The demise of the local public house has been the subject of many newspaper articles; part of the ethos of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) believes well-run pubs, whether in rural or urban areas, play a critical social role in UK culture as the centres of community life. CAMRA believes that the British pub is a uniquely wonderful institution. The 50,000 or so which remain offer a rich variety of drinking and social environments and contribute significantly to the sum of the nation’s happiness.
One of these unique institutions was our destination for a midweek contribution to our happiness; a Wednesday evening in the Poet and Castle on the Market Place in Codnor, Derbyshire.
Our taxi dropped us off in the car park at the rear of the pub. One of the first things we spotted was the large outdoor seating area with its extensive views over the fields. Perfect for a family on a warm Summer afternoon.
The Poet and Castle is the 5th and latest pub to be owned by the Lincoln Green Brewing Company. The Company, started in 2012 by Anthony Hughes, takes its name from the colour of the woolen cloth associated with the legendary Robin Hood. What began in the garage of his home in Nottingham has grown to include a brewery in Hucknall and the 5 pubs; 4 in his home county of Nottinghamshire and The Poet and Castle in Derbyshire.
The Company has a simple philosophy; they believe in ‘proper pubs’ and this is evident in the Poet and Castle. It’s a place with quiet corners. It has big comfy chairs in front of the log burner. It’s a meeting place for dog walkers. It’s somewhere to put the world to rights and for us, somewhere for a Wednesday evening meal. As the owners state ‘You know when you’ve entered a proper pub. It’s a sense, not a blueprint’.
We were given a warm welcome by Clive, the manager who explained the Lincoln Green real ales on offer. Their 4 main brews are called Marion, Hood, Archer and Tuck, names associated with the famous outlaw of Sherwood Forest. While Sue chatted to a group of friendly dog walkers I decide to sample the Hood; the bitter. This is a proper bitter; it’s complex flavours and smooth finish are a reminder of how good ale used to taste and is a treat worth making a detour for.
The food is pub grub and for that reason the menu does not run on for 4 or 5 pages. There are 4 starters to choose from: goats cheese and red onion flatbread, 2 homemade soups; tomato or leek and potato and mushrooms in a wine and garlic sauce served on toast. There are 7 main course meals which include 2 burgers (one venison and the other a veggie), fish and chips, a beef pie, ham and eggs and a red pepper tagliatelle; 4 of them are available in child portion sizes. We chose the mushrooms and a soup followed by the pie and fish and chips.
Everything is freshly cooked. I placed our order with Clive at the bar. He made a note of it and dispatched it to the kitchen along with a glass of Marion light ale he had just pulled and added “That’s to make the beer batter for your haddock.” It doesn’t get more fresh than that.
The mushrooms take centre stage in the generous starter. Sautéed mushrooms are served on toasted slices of baguette There’s just a hint of garlic in the creamy wine sauce but it doesn’t mask the delicate mushroom flavour.
Toasted baguette also accompanied the fresh leek and potato soup; a soup that can be served in all sorts of shapes and sizes: rustic, chilled and in this instance creamed. The Poet and Castle version is carefully seasoned and uses the whole leek giving it a deep flavour. It’s finished with a swirl of cream to enhance the smooth presentation.
I decided to try the lighter, more delicately flavoured Archer American pale ale with my homemade beef pie and its robust gravy made with their own porter; Tuck. The pie pastry was crisp, the triple cooked chips lived up to expectations and I could taste the ale in the tender beef pie filling.
Susan’s fish was a fillet of haddock in a Marion beer batter. The white, flaky fish had cooked beautifully inside the crisp beer batter and again the triple cooked chips were delightful. It was served with mushy peas and a dish of tartar sauce.
To round off the evening I sampled the Marion. This is a full bodied pale ale with a fresh, zingy aroma and comforting warm malt taste. Along with their real ale they also offer real cider, wines and spirits. There is lager, but not the mainstream brands.
We came away with the impression that the Poet and Castle was in the great British tradition of proper pubs; a warm welcome, excellent beers and wines, good conversation and good old fashioned pub grub.