Cheshire Life Luncheon - The Inn at Huxley
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
Cheshire Life hosted a lunch at the Inn at Huxley and discovered a fabulous dining destination that’s as elegant as it is earthy
An afternoon at the Inn at Huxley and, finally, we may have discovered the secret formula to the perfect gastropub. Yes, of course it involves great food, friendly staff and ideally an open fire or two. All of which the Huxley has, along with a self-playing piano and a décor theme that is a masterclass in country chic. But here's the golden ticket that few establishments can lay claim to - a landlord who oozes as much personality as the pub itself.
Enter, Danny Lees. Chef-turned-business-owner-turned-retiree-turned-landlord of the Inn at Huxley. Also, devoted husband, father and grandfather (the Huxley is very much a family business), pie-maker supreme (a dish that was missing from today's menu, but then one should always have a reason to return) and teller of terrible jokes.
The Huxley is his boyhood dream come to life. And the place is one big bricks-and-mortar character in itself. Nearly every element comes with its own story, a little bit of Danny built into it.
Take the stained glass feature above the main fireplace - four panels, which Danny saved from a skip, which have etched across them the famous Edward Bulwer-Lytton quote 'Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword'.
Danny is dyslexic, he explains - 'Although in the old days you were just considered thick!' - and so the quote has always had a deeper meaning for him.
The wood top of the mantlepiece below (as well as the bars) has a ripple effect that is the signature feature of craftsman Robert Thompson's famous Mouseman furniture (look for the cheeky little mouse carved into the mantlepiece) after Danny fell for the beauty of his work years ago.
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The stone pillars in the Orangery (which, by the way, would make a stunning wedding ceremony venue - something that's on the cards for 2020) he saved from Altrincham station more than 30 years ago when the tram line was put in. Meanwhile the Tap Room is known as Bertie's Bar - named after his pet Jack Russell who passed away the year Danny reopened the pub. Such was Danny's heartbreak he retreated to Ireland for a week of solitude. By the time he got back his daughters had already tracked down a Jack Russell pup they believed should be Danny's new four-legged companion. Danny refused at first, but was persuaded 'on the basis that he's likely to live until he's 18 so he'll outlive me and I won't ever have to go through that [grief] again'. So now there is a tribute carved sculpture to The Original Bertie next to the bar, alongside a picture of Danny sitting proudly with Bertie II.
But enough of all that heartstrings stuff and down to business - the food. Because what's style without substance? Happily not a question you're forced to ponder here. The ethos is evident as soon as you step out onto the car park tarmac and see the impressive kitchen garden beyond. Pots of greenery abound.
It's fresh, it's as local as it can be and the quality is outstanding. All of which the Cheshire Life guests sampled via every mouthful. Firstly the starter; flaky, moist, delicate salmon made the perfect light-but-far-from-forgettable entry point. Then to Mains and the other end of the food spectrum; a hearty serving of Hereford Beef kept perfectly on the pink side of medium (not a mean feat when you're serving a large party), creamy potato with all the smearing-on-meat potential a carby side should have and a Burgundy jus packing all the depth of flavour you want. The non-meat eaters had an equally comforting butternut squash risotto with goat's curd and crispy kale. Then dessert arrived, a generous slab of salted caramel tart, first spoonfuls of which evoked almost-inappropriate moans of pleasure from across the room. We could stop there but brief mention must be made of the petit fours which included homemade shortbreads; buttery discs of deliciousness that deserved more than a cameo appearance. And they are, in a way, the metaphor for everything that's right about the Inn at Huxley; the levels of care, attention and quality run through every part of it. That all comes from Danny and his family - his daughter Sheril, GM, runs much of the day-to-day business (all his daughters are involved on some level) and her husband James is head chef. Danny has another metaphor of sorts. When he gives us a guided tour of the pub he insists on taking us to the pleasingly stylish (and spotlessly clean) toilets, not because we couldn't manage ourselves he explains but because he has a theory (that coincidentally Cheshire Life has long shared) - you should always judge a place by its toilets. If they're more than a functional afterthought it is a signifier of quality, a place run by people who really care, who are prepared to give every detail its due attention. So forgive us for ending on that less-than-elegant note but certainly it's a theory that holds true with the Inn at Huxley. In fact, maybe we need to add that to our formula.
Loch Duart Salmon with caviar, crème fraiche and heirloom tomato.
Loin and rib of 48 day aged Hereford beef with roasted garlic creamed mash in a Burgundy sauce.
Salted caramel tart with blackberry, liquorice and honeycomb