I’m nothing if not keen. And gluttonous. Which is why this maiden trip to the Pack Horse in Hayfield, down there in the Peak District, ended up taking in both dinner and tea. And if they’d been banging out the breakfasts it’s highly likely that we’d have rocked up the next morning for bacon and eggs, too.
Placing highly on our old friend The Top 50 Gastropub list, The Pack Horse is one of those boozers in which you could quite easily get bedded in and lose half a day, stumbling out after “a quick pint” has turned into something far more substantial. Unlike one or two others on that particular list The Packhorse is very much still a pub – a merry mixture of locals and weekenders crowding around the pumps on this visit – that will also feed you very well.
Lunch being the pre-match stretch to tea’s 90 minutes and extra time, the midday meal was kept simple and to the point. You know the drill: well-executed bits and bats from a concise bar menu that included half a dozen plump rock oysters, slices of rugged, first-rate charcuterie from meaty experts Northern Cure, and ballast from a crisp-crusted sourdough with beaming Longley Farm butter.
A fine start, and all very civilised, until a flock of lycra’d runners, competing in something called the Mount Famine dash heaved past; provoking a semi-pang of guilt as we luxuriantly knocked back the bivalves. It’s surprising how swiftly three cellar-fresh cold pints can assuage such feelings, though.
The evening menu at The Pack Horse features well-honed, precise versions of good things you’ll want to eat. This may sound like an obvious ruse, I know, but in a world where the faff, the fuss and the faux formality of “high-end” dining rumbles on, it makes for a welcome, nay merciful read.
Take, for example, my two thick spears of Yorkshire asparagus (no matter how many miles I clock up, a call-back to home is never far away) that were finished with a French flourish of Café des Paris hollandaise, a beaming orb of poached egg, and – because why not – a scattering of spring white truffle. Simply a very right plate.
Or a full slab of pearlescent lemon sole, served on the bone and drenched in samphire and brown shrimp butter, through which torn shards of flaky brioche were put to good use. A side dish of allotment-fresh jersey royals seemed like the right path to go down.
Every pub needs a dollop of pig on the menu. Here, it was a craggy strip of belly, long braised then frazzed until golden on the good bits. Perhaps it’s just me who found the (un-pictured) red wine sauce it came with an unexpected accompaniment to pork; after all, we know by now that I’m a complete amateur in these matters.
Piggy’s wingman, a mini mushroom and gruyere pie, hummy insides and a bronzed outer, was anything but mini in flavour. I’m probably meant to say something about being able to neck these by the sack-full, and it’s true, I could.
You try picking dessert here when a) you don’t really need it, but b) you might as well. There was rhubarb (Yorkshire, o’course), there was crème brulee and there was chocolate delice, but we went all in on a laser-cut slice of salted caramel custard tart – pastry crisp, semi-set filling just sweet enough – to which we administered a rapid two-fork going over.
Dinner Tea was Forty quid for three courses, with several tasty bells and whistles along the way.
The Pack Horse is a holy grail of the gastropub genre. Just fancy enough to feel that you’re sampling a committed kitchen’s version of The Good Stuff, whilst never losing sight of being a local pub that can bang out the beers.