“THEY always say you should never volunteer for anything,” says chef Gordon Peace, looking back to the fateful day when his army career took an unexpected turn.
“The officer said did anyone fancy going skiing, so I put my hand up.” The officer led him into the cookhouse and showed him a huge pile of potatoes which needed peeling: “He said once I had dealt with that mountain I’d be ready to go skiing.”
But that marathon spud-bashing session proved the foundation of a career on the front line of catering: “I watched what the chef was up to, and that made me want to learn.”
And after a spell in numerous bars and restaurants, both in the UK and overseas, including a spell working at the Cottage in the Wood in Worcestershire – a favourite hideaway of Lady Thatcher – he is now manning the grills and burners at the Pear Tree in Mirfield.
It’s not the prettiest of pubs. Driving along Huddersfield Road from the M62 towards Dewsbury, you might easily scurry past these unprepossessing premises – and in doing so, you would be missing out on a treat. Not least because it has a spectacular raised beer garden, high above the River Calder.
Until just three or four years ago, this was a pub pure and simple, but a change of direction has seen it reinvented as a dining house, while the arrival of new manager Pete Murphy has seen a renewed emphasis on quality and value.
Yet it has also managed to retain a healthy custom with its locals. When we arrive on a midweek evening, we find a lively crowd of drinkers clustered around the bar. Couples and larger groups are enjoying themselves in a few separate drinking spaces, while sports fans are gathered around the big screen.
To one side of the bar, a couple of shallow steps lead down into the restaurant, where the ambience is quite different. It’s quieter, all the tables are laid for dining, black-clad waitresses flit efficiently between tables and the lively clatter of the bars seems distant and remote. The design makes great play of giant oak roof beams, while windows look out over that wonderful beer garden and the open countryside south towards Huddersfield.
That these two contrasting areas can sit side-by-side, and each work perfectly well for their distinct clientele, is actually quite remarkable. Plenty of other pubs which have failed to get this balance right could learn lots from the Pear Tree.
I plump for the Pear Tree Burger (£8.95) which is not just a chunky slab of minced beef, but a sizeable wedge of southern fried chicken too. By the time I’ve worked my way through these, the coleslaw, the buns, the gherkins, the salad – and a formidable mound of chips – I’m wondering why I had bothered with a starter. Mind you it was a good one, a heap of prawns, drizzled in a tangy dressing, and draped with slithers of smoked salmon (£4.95).
My wife had started with the rich and rough-textured chicken liver pate (£4.25), served with toasted French bread (but not enough, there never is) followed by a really tender grilled chicken breast with melted blue cheese and wrapped in parma ham (£8.95).
There’s very little on the menu that’s going to floor you with its left-field imagination, but it’s all sturdy, high-quality, locally-sourced fare, and sizeable portions too.
Real ale, naturally, is an important part of the mix here. I opt for a refreshing pint of the guest ale, Ossett Brewery’s Yorkshire Blonde, to accompany my meal, but Copper Dragon Golden Pippin and Charles Wells Bombardier are the regulars on the bar. A new deal which Pete has struck with owners Punch Taverns will see a change of emphasis, with Timothy Taylor beers – notably Landlord and Golden Best – making a welcome appearance.
“The pub trade’s dying,” Pete tells me over coffees. But what he’s achieving at the Pear Tree rather seems to suggest otherwise.
Name: The Pear Tree
Opening Hours: 11am-1am Mon-Sat; noon-midnight Sun
Beers: Charles Wells Bombardier (£3), Copper Dragon Golden Pippin (£3) plus one guest ale (£3.15), John Smith’s Smooth (£2.95), Carling lager (£3.30), San Miguel (£3.55), Stowford Press Cider (£3.40), Strongbow (£3.55) Guinness (£3.50).
Wines: Decent selection available from £2.80-glass and £9.95-bottle
Food: Quality restaurant meals served noon-2pm and 5-9pm Mon-Wed; noon-9pm Thurs-Sat; noon-7pm Sun, with special two course menu for £9.50, three courses for £12.50
Functions: Areas available for private hire
Beer garden: Attractive riverside area to rear
Parking: Large area to side
Telephone: 01924 491360