Speaking of good pubs knocking out good food – which, happily, I seem to be doing quite a bit of this year – let’s have another one.
There are several good reasons to visit The Hinchliffe, over at leafy Cragg Vale and not a million miles outside of Hebden Bridge, but a couple are particularly worth noting. The first is that yer man on the pans is Rob Owen Brown – he formerly of the much-respected riverside pub The Mark Addy, and latterly whose gravelled tones can be heard as a regular fixture on Jay Rayner’s Kitchen Cabinet radio show.
The second reason, and one for which readers less familiar with old Salford boozers or quaint BBC Radio may find more of a pull, is that The Hinchliffe has a menu that features spam fritters, and they are good.
Yep, this might be a pretty little place over a pretty little bridge, with a handsome church next-door whose bells chime as we sup pre-tea pints outside, but those who like their pubs to be pubs should take comfort from the fact that there’s a fella in the kitchen deep-frying wedges of battered pork who, no matter how picturesque and idyllic the setting, doesn’t let things get too twee or too twatty.
Apparently, the words “spam fritters” aren’t as pleasing on the ear as “half a dozen oysters on ice”, so it takes a bit of leg-work to get the nod on the school dinner classic from Asbestos Tongue. But with their crisp, snappy batter and spiky “red and brown sauce” accompaniment, they’re snaffled up double quick. A widespread resurgence may not follow, but it should.
We’re idiots and have, without thinking, plumped for another couple of snacky starters that have also had the flour and hot oil treatment. There are crispy blue cheese bhajis, whose sharp dandelion and burdock sauce is a revelation (and, from what I’ve read, textbook R.O.B.), and mac and cheese bites laden with moreish fried onions. A trio of addictive bar-snack fodder then, that calls for another beer, and then another. Those deep-fried plates of joy come in at £4, £3 and £3.50, by the way.
From reputation alone I trust that this chef can and will fill good pastry with good things, so it’s no surprise that a main course pie is of similarly stand-out value. Eight quid – and I’ll repeat that – eight quid bags us a beaut whose snappy crust is bursting with stewed beef and whose bed of pillowy alabaster mash has had a healthy – and by that I mean unhealthy but essential – pile of butter churned through.
The same hugely reasonable price-tag is attached to pub classics including a burger and a hotpot; a pound more would nab you a plate of fish and chips. I predict the lot would be Done Right at The Hinchliffe.
A mackerel special at £15 is the second priciest thing on the menu after a lump of ribeye at 3 quid more, and consists of two svelte, well-crisped fish slathered in a simple but very effective lemon and lime butter that cuts through the oily mackerel. I swap new potatoes for chips, because this is always the right thing to do, which are as good as you’d hope them to be in a place like this. A few pints and a bowl of these would do very nicely.
I like these rural pubs, but there’s no denying that prices can often stack up, so it’s worth remembering that – as well as The Hinchliffe’s striking location and its lauded chef pulling the strings (I spy him after the meal through the kitchen entrance outside) – you can get a plate of sublime (honest) spam fritters here, followed by a really good pie and mash, with, for pudding, the chef’s famed Vimto trifle, for a wallet-friendly – nay, a wallet-titillating – £17.
And no, this kind of food won’t be troubling the Michelin lot next month, but for pure appetite-gratification I know which I’d prefer between a nine course bore-fest and the three courses I’ve just described at The Hinchliffe.