Where to go for a large family gathering? This was the issue vexing me just a few weeks ago as I took on the job of finding somewhere big enough to cater for a table of 13 (possibly more, depending on who did/didn’t decide to come out of the woodwork).
Such occasions are always fraught affairs (for the organiser), because you have to pander to the whims of so many. One family member was travelling from 70 miles away, two others are on the brink of turning 90 and not too steady on their feet. Then there’s the little ones to consider. This particular occasion was for my father’s 70th birthday, so it needed to be just right. Added to which, I didn’t want it to break the bank, being still in a kind of financial ‘limp mode’ following Christmas. When you add in all of those requirements, the list of potential places you can look at booking starts to shrink alarmingly.
I must admit, I spent a few days agonising over it, until my mum reminded me of The Calverley Arms, where we had been once before, during the summer some years ago and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. It was one of those moments when light suddenly dawns - a bit like turning the house upside down while looking for your car keys, only to find they were in your pocket all along.
The booking was made over the phone for a table for 13 for about 5.45pm - my original intention had been to book it from 6pm but they asked us to come slightly early, because they had a number of large bookings in around the same time, which surely has to be a good sign.
In the end, as is sometimes the case with these events, some of the relatives knocked at the last minute, which took our table down to nine. For the purposes of this review, however, we will concentrate on the meals for just two people.
One of the first things that strikes you as you turn into the car park at The Calverley Arms is the sense of grandeur. This was originally a Victorian mansion, Elmwood, built by wealthy woollen manufacturer Samuel Gray at the end of the 19th Century on land originally owned by the Vicar of Calverley. From 1912 to 1946 Elmwood was home to the Gaunt family, who held garden parties for local children.
Old maps indicate a building on this site between 1851 and 1893. It nestles on the edge of Calverley, one of the few remaining ‘leafy’ suburbs of the city, offering expansive views over the Aire Valley. It stands in a substantial plot, lined by mature trees and with one of the largest, most impressive beer gardens you are likely to find.
This being the middle of February, however, outdoor dining was not an option, so we headed inside, where the views are equally awe-inspiring, with open log fires crackling away, exposed brick and stone and the sumptuous architecture of the former mansion peaking through here and there. It’s so warm and inviting and the welcome from the staff was truly splendid.
The menu here is full of pub classics but more upmarket from your average chain venue.
My starter was chargrilled lamb koftas served with tzatziki and dressed slaw (£5.50), full of wonderful aromas, nicely spiced with just the right amount of heat.
The other starter, baked button and Portobello mushrooms in a garlic and mature cheddar sauce (£5.25) was scrumptious. I can’t think of a better dish to warm you up on a cold night: it came served with rustic bread. It had a nice depth of flavour and was one of those dishes which if it had been served at home, you would have licked the plate clean.
My main came in the form of ‘small’ ham and eggs (£7.95), served with triple cooked chips. I went for the smaller option (there is a larger one for three quid more) because I wanted to try and make it all the way to dessert but I have to say, they certainly give you value for money here - if mine was ‘small’, then the large must be truly gargantuan. That aside, it did the job. The ham, locally sourced, was a good, salty and tender, the chips crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle - I ate the lot.
The other main course was the prawn lobster linguini from the two-course menu (£14.95), which came up slightly bland - a bit thin on flavour. It needed more seasoning or a bisque to set it off.
Puddings came in the form of apple and blackberry crumble (£5.75) and also apple pie (£4.95). The crumble I could have eaten twice over, the custard smooth and silky, the crumble had a nice crunch on top, soft underneath, with the sumptuous fruit below. The pie was equally good.
Overall, it was an enjoyable night. Service was confident and assured throughout, although it did take more than a little while for the drinks to come initially. This is a country pub which oozes charm both inside and out and considering its attributes, it’s is a safe bet all year round.
FACTFILE - CALVERLEY ARMS, CALVERLEY
Address: Calverley Lane, Calverley, LS28 5QQ
Opening hours: Mon-Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-10.30pm
Telephone: 0113 255 7771