“THEY’VE had three different landlords in here during the past year, and none of them seemed to be able to make it pay.”
This casual chat with a New Inn regular tells me plenty about a famous old family-friendly dining pub which has endured some tough times. Particularly when he adds: “This new landlord has made all the difference.”
The latest face behind the bar is Jon Lilly, who has run a number of restaurants and bars around the area before pitching up here “in the middle of a field,” as his sister Katy, who has joined him at the New Inn puts it.
Katy’s accent betrays her Geordie roots: “I’m completely new to the area. In two months I’ve hardly had any time off. I’ve discovered Sainsbury’s and Asda and that’s about it.”
The pub is owned by Punch Taverns, and as leaseholders it’s up to Jon and Katy to do what previous incumbents were apparently unable to – and turn it into a successful thriving business, just as it was years ago. The New Inn has a reputation for good food, quality beer and genuine hospitality which stretches back for decades. When my children were of an age that kids’ meals and play areas were what we looked for in a pub, we almost became regulars here. The bonfire parties were legendary.
It has now moved away from that market, shifting more squarely towards the adult diners, the walkers and the cyclists. We enter through a side door, and the rear room here, where I once remember kids’ games and a pool table, is now converted into an attractive drinking area with comfy chairs and a stripped wooden floor.
From here we pass through a traditional bar with low stools and a big stone fireplace, into a rather more formal dining room at the front of the pub. Here dark oak tables, dining chairs, gleaming glasses and cutlery, beams and lanterns lend a traditional pub dining ambience. We take our places on the comfortable maroon-upholstered banquette which wraps around all sides of this room maximising the use of the space. The pub’s commitment to real ale is stronger than ever. Tetley’s is an ever present on the bar, where it vies for drinkers’ attention with four other hand-pulled beers. Unlike the Tetley’s, the others are predominantly from Yorkshire – so you can generally expect selections from Black Sheep, Ossett, Leeds and Timothy Taylor’s breweries, though the precise mix changes from day to day.
On this occasion I was heartened by the Landlord pump clip on the bar, but was disappointed to find that it wasn’t yet ready. I wasn’t the only punter to make this mistake – but Katy admits to being “ a bit fanatical” about making sure the beer is absolutely right before it goes on sale. I go for the Black Sheep instead which proves a decent foil for some rather excellent straight-up pub grub. If you were here last week, you’ll have seen my gentle deconstruction of the renowned gastropub dining at the Stansfield Arms. Here, the food is better, and much better value.
The calamari rings (£4.50) were liberally dashed with slices of powerful sweet chilli pepper and throbbing with the zest of lime, the fishcakes (£4.25) bulging with moist smoked salmon and attractively presented with splodges of tartare sauce and an encircling drizzle of balsamic.
It was about this point that the Stansfield’s wheels rather came off. The New Inn managed to maintain the quality with thinly sliced peppered minute steak frites (£8.25) and a slab of gammon (£8.25) with chunky chips, pineapple, and a lovely runny egg for good measure.
It’s this kind of quality, this kind of unfussy, unpretentious, reliable pub dining which could just restore the New Inn to its former glories. “Yes, we may be in the middle of a field, but the location really shouldn’t matter,” says Katy. “If we keep doing things right, then people will come.”
Name: The New Inn
Type: Real ale pub and restaurant
Host: Jon and Katy Lilly
Opening Hours: 11.30am-midnight Mon-Sat; noon-midnight Sun
Beers: Tetley Bitter (£3) plus four other real ales plus Carling, Coors, San Miguel, Guinness and John Smith Smooth
Wines: Decent wine list
Food: Quality pub meals served daily noon-9pm, with carvery noon-5pm Sun
Disabled: Disabled access
Beer garden: Large area to rear
Parking: Large parking area to side and rear
Telephone: 01132 886335