy coffee. Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £35.45.
lVerdict: Home-cooked food, a cut above the average pub grub, and a spectacular setting to boot.
lOpen for food: 12-8pm Mon - Thur, until 9pm Fri - Sat; 12-6pm Sun
lRobin Hood Inn, Chesterfield Road, Baslow. (01246) 583186.