A food for thought QI moment for horse racing aficionados. What do the Black Lion pub and the St Leger have in common?
The answer is Firbeck, a quaint village on the outskirts of Rotherham.
Now the pub is very much of the present but the country’s oldest Classic is steeped in the village’s historic past as it was here that the first ever St Leger was run in 1776 before it was switched to its present Town Moor home in Doncaster two years later.
There’s even a picture on the wall near the bar of Park Hill Lodge, the home of the St Leger family.
Ah, the joys of combining my love of food with my passion for sport!
I’d decided the Black Lion was worth a trip out after hearing about a major refurbishment that had transformed the pub and ‘brought the village back to life.’
Owner Phil Rogers is the man behind it all. He’s had 25 years’ experience in the trade – his great grandfather was the landlord of the Barrel Inn (now Fagins) on Broad Lane, Sheffield back in 1914 – and this venture looks to have all the hallmarks of success.
He’s incorporated a large traditional-styled bar area complete with beamed ceiling, half-panelled walls, an open fire, wooden tables and chairs and lots of pictures and prints, some of which feature a history of Firbeck Hall and the nearby Sandbeck estate belonging to Lord Scarbrough. There’s also a plush contemporary-style restaurant with seating for 70.
You can dine in either area – we sat by the large bay window at the far end of the bar – but, whether it’s food or drink, Phil’s message is simple and straightforward: “Good fresh food and good beer at reasonable prices.”
You certainly won’t find any boil-in-the-bag stuff here while Phil also offers five cask beers – he often has those from Thornbridge, Bradfield, Kelham Island and Abbeydale Breweries – which changes on a regular basis. It’s already earned him a Pub of the Season award from Rotherham CAMRA.
There’s also a decent wine list, the cheapest coming in at £11.50 a bottle and rising to £21.50 for the white (a French Sancerre) and £16.95 for the red (a New Zealand Pinot Noir).
Three red and white and two rose are also available by the glass (£2.80 and £3.95). We chose a fruity, medium bodied Chilean Merlot (£11.50).
Phil and head chef Paul Cook devise the menu and there’s a seasonal touch whenever possible... when you’ve got the Sandbeck estate just down the road, it’s ‘game on’ from October to January with the Special Game Board.
One of the dishes, wild rabbit pie (£8.50), proved so popular that it has remained on the specials board and was certainly the one that caught my eye. It was flagged up alongside cajun salmon fillet (£8.95), Cumberland sausage and black pudding mash (£8.50) and Whitby wholetail scampi (£7.95).
The menu itself offers plenty of choice, everything from pasta to fish to vegetarian, grills, salads and Black Lion favourites which include the ever-popular slow roasted belly pork (£8.95), steak and ale pie (£8.25), slow-roasted lamb shank (£10.95) and Thai chicken curry (£8.95).
From the six starters on offer I decided to roll with the black pudding and mushroom tower while the mushroom pepper pot (both £3.95) got M’s vote.
As the name suggests, mine was a well-seasoned mix of alternative layers of mushrooms and black pudding, topped off with a mild, creamy stilton sauce.
In contrast, M’s was not for the faint-hearted. Numerous button mushrooms were served in a rich peppercorn sauce which had such a kick that it made her eyes water. The dish was accompanied by two slices of garlic bread and salad.
My tasty rabbit pie was a rare treat even though it came with a tongue-in-cheek ‘think of the poor bunny’ quip from the waitress!
Cooked in its own individual dish, it was jam-packed with meat, plus onions and carrots and sealed with a shortcrust pastry topping.
In addition there was a generous supply of homemade chips, an extra helping of gravy and a good-sized, to-share bowl of roast parsnips, carrots and dwarf beans.
M went for one of the pub’s ‘Favourites,’ the calf’s liver and bacon (£8.95) – two good-sized pieces of liver and two thick rashers of bacon, all served on a bed of mash with a rich gravy.
Unfortunately the desserts (all £3.95) are not home-made, although I’ve got to admit the butterscotch date and walnut pudding we shared did have that quality about it as did the custard.
However, help is at hand, as a lady who lives nearby is to supply the pub with a selection of her own desserts in the very near future.
We finished off with two cappuccinos, £1.80 each.
Our total food bill came to £29.30.
Verdict: The Lion roars again and delivers ‘good food and good beer at reasonable prices’ perfectly. Well worth a trip out.
Food serving times: Tuesday to Saturday: Noon to 2pm and 5.30 to 9pm; Sunday carvery: Noon to 4pm (adults £7.45, children under-12 £4.50, OAP’s £5.95).
The Black Lion, New Road, Firbeck. Telephone: 01709 812575.