The Devonshire Arms - Middle Handley
Our reviewer enjoys locally sourced produce in an atmospheric yet contemporary space
The Devonshire Arms in Middle Handley might share its name with many other establishments in Derbyshire but this particular pub, located on Lightwood Road, is certainly in a class of its own.
The first clue appears as you approach the beautifully restored 150-year-old pub’s stone exterior, which is in immaculate condition. But more than that, it somehow appears like a breath of fresh air before you even enter. Every bit of the exterior from flagstone to sign to stone wall and into the perfectly smooth car park is completely unblemished. It has a modern, clean yet timeless and characterful atmosphere which is reasserted on entering through the front door.
Once inside the impression of a refreshingly modern interior is reinforced with handmade unfired tiles sourced from Spain and lightly stained oak tables. Classical and timeless elements are evoked by a grandfather clock, a 250-year-old French table, some old magistrate chairs and an original fireplace. On the wall a display of vibrant paintings by local artist Lynne Wilkinson adds to the art house feel of both the restaurant and the other areas.
Though there is a separate dining area with an open pass offering a glimpse into the theatre which is kitchen, it is subtle and blends in well with the rest of the pub. Although with a slightly more formal seating arrangement, it still shares the same relaxed ambience of the other rooms.
We chose to stay near the fire and enjoy our new ‘find’ – a clean, modern pub-dining experience, which turned out to be a refreshing and relaxing evening, thanks to our surroundings, but also due to the perfect execution of those three most essential elements of any eating out experience: the food, the service and the ambience.
The menu offers a mixture of simplicity and complexity, depending on seasonality, and ranges from local game to the courgette flowers brought in by a local resident during the summer, which Lee the head Chef served deep fried.
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The crayfish cocktail, was served as it should be, arranged in a glass; a simple thing but it never ceases to amaze me how many forget this basic and classic rule, evidence also of a chef with classic training. It was presented among a prettily arranged garnish of sliced cucumber. The freshly baked bread was again as it should be: baked that morning and with a light wholesome texture. My partner Davinia enjoyed her starter of a twist on another classic – Greek salad with grilled goats cheese, commenting that the portions were as ‘generous and as hearty as they were delicious’.
For mains, locally sourced as with most of the menu, I enjoyed perfectly cooked and seasoned rare 28-day aged fillet steak from Ridgeway Farm, hand-cut chips and onion rings, both crisp, with Portobello mushrooms and tomatoes – all ingredients of that superior quality which make the sum total of the dining experience one of a very high standard. Dee enjoyed something a little more imaginative: sea bass, crushed potatoes and a mussel sauce. Simple dishes such as these are easy to get wrong, talk to any Michelin starred chef and they will tell you that the more simple the dish the more dangerous it is. Our meals were cooked, seasoned and presented perfectly.
Dessert was another old favourite – bread and butter pudding, homemade, but with a twist of braised apples. It was delicious and moist without being saturated and accompanied by a jug of cr�me Anglaise to keep me as content as a child at Christmas. Dee’s chocolate marquise offered more proof of a thoroughly trained chef who knows his classics well. The service was attentive without being over familiar or in your face, efficient while relaxed and informal, even witty – the bar man offering ‘drivers’ measures of wine’! The house white, an Italian Pinot Grigio, Conviviale, was crisp clean and served in good French classic wine glasses which allow the bouquet to escape properly. The deeper coloured Merlot was served at the perfect temperature – the wonderful Chilean red Sierra Grande is a great companion for red meat.
The ambience was warm and vibrant yet tranquil and comforting and I’m planning on returning soon – perhaps on a Thursday night when the singing butcher and sometimes an electric violin add to the atmosphere.Glen Saint and Jill Swift were lovely hosts and the Devonshire Arms is living proof of what the hard work of two warm and friendly people can achieve through their attention to detail.
Meet the chef - Lee Vintin
Describe your food philosophy?
I just want people to enjoy the food I cook, using good quality products. Sometimes complicated, sometimes simple.
What is your favourite style of food?
British, Chinese for take away.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I’m not sure!
Do you have any memorable incidents you can share with our readers?
I had a former page three girl wanting to change into my whites so she could see Leonardo DiCaprio in the VIP area at the after-party for Gangs of New York. Who or where has had the greatest influence on your career?
My first Head Chef from college, Peter Sanders.
Have you cooked for any famous people?
Lots, I worked for Rhubarb Food Design who cooked all over London at events for clients ranging from Elton John, David Beckham andS Club 7. Why did you become a chef?Always wanted to be a chef – couldn’t tell you why. Do you have any interests or hobbies you enjoy in your spare time? What’s spare time?
The Devonshire Arms (Lightwood Road, Middle Handley, S21 5RN Tel. 01246 434 800) is between the B6052 Eckington to New Whittington road and the B6056 Eckington to Coal Aston road – 6 miles from Junction 30 of the M1. Prices range from �8.75 for Pie of the Day to �23.95 for the fillet, a glass of house wine costs �3, dessert from �4.50, while starters start at �3. I must also mention ‘Tom’s Kitchen’, a private dining room with a table for eight where you can spend as much as you like creating a bespoke menu to entertain your guests in style and still with the pub’s wonderful atmosphere.