I didn’t know what to make of this GBG listed place? If it went on the market, the estate agents blurb might say something like, ‘baronial styled theme pub, would suit troglodyte’?
The notes in my little book say, ‘a pub, but not a pub, sort of a bar, but more of a restaurant with fresh bread to take away’?
Lets start with the layout. You walk in off the Derby Road into the main bar area, the bar being offset to the left. Standing at the bar I gazed through an archway into Speedwell Cavern in Castleton, just without the water and the boat.
The long, arched tunnel, bored into the rock behind the bar is done out as a very respectable restaurant. It really looked quite impressive, I didn’t look at the menu but everything I saw conjured up connotations of intimate dinners. By the time we left, the very few vacant tables spoke volumes.
You enter the restaurant by walking to the right of the bar, through a couple of smaller ‘carved out of the rock’ rooms and down some stairs, being careful not to knock Bilbo Baggins over on the way. The Hand & Heart website tells me the building was originally a brewery, and beer was stored in the caves below. Unfortunately they leave out who, when and why the impressive excavations were carried out?
Upstairs there’s what appears to be a, not much used, function room affair and another sort of dining room and what appeared to be an illegal smoking area. The fully covered in terrace cum conservatory reeked of stale baccy and the incumbents were busily involved in the preparation of new cancer sticks; not a nice place at all.
Back downstairs, it was pleasantly busy, with much coming and going. It was interesting to compare the busy throng of the centre of town with the more laid back feel of Derby Road, which is only a 5 minute walk out of the commercial centre.
There were seven cask ales on, with a heavy Notts. bias. We tried a half of (my Duk)eries Northern Rising and Lenton Lane Motueka Smash. The former was decent, if unexciting, the latter brew much more tasty, balanced, accomplished. I reckoned both were NBSS 3.5. They cost me £3.65 for both, I didn’t take advantage of the 10p a pint CAMRA discount, I never thought to ask.
I perused the bar menu as we supped our ale, the food looked reasonably priced and temptingly interesting, but we’d already had our fill in the Malt Cross, so my mind switched to the La Chouffe font on the bar. I couldn’t fault them in their choice of beer, but I wouldn’t have a huge up ended log on my bar at any price, and the discussion turned to keg fonts.
Can they really get any bigger? Shinier? Or the opposite in this case. Will bars have to be increased in size when the ‘Big Two’ start to force their un-real ales into kegs along with a high end marketing campaign. Or will they invert the three barrels, balance the Abbot on his mitre, use the outline of Cornwall with the county balanced on Lands End, or similar space saving abominations?
As I walked out, I was still unsure what this place was all about. It appeared to do lots of things very well, without everything adding up to a round number, although there really wasn’t anything to dislike, apart from the smelly conservatory thing.