Staffordshires Food and Drink Scene.

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The Littleton Arms

The Littleton Arms is an independent restaurant, pub and 10-bed boutique hotel right in the centre of the busy market town of Penkridge. Food is served from the busy kitchen…

The Littleton Arms is an independent restaurant, pub and 10-bed boutique hotel right in the centre of the busy market town of Penkridge.

Food is served from the busy kitchen seven days a week, from 7:00 on weekdays and 8:00 at weekends, so there’s a menu for every occasion: breakfast, brunch, lunch, bar bites, and dinner.

The imposing whitewashed building dominates the crossroads at the heart of the town. Inside, the rustic character of the 17th century inn has been retained with painted panelling, exposed wooden beams and nods to its heritage, including a wall half-covered in horseshoes. There’s plenty of cosy leather and richly patinaed furniture to create a comfortable haven from the chill of the outdoors.

Sea bass with Thai red curryYou’re invited to take a tall seat in the bar area or wait to be seated in one of the dining spaces. It takes a short while, but the welcome from the staff is warm, and they’re attentive and swift to take our orders once we’ve settled at the table.

Our visit coincides with the release of the new autumn menu, devised by The Littleton Arms’ head chef Will Dean. Many of the dishes show evidence of the close working partnership between the venue and quality local suppliers. So, for example, you can enjoy a 10oz pork tomahawk steak from Perry’s Butchers in Eccleshall, which is served with mustard and spring onion mash, fine beans, bramley apple sauce and melting cheddar with a cider gravy.

Other tempting autumnal dishes on the menu include pheasant breast with streaky bacon, a leg meat and potato croquette, cauliflower cheese purée, honey roasted parsnips, quince jelly and a red wine jus. For hearty appetites there’s also the game mixed grill – a decadent combination of seared venison loin, wild boar sausage, wrapped rabbit loins, seared pigeon breast, creamed savoy cabbage, garlic mash and baby carrot, also with red wine jus.

As it’s lunchtime when we visit, delicious as these dishes sound, we lean towards slightly lighter options. The seared seabass is a generous two fillets rather than the standard single piece of fish, and it sits atop a fragrant coconut and jasmine rice in a mild Thai red curry. The sweet mango salsa with tangy charred lime cuts through the creamy sauce well to produce a satisfying plate of  food.

Goat's cheese and sundried tomato linguineMeanwhile the sundried tomato and vegan mozzarella linguine harks back to the flavours of summer, with a fresh vegan pesto coating the well-cooked pasta. It is one of the vegan options, but is listed on the main menu rather than the separate vegan menu, perhaps to give you the chance to add crispy goat’s cheese, which we gladly do, or crispy calamari. The same goes for the Persian lentil and wholegrain rice risotto with pine nuts, saffron and toasted walnuts, to which you’re invited to add chicken supreme or duck ragù.

Whether you’re drinking or not there’s no shortage of options here, from Iron & Fire coffee and low or non-alcohol beers, to rotating ales on tap. There’s also an extensive cocktail menu and a range of premium spirits behind the bar, including Sun Bear’s naturally flavoured vodka and gin, as well as other local favourites like Hearts Distillery’s London dry gin.

All in all, this is a lovely Staffordshire pub where you can have a happy encounter with some traditional, delicious and filling fare this autumn.

The Littleton Arms
St Michael’s Square, Penkridge, ST19 5AL

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The Meynell Ingram Arms

We traversed the country lanes of rural East Staffordshire to find a friendly welcome in Hoar Cross at The Meynell Ingram. The historic Staffordshire pub had been closed for over…

We traversed the country lanes of rural East Staffordshire to find a friendly welcome in Hoar Cross at The Meynell Ingram.

The historic Staffordshire pub had been closed for over five years, reopening on 10 May. The building has been cleverly reconfigured by Berkeley Inns, who acquired it in November 2018. Now there are a series of distinct spaces around a central courtyard complete with parasols, heaters and a ‘living wall’ of plants.

Main restaurant Meynell IngramThe traditional country pub remains very much at its heart, but beyond that there’s a modern and elegant restaurant dining area, complete with immense bifold doors which let light stream in from the courtyard. There’s space for private dining in the Mirror Room. On the third side of the courtyard, Sam’s Bar is a relaxed space with flatscreens showing sports, a second bar, and a pizza oven. The outdoor space here will really come into its own this summer, with not only the enclosed courtyard to enjoy, but beautifully planted gardens and patios to the side and rear of the pub.

Tom Cross has moved over from The Cow at Dalbury to take up the position of general manager at The Meynell, where he leads a team of professional and personable front of house staff clad in red and black plaid. Behind the scenes in the kitchen, the brigade is headed up by Colin Ansell, who joins the Meynell from a 10 year stint as head chef at Pascal’s at The Old Vicarage.

The bistro-style à la carte menu caters to many different tastes, featuring pub classics with a fine dining twist to Mediterranean inspired dishes. There are nibbles and sharing platters if you’re looking for something lighter, and freshly baked pizza for those long summer evenings.

To start, we opt for the steak tartare made with Staffordshire beef, which holds its own comfortably, and the heritage tomato with goat’s cheese, prosciutto, avocado and sourdough croutons – perfectly balanced in terms of acidity, creaminess and crunch.

Steak tartare

In the spirit of adapting with the seasons, we order the Thai beef salad bowl and ras el hanout spiced chump of lamb for the main course. The salad is packed with fresh veg – bean sprouts, spring onions, shallots, cucumber – and fresh flavours from the basil, mint, coriander, lime and soy-sesame dressing. It’s a thoroughly satisfying dish that’s still light and summery. The tender pink lamb has a delicious spicy crust and the couscous is laced with tiny pieces of sweet apricot and flavoursome herbs. The zingy tzatziki lifts the rich meat with its sourness.

If it’s sumptuous desserts you’re into, you won’t be disappointed here. The raspberry crème brûlée, served with the pastry chef’s beautifully short shortbread, is a delight, but we’re slightly over-faced by the decadent Meynell Mess – a bowl of ice cream, fudge, brownie, seasonal fruit, coulis and marshmallow that is definitely made for sharing!

Berkeley Inns Ltd currently operate four other rural and semi-rural pubs in Derbyshire. This is the group’s first foray into Staffordshire, and if our experience is anything to go by it looks set to be a fantastic success.

The Meynell Ingram Arms
Abbots Bromley Road, Hoar Cross, DE13 8RB

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Winter Hideaways

The summer heatwaves have faded into memory and the long nights are drawing in. At this time of year the cosy pubs and cafés dotted across our beautiful county take…

The summer heatwaves have faded into memory and the long nights are drawing in.

At this time of year the cosy pubs and cafés dotted across our beautiful county take on a special appeal as havens from the vagaries of the ever changeable weather. It’s only natural to want to sink into a snug chair and share a hot chocolate, or retreat to the local for a pint of ale and some hearty seasonal fare during the long winter months. Whether you want to meet friends, catch up with family you haven’t seen for a while, chat with the neighbours or just enjoy a quiet hour alone, you’re spoilt for choice in Staffordshire.

When the gales are howling and the drifts are piling up, these are a few of our top picks for places to hole up and shelter from the snowball fights.

The George at Alstonefield

Log burner in George at AlstonefieldOn the border of Staffordshire and Derbyshire in the tiny village of Alstonefield sits The George. This family-run pub in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park is just a stone’s throw from Mill Dale and Dovedale, close to Ashbourne, Bakewell and Buxton. All in all it’s splendidly positioned as a refuge from the biting cold after a good old-fashioned ramble.

The wooden beams, quarry tiles and crackling log fire create the perfect atmosphere to enjoy real ales and carefully selected wines. The snug and dining room have been restored with lime plastered walls and antique farmhouse furniture. While the butcher’s block and exposed stone give a rustic feel, candlelight from the hurricane lanterns adds a touch of elegance. This is matched by the elegance of the food coming out of the kitchen, which has received recognition in The Good Food Guide since 2009, and from Michelin and Sawday’s among others.

Quality local produce is the foundation of the menu, and the owners work with nearby allotment holders, farmers and businesses to keep food miles to a minimum. Across the lunch, dinner, and tasting menus, all dishes are prepared fresh on the premises with ingredients sourced, wherever possible, from within a 15 mile radius.

Alstonefield, Nr Ashbourne, DE6 2FX

The White Lion

At this charming country pub on the border of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire everyone is welcome to relax and enjoy the hospitality of Julian, Helen and their team. The White Lion pride themselves on sourcing only the highest quality seasonal ingredients and cooking them beautifully and simply. As you can read elsewhere in the Autumn/Winter issue, the fish specials are not to be missed. With local ales alongside continental beers and an array of speciality gins on offer, you can while away many a pleasant hour here. The snug is a cosy hideaway with comfortable leather chairs and soft lighting, while the bar’s flagstone floor, armchairs and roaring open fires will welcome you (and your dog) in from even the coldest of days.

London Road, Knighton, Market Drayton, TF9 4HJ

The Horns

Inside The Horns at GnosallIt’s in the picturesque little mid-Staffordshire village of Gnosall that you will find this family and dog-friendly pub. At the heart of the parish, The Horns has undergone renovations recently and prides itself on serving homemade, locally sourced food and cask ales in a wonderful setting with a lively atmosphere. The beamed ceiling, exposed brickwork and log burning stove complement the menu perfectly – it is full of hearty but imaginative food using seasonal ingredients, including produce from Neil and Michelle’s own allotment. Duck in out of the cold to enjoy the daily specials, and check out the multiple vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options on the menu.

High St, Gnosall, Stafford, ST20 0EP

Whites Coffee Shop

A side shoot of the family-run Whites Sporting and Clothing outlet at Oakedge Park, Whites Coffee Shop will draw you in with its log burning stove, which can be found roaring on a winter afternoon. With trained baristas on hand to prepare the freshly ground, locally blended and roasted Chartley Coffee, this is the perfect spot to enjoy a toasted tea cake or crumpet after a wintry walk at nearby Shugborough Hall or some clay pigeon shooting at Oakedge Shooting Ground. There are also gluten free, soya and skinny options available in the recently expanded coffee shop. The team place an emphasis on low food miles, so the milk comes from Wells Farm Dairies and the apple juice is pressed at Haywood Park Farm less than a mile down the road. What’s more, everything is served on Milton China.

Oakedge Park, Stafford, ST17 0XS

The Jervis Arms

Exterior of The Jervis ArmsSitting on the banks of the River Hamps in the tiny Staffordshire Moorlands village of Onecote near Leek, The Jervis Arms has undergone a significant programme of renovations over the last few years. This whitewashed Peak District pub has everything you could ask for from a winter hideaway, including warm woollen blankets on stove-side pews under a cosily low-beamed ceiling, with brass candlesticks and fairy lights contributing to the welcoming glow. The menu of ‘pub classics with a twist’ features clearly marked vegetarian and gluten free options. Enjoy a pint from nearby Whim Ales at Hartington, or any of a wide selection of gins from the bar.

Onecote, Leek, ST13 7RU

The Rambler’s Retreat

A hidden gem in the beautiful surroundings of the Churnet Valley, you can sometimes hear the screams of thrillseekers enjoying Alton Towers, just a mile away in the next valley, at The Rambler’s Retreat. However, between November and March the theme park is closed and you can appreciate the peaceful woodland surroundings in all their glory – perhaps even under a blanket of snow. Discover comfort food and cockle-warming hot drinks in this cosy tearoom, which is housed in a striking 19th Century lodge with the Staffordshire Way running right past the front door. Open all year round, there’s nothing better than settling in with a huge slice of their home-baked cake or lemon meringue pie and a sumptuous hot chocolate after a muddy walk through the woods.

Red Road, Dimmingsdale, Alton, ST10 4BU

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The Bank House Hixon reopens after refurb

During World War II, Hixon was famously a base for RAF Bomber Command. The village, east of Stafford and south west of Uttoxeter, is much quieter these days, but a…

During World War II, Hixon was famously a base for RAF Bomber Command. The village, east of Stafford and south west of Uttoxeter, is much quieter these days, but a little less so this evening as the local pub celebrates its grand reopening.

The Bank House opens its doors to the public once again on Friday 28 September after being partially and then fully closed over an eight week period for refurbishment. The older original part of the building as well as the newer extension have had a makeover and are looking fabulous ready to welcome guests.

If you’re looking for a cosy place to while away your afternoons or evenings now that the weather has turned cooler, this is it. There are no fewer than two huge log burners casting out their warming glow, plenty of sumptuously upholstered seating, and beautiful wooden beams galore. There’s also a gallery wall of fascinating photos illustrating some of the history of the local area. 

The decor is classic and refined, retaining the feel of a true country pub without feeling fussy or cluttered. And the courtyard at the back has been transformed into an outdoor room featuring a custom-built wood fired pizza oven and more wooden beams decked out in fairy lights.

The Lewis Partnership pub has a new main menu alongside the delicious wood fired pizza that’s now on offer, freshly made to order and available to take away. We were big fans of the Three Little Pigs, featuring chorizo, pulled pork, bacon and red onion on a BBQ base, but for vegetarians the Fun-Guy (mushroom, ricotta, pumpkin seeds and chilli flakes on a garlic butter base) is delicious too.

If you’re looking for a cosy, friendly pub in the heart of Staffordshire, be sure to pay The Bank House Hixon a visit this autumn.

The Bank House Hixon
High St, Hixon, Stafford ST18 0QF

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