FOOD GUIDE: Take potential as Red

Old Red Lion sous chef Oliver Haigh at the pub in Main Street, Grenoside.
Old Red Lion sous chef Oliver Haigh at the pub in Main Street, Grenoside.

Lesley Draper visits the Old Red Lion in Grenoside and finds delicious food cooked by two Michelin-trained chefs

A VILLAGE pub with two Michelin-trained chefs… it sounded too good to miss.

Cue visions of character, charm and the kind of food that delights the eyes and the tastebuds in equal measure.

The Old Red Lion at Grenoside had been on our radar for a while – since head chef Adam Tollerfield was lured back to run the kitchen in January, in fact.

But it was sous chef Oliver Haigh’s appearance on BBC2’s MasterChef: The Professionals that finally propelled us towards the north Sheffield village on Friday lunchtime.

Okay, so this is a big build-up, but it will give you some idea of the level of our expectations. And the crushing disappointment that followed.

First impressions are of a solid stone building, with warm sunlight streaming through leaded windows and a stone fireplace complete with log basket.

But as we walk through the door, a widescreen TV flickers at us from every corner… along with a battery of games machines and a high volume soundtrack of dodgy music (think Boom Bang-a-Bang).

What a waste!

This place has all the ingredients to be a destination gastro-pub. The food, we discover, is every bit as good as we’d hoped.

But who wants to sit in the middle of the local boozer for a three-course meal, no matter how tasty? There’s not even one room to escape the TVs.

The pub is one of several in Grenoside and has a fascinating history. Built as a row of cottages in the mid-1700s, it was converted into a coaching inn when the old packhorse route became a turnpike road. For many years it doubled as a temporary mortuary, with bodies left on a stone slab behind a curtain until the undertaker turned up.

Its last brush with death is charted in an old newspaper cutting, mounted on the wall, which tells the grisly tale of a girl who fell into a vat of boiling malt and drowned.

That was back in the times when the Old Red Lion brewed its own ale. These days it offers a selection of draught and bottled beers, but there’s no hand-pull available on the day of our visit.

We settle for a glass of house red (Kumala at £2.75), which is pleasantly quaffable.

The menu bears Adam’s distinctive touch.

He worked as a chef de partie with culinary heavyweights Tom Kitchin and Steve Smith and also as pastry chef at the Michelin-starred Old Vicarage, Ridgeway – where he met Oliver.

He first arrived at the Old Red Lion in 2010 to help his cousin, who was running it. When the head chef walked out on the first day, Adam took over.

He later went on to broaden his experience at the York in Broomhill and the Peak Edge Hotel before a call from the Old Red Lion’s owner persuaded him to return, bringing Oliver with him.

The pub had been fitted with a brand new kitchen and the two chefs now make all their own breads, smoke their own cheese and meats and prepare all food fresh to order, apart from ice cream.

“This place has a lot of potential and I’m happy here. I want to stay,” says Adam.

Oliver agrees, despite his brief taste of stardom: “I’d definitely do MasterChef again, but I’d do things differently.

“I took all the judges’ comments on board; I just want to get better now.”

The two have a good system going in the kitchen and service is slick. It’s a shame they’re let down by the setting and the attention to detail…

Soup of the day is subtle buttered carrot: great texture, nicely presented on a board with a hot roll and soft butter. But why no soup spoon to eat it with?

Meanwhile I’m tucking into tender pot-roasted pig’s cheek with a sauce gribiche – hard-boiled egg, pickled cucumbers, capers and herbs – which cuts nicely through the richness of the meat. It’s finished with a crispy pig’s ear salad, like thin shards of pork crackling. Delicious.

There are various menus on offer, from pub classics, sandwiches and sharing platters, to set-price Sunday and early bird selectons (three courses £16) and the traditional à la carte.

Adam and Oliver insist on locally sourced produce, so pork is from Povey Farm at Norton, venison from Round Green.

My sea bass is cooked to crisp-skinned perfection, with a deliciously spicy chorizo, pea and caper beurre noissette.

If it stopped there, it would have been perfect, but black olive and anchovy tapenade is a taste too far, its bitter flavour fighting the chorizo and doing nothing to enhance the delicate fish. And there’s piles of it, more like mashed potato.

My companion has no complaints. Pie of the day is peppered steak and celeriac, an inspired combination with a herby suetcrust top, a pot of mushy peas and a Jenga-style tower of chips: “Absolutely divine,” he enthuses.

We finish our meal with a shared slice of dark chocolate and Cointreau tart and big cups of americano coffee with little home-made cinnamon biscuits.

The pastry chefs’ skills are not in question: the tart is good, the filling beautifully rich and the best bit is the candied orange slices on top. I could have made a meal of those alone.

Dinner for two, excluding wine and service, is £39.40.

* Verdict: Top notch food. One room free of gaming machines, TV and Family Favourites would make it a worthwhile trip out.

* Open: Mon-Fri 12-3pm and 5.30-9pm; Sat 12-9pm; Sun 12-3pm for Sunday lunch.

* The Old Red Lion, 210 Main Street, Grenoside, Sheffield (0114) 246 8307