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The Norfolk Arms, Glossop, review

Dave Bishop finds joy in the hills, the beer, the food, indeed in life itself

Published on November 16th 2009.

The Norfolk Arms, Glossop, review

The pub and brewing industry is such a basket case that the story of Joseph Holt seems like something only the imagination of JK Rowling could conjure up.

Packed with salmon, cod and prawns, together with a creamy potato mash cradled in delicate but tasty pastry, it beggared belief that such a concoction could be provided for just £8.35. But it was, and roughly the same price as the black pudding and chicken stack.

In an era of overstretched pub chains in hock to merchant banks and major brewers who value their shareholders over customers, the Cheetham Hill firm (motto ‘proud to be your local’) is an exception. It has grown organically over the years without kowtowing to the ephemeral whims of fashion, just seems to get everything right.

The beer’s great and still cheap and – this is a trick Harry Potter would have been proud to pull off – it is attempting to elevate its pub food beyond mere ‘grub’ and smarten up many of its pubs without losing character.

The Norfolk Arms in Glossop is a case in point.

A few years ago it was a faded behemoth that you avoided like a half-drunk can of economy lager on a park bench, but then Holt’s got hold of it, gave it a good shake and now it’s a fine landmark pub befitting the stone-built heart of this resurgent mill town on the edge of the Pennines.

Other examples of Holt’s waving the magic wand to great effect can be found at the two Griffins (one in Heath Green and the other in Heaton Mersey), the Woodthorpe in Prestwich and the Cheadle Hulme in, well, Cheadle Hulme. All of these places are now packed, not just with established customers loyal to the distinctive Holt’s ales, but with new punters who want decent food at reasonable prices.

And after experiencing yet another fabulous dinner at the Norfolk Arms, I would defy anyone to come up with a better menu from a brewery. OK, so it’s uniform across the Holt’s range, with one or two tweaks here and there and a smattering of carvery options, but that doesn’t mean the uniform has the livery of a council refuse collector.

No, this uniform has the crispness of a chef’s whites teamed with flourishes of swashbuckling dandy. Who’d have thought Holt’s – once seen as the choice of old bezzers in flat caps - could do that? They even boast that all fresh ingredients are sourced within a 50 mile radius, where possible.

But even a curmudgeonly old bezzer would have to admit that he’d like to get stuck into the open seafood pie, which I ordered again for what seemed like the umpteenth time.

Packed with salmon, cod and prawns, together with a creamy potato mash cradled in delicate but tasty pastry, it beggared belief that such a concoction could be provided for just £8.35. But it was, and roughly the same price as the black pudding and chicken stack.

Now my missus is prone to hyperbole, but she rates this dish in her top five all-time favourites, and after sampling some I didn’t feel incline to disabuse her of the notion. The kids were equally impressed with their grilled salmon and Parma ham salad and fish and chips at just over £8 each.

The Norfolk Arms – along with other Holt’s pubs – offers special deals of two courses and a pint for £10.25 or three courses for £12.75, but we kept it simple on this occasion, resisting all of the fancy puds and quality wines.

And here comes my one quibble. A few years ago Holt’s sold the underrated but heroically individual white Viognier from Burgundy, and for under a tenner at that, but because we Brits are so in thrall to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio at the expense of anything else, they’ve pulled it.

So we had the Holt’s bitter. Not any of the seasonal ales, such as Nuts’n’holts, Thunder Holt or Humdinger – which are all good - but the good old bitter, which was once renowned as the cheapest pint in the UK, and may well still be in some places (although Sam Smith’s is a hot competitor in that respect).

Like having a fix of super-strength hops, the bitter is a unique taste, and one that is normally acquired, so thanks to my wife for persevering with me until I became a convert.

We supped, like synchronised drinkers, in this pub of two halves, where the restaurant area is so distinct from the general bar. The restaurant bit lets you know it’s just that by having an arty photo of forks, but there’s also an old streaky oil painting on board of what looks like King George V. Bizarre, but strangely apt.

Naturally there’s an abundance of mushroom walls, oak floors and designer lampshades – where isn’t there these days in re-invented pubs? – but still enough original features to maintain the charm, along with carriage lamps, expanses of Yorkstone and cobbles and hanging baskets.

Other good points? The service, provided by smart waitresses in black and burgundy uniforms, is exceptional and the television presence – showing United on our visit - is subtly managed.

I’m not a Red, but the start of the footie meant the end of the music, which included some user-friendly jazz and rock lite and just one aberration – A McFly track. Well, you can’t have everything, can you, although you can book a room as it’s also a B&B hotel.

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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deepseacodmasterNovember 16th 2009.

Where is your website???

RayNovember 16th 2009.

This place used to be filled with neanderthals, lager in hand, their eyes peering out intensely under cliff-overhang brows, and a shrink-fit football top over their one-pack. It's a good sign that this no longer appears to be the case. Good point on the wine though. Pinot grigio? The magnolia of wine grapes.

Mr Joseph HoltSeptember 27th 2010.

Heath Green, Mr Bishop? As anyone with a modicum of local knowledge will tell you, you mean Heald Green, that charming village right at the end of the runway.

AnonymousJuly 24th 2011.

Seriously? Microwaved crap from Brakes Bros.

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