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Woodthorpe Hotel

Dave Bishop revisits the pub that is the old family home of the Joseph Holts family in Prestwich

Published on May 8th 2008.

Woodthorpe Hotel

AS Frankie Howerd, the master of the double entendre, no doubt said more often than he’d had hot entrees, do you like a big one, Mrs?

I know, as a rule, I don’t. Just as those towering, Meccano-esque stands at Old Trafford induce dizziness and loathing and the Hilton Hotel tower makes me feel insignificant and poor in equal measure, a large pub puts me off my beer.

But does being large mean it can’t be beautiful? Well, no, because the Woodthorpe, as befits a property that was once the stately pile of the Holts brewing family, is gorgeous and not at all big and brassy in a Katie Price sort of way.

Maybe it’s down to my misspent youth when any bother seemed to take place in cavernous ale houses where local ne’er-do-wells, high on E (that’s Worthington E) and sporting their Harrington jackets and two-tone check parallels, would swing their bovver boots in my direction to the accompaniment of Northern Soul classics.

And the beer, being invariably keg, was, by definition, crap. It says a lot that the only saving graces of such places were the pork scratchings and the promise, more often than not unfulfilled, of amorous totty.

What then, to make of the indubitably monster presence of the Woodthorpe Hotel in Prestwich?

Boy it’s big – the big boy of boozers, the leviathan of locals – set in its own grounds, with a large lawn at the front, a bit of woodland at the side and a car-park curving round the remainder. And it’s next to Heaton Park, the biggest urban park, so legend has it, in Europe, so scale looms large in the perception of location and vista.

But does being large mean it can’t be beautiful? Well, no, because the Woodthorpe, as befits a property that was once the stately pile of the Holts brewing family, is gorgeous and not at all big and brassy in a Katie Price sort of way.

It helps that the architecture – a bit of Gothic here, a touch of Georgian there – is impressive. Brick and stone frame stained glass and picture windows in a renovation job that has brought the building back from the brink of oblivion.

Holts, probably as much out of sound business sense as sentiment, bought it a few years back after it had suffered various incarnations and much neglect, and now it’s a gleaming, flagship reflection of the company’s broadening horizons.

It’s a lovely destination pub in the summer because of the magnificent decked terrace overlooking the sweeping lawn, but it’s the year-round beauty of the interior that really smacks the gob.

The entrance is dominated by a curving staircase, at the top of which is a glorious stained glass skylight, flooding the space with dappled rainbow glows.

Tasteful yet interesting art dominates the walls and fireplaces – the kind you could roast a hog on once upon a time - are dotted about.And yet for all that grandeur, there’s an intimacy about the Woodthorpe, as there is plenty of judiciously used partitioning and small rooms off the main central bar, which is soothingly painted in creams with stripped floors.

From there, however, there’s an explosion of colour, with purples, maroons and oranges and a series of sixties-style orange light shapes hanging from the high ceilings. It’s kinda groovy without being claustrophobic, although once the waitresses in their burgundy uniforms start to buzz around the effect can be psychedelic.

While watching a barely audible video of Robert Palmer performing ‘Addicted To Love’, we made ourselves comfortable in one of the restaurant rooms for our Sunday lunch, which just a few years ago would have been a laughable proposition in a Holts pub. Food? Perhaps a curled up cheese sandwich if you were lucky. But now, although streamlined throughout the group, the menu is pretty decent and good value.

We had chicken and black pudding stack (at £8 it’s one of my wife’s favourite dishes) and fish and chips with mushy peas (£7.95), while the two kids followed suit. Like the building, the portions were monster, and lunch proved to be enough to negate the need for tea later.

By now you’re probably wondering about the beer in this cathedral of supping, but it’s Holts, which has as many detractors as fans. I love it now, but only after years of brain-washing by the missus, after believing it tasted of slops.

Love it or hate it, though, Holts is Holts is Holts and rarely changes – even the seasonal ales are similar to the standard bitter, although Nuts’n’Holts is a fine honey exception. We had the Fifth Sense ale which I sensed to be a decent session ale but not something to set the pulse racing.

But I didn’t have on – or want to have on – my beer connoisseur’s hat. I just wanted to enjoy a great family lunch in a great family pub in a fascinating location (the journey along Bury Old Road from town is like a United Nations theme park) and it ticked all the boxes – big time.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 4/5 Food
3/5 Drink
4/5 Decor
4/5 Ambience
Address: The Woodthorpe Hotel
Bury Old Road
M25 0EG
0161 795 0032

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johnthebriefMay 8th 2008.

Hmm, Prestwich is a bit of an undiscovered country as far as food is concerned. Last night I ate at a place called Luna, exceptionally good Caribbean food, great service, phenomenal value - they've been open since December but I only found out about them this week - why? This is what I read ManCon for, to keep me up to date on these things!

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