Pride in White Lion

Greg and Libby Robinson at the White Lion Pub in Great Longstone
Greg and Libby Robinson at the White Lion Pub in Great Longstone

SO the chocolates are all gone, we’re back in routine and before we cast aside the resolutions for another year, it’s on with the walking boots and off to put our best intentions into practice.

With the Peak District right on the doorstep, there’s no excuse for not getting out there and making the most of a crisp winter day. But with so many country pubs to choose from, the biggest problem is often picking the right one to end up in.

Look no further! Until now this has been a well-kept secret but we’re about to lift the lid on our favourite aprés-walk watering hole. Actually, forget the walk; it’s a great place to go any time, whether you’re after a quick lunch or a full-blown three-course meal.

The White Lion at Great Longstone is one of those pubs you pass en route to a lot of places. We’d driven past countless times before we finally ventured in – but it’s been a regular haunt ever since.

Landlords are Libby Robinson and her chef husband Greg – who have their name written in foot-high letters on the front of the building since this, coincidentally, is a Robinson’s pub.

They arrived a couple of years ago after working their way around Manchester, the US and Kenya and since then they’ve transformed the place into the kind of country gastro-pub they’d always dreamed of.

They did the work themselves, taking three weeks to get rid of the old-fashioned carpets and chintz, but still opening the pub every night.

“People were very good about it, especially when we took the wallpaper off and half the walls came down too!” says Libby.

The result is a classic country pub with a fresh, contemporary feel. Exposed beams, floorboards and roaring log fires sit comfortably alongside neutral walls set off with local artwork and roman blinds.

It’s more gastro-pub than village boozer but everyone is made welcome: the bar is a popular meeting place for locals and the cosy snug even stocks dog biscuits for four-legged visitors.

Greg and Libby met at university in Manchester, from where she graduated in hospitality management and he as a chef.

Greg had grown up in Kenya and the couple lived there for a while before returning to the UK. But their ultimate aim was to work for themselves and when the chance came to take over the White Lion, they grabbed it, little realising it would be a life-defining move.

The Peak village is now very much home, not just to them, but also to Greg’s parents who moved over from France to join them last year. And there’s an even stronger tie to Great Longstone following the arrival of baby Jack.

The family see this as a home for life and Greg has wasted no time in creating a kitchen garden at the back of the pub.

Fresh, local food is his passion, so he grows herbs and vegetables with help from his green-fingered dad. Customers also do their bit, contributing home-grown fruit, and he has sourced nearby suppliers for everything from meat to ice cream.

Monthly-changing menus are created around seasonal produce, with a mix of pub classics and more adventurous dishes. Greg enjoys experimenting with ingredients so there’s always something different to tempt the tastebuds.

“I keep changing things, otherwise I’d get bored – and I never make anything directly from the book,” he says.

His latest creation is lemon posset with an orange jelly base to use up the Christmas oranges but he’s also working on his own brand of potato cannelloni.

By the time we roll up, the place is packed with chattering locals and appreciative diners. Staff give us a warm welcome that merges seamlessly into top-notch service as we’re shown to a table in the dining room.

We’re ready for a drink after our exertions. There’s a decent wine list but I’m still on the fizzy water; my companion, meanwhile, is soon giving himself to a Dizzy Blonde (£2.80).

This is one of the White Lion’s two most popular beers, a light, hoppy ale brewed with the same strain of yeast that Robinson’s have used since the 1920s.

I begin with moist smoked duck, blushing pink against a magenta-stained salad of warm beetroot and parsnip. A topping of rich basil pesto is probably a flavour too far for such a strong combination but top marks for innovation.

My companion’s ham hock terrine is meaty and substantial: two slices accompanied by a little pot of tangy, mustard-spiced chutney, pickled onions and bruschetta of artisan bread.

Mains include a good choice of pub classics but we go for Greg’s specialities. Pan-fried red snapper is beautifully crisp skinned. It comes with smoked bacon bits and half-sprouts – crunchy, not soggy – in a creamy sauce, with an unusual anchovy scone.

Spanish chicken and black-eyed bean cassoulet looks enough to feed a family of four.

Three pieces of boned chicken are served in a cast iron dish atop a smoky cassoulet of beans, tomatoes and onions, with a great chilli kick.

And as if that’s not already more than enough, there’s also a garlic and olive mini Hovis loaf to soak up the sauce.

Desserts sound irresistible, including fig and almond pudding with rum and sultana syrup and a stupendously rich, moist chocolate brownie.

We share one of Greg’s lemon possets – creamy yet deliciously sharp, with a marmalade-sticky base of orange jelly and a Cape gooseberry to add the finishing flourish.

We end our meal with great coffee and home-made shortbreads. Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £44.15

lVerdict: Great food and a warm welcome are assured in this cosy gastro-pub.

lOpen: Food served daily 12-3pm & 6-9pm, Sat all day, Sun until 8pm

lThe White Lion, Main Street, Great Longstone, near Bakewell (01629) 640252