There’s no better way to spend the weekend than a long leisurely visit to one of our glorious countryside pubs. Sitting outside and supping on a pint when the sun comes out, huddling round the log fire with a hot toddy when it’s cold, and enjoying some great pub grub whatever the weather. Sometimes no fancy restaurant can better show just how good traditional British fare can be.
That’s why each week we’ll be visiting the best food pubs that Greater Manchester has to offer, to give you the heads up for the next time you fancy a jaunt out of the centre. Jump on a train, get your walking boots on, get on your bike (in your lycra if you must), dig out the leathers, or even drive there if you must. Whatever takes your fancy. Just remember you need to get home after.
Today we are in the small village of Lydgate on the edge of the Pennines. The village stands on a hill with magnificent views towards Manchester. It’s a haven for walkers, over the Standedge trail from Marsden, or for more adventurous hikers from Padfield (Glossop) over Saddleworth and through Greenfield, taking in the windswept hills and glorious scenery en route to this handsome stone-built listed building.
You will find The White Hart Inn at the very top of the hill, directly opposite St. Anne’s Church, a short walk from Greenfield station. The original inn was built in 1788 by local landowner John Buckley. It is steeped in history, with the building having varying uses including a police station, a schoolhouse, a weaver’s cottage, and a look-out point in the Second World War. The Buckley family sold the premises to the Gartside Brewery in 1921, and the listed hotel was brewery-run until 1987.
Current owner Charles Brierley bought the freehold in June 1994. He extended and renovated, and today the award-winning venue offers not only a decent pub with log fires serving both permanent and rotating cask ales from Timothy Taylor’s, Brightside, Marble and Donkeystone Breweries, but also two dog-friendly lounges, twelve individually designed boutique bedrooms in the main building (all named after local dignitaries such as original landowner John Buckley himself, and local poet and historian Ammon Wrigley), four family suites in the newly opened cottage next door, and wedding and event facilities for up to 200 guests over the various rooms and gardens.
Ten years ago, Charles brought the talents of locally-born head chef Mike Shaw to the operation. Mike was not only well-travelled, but well-trained under the likes of Raymond Blanc, Richard Neat, and Gordon Ramsay. Mike decided to return to his roots and take a gamble on this local pub, introducing his own style of seasonal British cooking where the produce shines but his techniques and first class training do too. He introduced The Dining Room, a more contemporary restaurant offering tasting menus with wine flights whilst keeping the more traditional offer in The Brasserie, which is where we eat on our visit today.
Dorset crab cocktail, mango, black bean, chilli £9.50
We ate two types of bread before our cocktail of crab arrived. Olive bread with great chunks of green olives, and pumpernickel that was moist and tasted sweet, almost chocolatey like a maltloaf. The crab itself, although wonderfully colourful, almost gave the impression of a side salad, and didn’t look anywhere near as good as it tasted. The crisp white crab from the claws and legs (yes I use the word ‘crisp’ as there was none of that mushy brown stuff in there that some people like) was delicate and sweet, and with the mango, chilli, coriander and mint, an absolute joy of a summer starter.
Mushroom tortellini, wild garlic, English peas (v) £7.50
Beautifully balanced, light again, but creamy. The tortellini were so thin and expertly crafted, with the mushrooms and wild garlic producing an earthy and pungent filling. Bright green shelled peas added a burst of colour and texture. We had to request more of that lovely bread to mop up the sauce.
We drank a balanced and really fresh Caliterra Reserva Chardonnay, and I was happy they serve this in 125ml glasses (£4) as I was our designated driver today, and I wanted to taste a red with our main courses.
Pan seared calves liver, Alsace bacon, young spinach £17.50
Those starters have so much to live up to. We ordered the calves liver as done well these can be a smashing and hearty, warming affair. A meal like this is reliant on the quality of ingredients used. I’m sure it will come as no surprise they use the very best here, and the liver was cooked perfectly. Homely and classic, traditional and British at its very best.
Lamb belly, wild garlic, broad beans (as part set lunch menu, 2 courses £17.50/ 3 courses £20)
There’s no better time of year to eat lamb, yet lamb belly is harder to find on a menu. An interesting cut, quite fatty, and therefore requires cooking well for the fat to render down. Here it is rich and packed with flavour, and served with indulgently buttery mash, wild garlic, sticky jus/gravy, and shelled broad beans. (I feel sorry for whoever has been painstakingly shelling peas and beans all day!)
Glazed caramel tart, bitter chocolate sorbet £6.50
Mike trained as a pastry chef at Le Manoir and it shows. The most technical station in a kitchen, the processes and techniques taking years to master. These are truly refined and remarkable desserts today. The glazed caramel tart was perfect, softer and wobblier than I’ve had before, but much better for it. That sorbet as well. I’ve gone to heaven.
Champagne jelly, berries, clotted cream
Simple. Stunning. Fruity. Decadent. Eat a bit of everything together, glorious summer on a spoon.
Dog-friendly, family-friendly, food/beer/wine/and gin-friendly, it’s impressive how The White Hart manages to cater to so many so well. They have created a rare breed of destination restaurant and event venue that still manages to be a local for the locals. The Dining Room is more contemporary and elegant, with maybe a little less of the charm and cosiness of the other rooms, but I’m splitting hairs here as there is so much to love in all these nooks and crannies. I especially adore the breathtaking photography from Charles’ and Mike’s travels across the globe on foot and motorbike. With bikes in mind, let’s not forget that food. It’s a triumph with a capital T.
51 Stockport Road, Lydgate, Oldham, OL4 4JJ