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The Rams Head review

Jonathan Schofield takes a trip out to a famous gastro-pub on t’hills between Greater Manchester and Yorkshire

Written by . Published on June 4th 2009.


The Rams Head review

Say the word ‘country’ and it’s likely the next word will either be ‘lane’, ‘cottage’, or in the Confidential office, ‘pub’.

Around Manchester there are two ways to take country pubs. You go for something soft and fluffy with honeysuckle in Cheshire, or something with cojones, carved in Millstone Grit, up on the Pennines.

For me that’s no choice at all. There’s only one way to go and that’s up. Get perspective, get elemental.

One beautiful evening last week a friend and I made it from the city centre to the Rams Head Inn, just off junction 22 of the M62, above Denshaw, in 35 minutes. Ten minutes later we were sat in a window alcove looking a thousand feet down and forty miles west.

The view started off improbably with two small gee-gees in a paddock. Is there a type of horse smaller than a Shetland pony? Once upon a time I worked in a toyshop. This pair looked like they were from the My Little Pony range. Except they weren’t pink and they were smaller. Still they gave the view focus as it swept down to a twinkling reservoir, over Rochdale, to Winter Hill and then to the Lancashire plain beyond.

The view inside the pub was all about intimacy rather than epic scale, with a series of comfortable and sturdy rooms with chunky no-nonsense furniture and fireplaces which fill up with log fires in winter.

I can’t use the word ‘cosy’ as in ‘cosy pub’ because we’ve banned the latter phrase editorially from Confidential for being a cliché. And we avoid clichés like the plague. But it would probably be appropriate here.

We'd come because the Rams Head has a bit of a reputation as a gastro-boozer. The dish descriptions written out on blackboards were enticing and indicted that the pub deserved its reputation. The starters seemed to confirm we were in for a good meal.

The first of belly pork (£4.95) had been slow roasted and coated with sweet and sour sauce. Normally I would call the police over such a glaze, yuck, but the balance between the two opposites here was perfect. The meat underneath was lush too with the slow roasting immediately apparent. It was one of the best belly porks I’ve enjoyed for a long while.

The other starter was Finnan haddock (£5.95) with potatoes and bacon, smothered with wholegrain mustard cream. It was a powerhouse of rich flavours with nothing going wrong. The mustard could, maybe should, have killed it, but it enhanced the other parts instead. I want the recipe. Look at the picture on this page: it’s a beauty.

The mains paled in comparison with the starters.

The monkfish skewer (£15.95) with rice and a dipping sauce was boring in every part. You don’t want to go out and find dishes you could think up in less than a minute...and dismiss in less than two. The fish was bland, the peppers clunky. The less said the better.

The duo of game (£12.95) was an improvement on the monkfish fiasco but instead of being dull it was overfacing. There was pheasant and mallard, parsnip puree, juniper and red wine sauce. This sounds promising, but the various parts were constructed with the same finesse as one of the dry stone walls outside. The meat was slightly too dry and the sauce slightly too cloying.

This put doubts in our minds about the whole meal. Had the starters been arrived at through luck rather than design?

The chips (£1.95) were exceptional though, and the veg good at £1.50. A lemon tart with ice cream and set off by strawberries, clawed confidence back a little after the disappointing mains. We made a good choice with the wine too, from a very good list, the Chablis La Columbe, matched the best dishes with its flinty, sturdy character.

You have to say though that foodwise the Rams Head Inn provides an uneven food experience. It’s all right delivering big dishes designed in a big way but you have to be careful to give the dinner balance as well. There is talent in the kitchen but it needs to be refined.

Still it was grand to get out of the hot city for an evening. And despite the problems, I liked the place. The service is charmingly all over the show and you don’t quite know what’s coming out of the kitchen but the location is spot on. It’s a roller coaster ride on a roller coaster road out of the city.

You have to think well of the owners for all the extras they do. Currently the lobster festival is on. This provides a meal for two which includes a Nova Scotian lobster to share, strawberries and cream plus half a bottle of rose champagne. Then there’s the Pantry, the Rams Head's very own deli, with top regional foodstuffs and cracking wines. If for no other reason, you might want to venture out to the hills for that.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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19 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Hammy the hamJune 4th 2009.

I had the duo of game also. Was dry dry dry.... maybe the chef needs to sort this one dish out. Other than that, we went on good friday when was misty and raining and the fires were burning.... amazing place....!!

Ted CrillyJune 4th 2009.

Jenn - hehe, I know...poetic license for the situation, an' all that. ;)

BenJune 4th 2009.

Oh. My. Actual. God. The greenquarter isnt going to know what hit it when I bring one of those little beauties home! I'm going to dress it up, enter it into pageants...

davidJune 4th 2009.

Its agreat place , Does the owner still resemble cosmo smallpeace! Good food, topbeers , good wine list, pity its stuck in the middle of nowhere.Still what you need is a wiling driver and youve cracked it.

JulieJune 4th 2009.

Must have been an off night, and its NOT in the middle of nowhere, except for townies! Lunches here are great, best chips ever and food is always fresh and nicely presented. Burton babe is so right about the farm shop, lots of lovely delicacies from fresh bread to organic top notch sausages and pies. Ignore Gordo and give it a go!

BenJune 4th 2009.

Will it fit in my living room? Cats and Dogs are so old hat. Telling my friends I have a Falabella would be far more exotic

Jonathan SchofieldJune 4th 2009.

Real ales are Landlord and Black Sheep. The lobster feast is 69.95 for two whole lobsters, salad, half bottle of champagne and strawberries and cream.

Ted CrillyJune 4th 2009.

"Dougal, Dougal...these horses are SMALL; those horses are FAR AWAY."

GordoJune 4th 2009.

Thank you for that Mr. Askew. I look forward to urinating down your pants one night.

DidsburyGirlJune 4th 2009.

Do we have prices for the Lobster special?

RamalamadingdongJune 4th 2009.

Magical location let down by snooty service and overpriced food.

AnonymousJune 4th 2009.

it is in the middle of nowhere really, went there early last year, service wasn't that great but served up a nice meal... whether it was worth the price is another question!

CastlefieldJune 4th 2009.

Ben, get one of these they're in North Wales not far from Pwllheli and are adorable and tiny, I drive past them sometimes. http://www.minimerlan.co.uk/5.html

AnonymousJune 4th 2009.

JonathanThis pub review does not say if they sell beer. Do they still offer Old Peculiar on draft? When I lived in the hills it was the one pub that could be relied on always to serve this fine brew from over the hill. Or should I read into 'gastro-pub' that they don't?

JennJune 4th 2009.

It was COWS that Ted was pointing to...best bit of Father Ted ever!

Burton_BabeJune 4th 2009.

13/20? Boooo ManCon. The Rams Head is so much better than that. And you didn't even mention the farm shop at the back for treats to take home. I'm a big fan but think to really have the best experience you should visit during colder months to make the most of the log fires and hearty roasts

Carlos the PonyJune 4th 2009.

Those little ponies are an Argentine breed known as a "Tevezito".

PonyPusherJune 4th 2009.

There is a type of horse smaller than a Shetland, it's called a Falabella and they originate from Argentina. So now you know...

R AskewJune 4th 2009.

Julie, Gordo, didn't write this, it was Jonathan Schofield, who's a better writer. I agree with the review, the Rams tries too hard and puts too much on the plate. They need to make it simpler.

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