YOU know that old cliché about tables groaning with food? Well ours was. There were slices of very decent beef the size of rosy red doorsteps, wedges of tender pork so big they could almost have been a pig, wings and breasts of chicken, ribs of lamb, sausages wrapped in bacon and stuffing like golf balls.
And then they brought the Yorkshire Puddings, the size and shape of cumulus clouds, with crispy crunchy roast potatoes posing as cannon balls. A big dish of cauliflower cheese followed, with another of vegetables. And a half pint jug of proper gravy. Talk about trencherman food: this could have filled a WW1 trench.
“Right,” I said to my wife.”We’re going to tackle this the Victorian way, eating slowly.” But it beat us in the end and we were the ones groaning – with pleasure. If we had carried on we would have been like Monty Python’s Mr Creosote and exploded.
“This is like going to an all you can eat buffet, only in this case they bring it to your table and it tastes of something,” I added.
We haven’t had a Sunday lunch like this since that time at the Royal Oak, Millthorpe, and it was the same chef. So if I couldn’t tackle all that food I went to tackle the man responsible, Cary Brown. “Sunday lunch should be a time for indulgence. If people say I’ve overfaced them I don’t get offended,” he said.
Cary has had almost as many venues as I’ve had hot dinners and that’s saying something. A month or two ago he and his partner Shelley spectacularly left the Devonshire Arms at Middle Handley after a dispute with the owners, draining the place dry with free beer for friends and regulars. Since legal matters loom we’ll say no more.
He has popped up at historic 16th century Barlow Woodseats Hall, down a lane called Johnnygate that leads to nowhere except this former home of the famous Bess of Hardwick, the Elizabethan lass who had four husbands and ended up as the Countess of Shrewsbury. She and Robert Barlow were only 14 at the time and he died within a year.
To be more precise Mr Brown has popped up in the Long Barn next door, a magnificent Grade II listed medieval cruck barn which, the last time I looked when reporting for the Sheffield Star was a cowshed knee deep in manure. That was in 2006 when the Milward family put the hall on the market for a million quid and right next door was a working farm, all smells and moos.
I never checked to see if it had sold but if I had I could have reported it was bought by Nick Todd and his family, a partner in the long established Sheffield auctioneers and valuers, Ellis Willis & Beckett. He did up the hall, bought the barn and it is now a weddings and functions venue and, with Cary at the stove, a pop-up for Sunday luncheons and afternoon teas. The next will be in September and, at £25 a head, you get a doggy bag to take home.
Nick and Cary, who met over the bar at the Royal Oak just down the road, have big plans for the barn, which comes with several cottages built from the old stables, still with some of the original features plus up to the minute wet rooms, kitchens and four poster beds.
My wife Sue and I take a break for air after that main course (but before Shelley’s lovely passionfruit cheesecake and chocolate profiteroles) and Nick walks us around the garden with a brace or two of peacocks who have just been in the family way, orchard, pond, tropical garden and lawns. He may have a posh house but he’s not sniffy about letting guests enjoy the surroundings. He seems to enjoy sharing them.
We join Cary later for coffee and he’s busy tossing culinary concepts up in the air like a juggler with plates. Here’s one. “It can be sweet and it can be savoury but you’ll have to wait and see,” he grinned. Here’s a clue: it’s on wheels. Oh and did I mention the Sunday lunch was absolutely first class?
*Check Cary’s Facebook and Twitter pages for details of the next Sunday lunch in September. Details going up soon on www.barlowwoodseatshall.com