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Yew Tree Inn, Bunbury, Reviewed

Neil Sowerby relishes the 'Cheshire Dining Pub of the Year 2014'

Written by . Published on October 28th 2013.

Yew Tree Inn, Bunbury, Reviewed

Category: Pub dining. Score 16.5/20 (Full breakdown below and score explained. Venues are compared with similar venues and measured against the best examples in their category.)

 THE Ribble Valley has just extended into Cheshire after similar empire-building forays into the Lancashire/Cumbria border and Yorkshire.

My spiced Charollais lamb rump (£17.50) was tremendous country kit, matched by sweet, deep butternut squash puree, pleasingly bitter buttered kale and roasted shallot with a tranche of lamb-scented boulangere, spud suffused with good stock and butter.

The Nag’s Head at Haughton Moss is the latest acquisition by Nigel Haworth’s Ribble Valley Inns (RVI). The paint’s barely dry – presuming they’ve repainted it. I expect the pictures of the chain’s suppliers may be already up on Farrow and Ball walls. The revamp will bring the RVI template of consistent, rarely mutating, regional-trumpeted grub sourced from the folk staring down at you. 

Expansion is obviously in the air. The chain’s website proclaims frankly: 'We're an ambitious company and we are looking to expand. If you do know of any pubs that you think would be suitable to become a Ribble Valley Inn, please do let us know...' Obviously, a Cheshire mole has answered the call. 

I almost stopped off but I had a lunch date with a more individual country pub, less than two miles away, down leafy lanes south of Tarporley, west of Nantwich.

Yew Tree's Garden


Yew Tree's Garden

I’m sure the Yew Tree will hold its own against the invading culinary cuckoo. After all, it has just been proclaimed Cheshire Dining Pub of the Year 2014 by the Good Pub Guide.

What’s more, it offers a range of remarkably well-kept cask ales from independent brewers, unlike RVI, yoked to Thwaites. A CAMRA Good Beer Guide entry matched by a firm place in the fine-dining Good Food Guide is a rare double. And obviously maintaining its role as a genuine village local, a proper hub, a proper pub. Hooray. 

All the more remarkable since the Yew Tree had been shut up and mouldering for a couple of years when Jon and Lindsay Cox got hold of it in 2010. Their tenancy is less of a risk when you consider this part of Cheshire is prime eat-out-in-a-pub territory and the pair have previous in the trade locally. Ironically, raised in Clitheroe and Burnley and schooled at Stoneyhurst, fresh-faced Jon hails from prime RVI territory. The Yew Tree lived up to all expectations. 

Yew Tree Exterior 

                                            Yew Tree Exterior

First of all, the look of the old inn, built by Lord Crewe in the 19th century. Outside, mellow brick and a section of half-timbering, set in a lovely garden (yes with a yew tree, recovering after some builders’ depredations); inside, the obligatory beams and odd nooks, but also with an opened-out central bar and decidedly quirky decor. The tartan wall coverings, Jon admitted, are pure Inn at Whitewell (his favourite pub all-rounder and mine). I daren’t ask what weird inspiration forged the faux-medieval joint doors to the lavatories. 

In an area thickly populated by posh Brunning and Price pubs, excellent but essentially formulaic, it’s great to see such individuality. It’s apparent, too, in the presence of Brewdog among the keg taps. An ever-changing roster of beers from the maverick Scottish brewers makes a 'cool' for the country statement.  

I was just happy with the quality of cask on offer – up to seven guest ales alongside their own well-balanced Station Bitter from Oswestry’s Stonehouse Brewery. I was driving, so sipped samples from the current range alongside my pint of  classic 3.5 per cent Titanic Mild. Pick was the fragrant, hoppy Diawl Bach (3.8 per cent) from the Heavy Industry microbrewery from Henllan, North Wales. The large range of single malts I’ll save for another visit, along with the interesting wine list (from Rodney Densem of Crewe). The long-term plan is for guest bedrooms in the adjacent barn. 

Yew Tree's Elaborate Toilet Doors


Yew Tree's Elaborate Toilet Doors

From the specials board I went for partridge, sausage and wild mushroom fricassee with chestnut puree (£6.50), an earthy taste of autumn. Devilled spiced whitebait and garlic aioli (£6) across the table was the best example my brother had tasted in years. 

Delectable Whitebait


Delectable Whitebait

He was slightly disappointed by the dryness of his fish main, though, with the herb-crusted (£12) salmon over-cooked and the lemon and thyme dressing scarcely moistening the citrus and  roast garlic couscous base. 

In contrast, my spiced Charollais lamb rump (£17.50) was tremendous country kit, matched by sweet, deep butternut squash puree, pleasingly bitter buttered kale and roasted shallot with a tranche of lamb-scented boulangere, spud suffused with good stock and butter.

Rump Of Lamb

Rump Of Lamb

Why did I order chips, too? I was happy to be told the pub’s chips come from potatoes grown no more than 15 miles away and chipped on the farm before being delivered fresh in water each day, ready to be double fried in dripping. 

The main menu changes every eight weeks, for seasonality sake, but since the Yew Tree is determinedly pubby, you’ll always find the likes of rib-eye steak and battered haddock, home-made pies and beef burgers. Suits Yew! is a newly launched weekly changing market menu (two courses £12.50, three courses £16.50). 

On my next visit I’ll hope to find the luscious date and chocolate pudding with vanilla ice cream, that concluded my meal. Only regret – the absence of a porter to accompany it. That can always be remedied at a pub with such devotion to quality beer. Quality in all things, actually. 

The Yew Tree Inn, Long Lane, Spurstow, Bunbury, Cheshire, CW6 9RD. 01829 260274

Rating: 16.5/20 (remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below - so in this instance we're comparing The Yew Tree with the best in pub dining)

Food: 8/10 
Service: 4.5/5 
Ambience: 4/5

PLEASE NOTE: 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, we get carried away.

Yew Tree InteriorYew Tree Interior

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IanOctober 28th 2013.

"so in this instance we're talking top end pub food compared to top end pub dining" , what's the difference?

1 Response: Reply To This...
EditorialOctober 28th 2013.

Slip of the finger, Ian. Well-spotted, about to be sorted.

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