Cary has a Concept and I have a shower


Thumbs up for Cary

Whenever I wanted a little innocent amusement I turned to TripAdvisor and the reports of the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley. This award-winning pub drew plaudits and brickbats in equal measure but what added a touch of spice, an unexpected piquancy, were the landlady’s comments.

“Clearly it would have been better for all concerned if you had simply gone to KFC and eaten a bucket or two full of what you normally eat, the finer things in life aren’t for you.”

“Please spend your weekends in Huddersfield away from our pub, we don’t need or want customers like you.”

Now, though, the tone is more upbeat. “My, has the place improved,” notes one reviewer. “This is just what we need, great hearty food,” adds another.

The place, a lovely pub in the middle of some quiet, gentle countryside, is in new hands and one pair of them belongs to charismatic chef, Cary Brown. By both our reckonings this must be his tenth venture or rebranding but, duck for cover chaps, Cary has a Concept.

The man who did fine dining at the Charnwood and Carriages, made fish sexy at Slammers, spinned pizzas at the Limes and transformed himself into The Pub Landlord.1 at the Royal Oak, Millthorpe, with the finest Sunday dinner I’ll ever have on earth, is now The Pub Landlord.2

The Concept is simple, says Cary. It’s a pub. It’s a bit posh but it’s not a gastro-pub. It serves proper food. Don’t panic you might get swirls or flecks or foams. You won’t. It tastes good. No pressure if you don’t want to eat but that bloke at the bar just came in for a pint and weakened at the thought of a lobster roll. You pay for your food and drink when you order and don’t ask for a tab.

“In the past it was a pub with a restaurant. We want to get it back to being a pub again with drinkers in. Nice drinkers – imagine that, people drinking in a pub! –eating pork scratchings,” he says.


Fishy blackboard at the Devonshire Arms

There’s an echo of his fish restaurant days with a blackboard offering prawns, crab, lobster, thermidor “all served with bread and proper butter.” There was also grilled lemon sole and roast halibut but both had gone when we arrived. Cary promises the offering will get ritzier as time progresses.

We arrived on the day of my former colleague Lesley Draper’s review in the Sheffield Telegraph. She’d liked it but reported there were no starters as such. That’s the Concept although I must admit it took me some time to grasp . And, as she says, since everything is on blackboards, there’s a fair bit of walking about as you decide.

For non-fish eaters there was poussin, a burger, proper corned beef hash (he corned the beef himself) and, among other things, rib eye with Bearnaise. Hearty stuff.

Cary’s partner Shelley Chilton, the other pair of capable hands involved, suggested my wife have the salmon briefly seared and it proved a revelation, firming up nicely and deepening the taste. I had, for some reason, half a pint of king prawns which you could call a sort of deconstructed prawn cocktail.

You shelled them yourself, of course. I had to be careful as the heads were full of blood which spurted. They were tasty, particularly when dipped in Marie Rose sauce, and if you were looking for lettuce (this wasn’t a prawn cocktail) there were a couple of basil leaves for greenery. It came with Melba toast made from Cary’s own Bloomer but I had to pinch my wife’s butter.

This dish also includes a shower. The lot is served on one of those pesky boards and when it came to clearing away the waitress slipped and the finger bowl of warm water splattered my trousers. Many chefs have wanted to do something similar over the years.

For ‘mains’ my wife had a half lobster thermidor, which at £12 is a bargain and could well become the pub’s signature dish. So far he has sold 160. If you’ve never had this combination of grilled lobster, creamy sauce, mustard and Parmesan try his gutsy version.

I had Brixham crab with a salad big enough to defeat a field full of rabbits. I did think later that Cary had had very little to do with the crab, which must have come already dressed, except to artistically arrange the cucumber slices on the top. But he has never served me a dull mouthful and this was as seafaringly splendid a crab as you’ll get.


Half a pint of prawns or DIY prawn cocktail

At this point I had to mention his obsession with Melba toast. I got it again. And without butter, despite the blackboard promises. Bread, preferably brown, and butter is a must with crab. When I asked why he said it was just himself in the kitchen and easier to do. So far he’s been working alone as he builds up the business.

One of his jobs, he says, is to win back the locals so the sort of food he is offering is an attempt to persuade them they won’t have to have a three-course job if they cross the threshold. They’ll find a roomy pub with slick modern décor, not a horse brass or a Toby jug in sight, neutral tones, downlights and the occasional sign (apart from those blackboards) to complement the wooden floor.

There’s a no bookings, no tab policy and, currently, there are problems over the website which is for the previous business. Check things out on the Facebook page listed below.

So, nice one Cary but ditch that flippin’ Melba toast; this is not the Sixties nor the old Dore Grill.

PS: My trousers survived the soaking.

The Devonshire Arms is at Lightwood Lane, Middle Handley, Sheffield S21 5RN. Tel: 01246 434 800.



A world without tomato and chilli jam?


Every time I reach for a jar of my homemade tomato and chilli jam I get Peter and Gordon’s 1964 hit A World Without Love going through my head. It’s got nothing to do with them but there is a mental association. The recipe belongs to New Zealand’s Peter Gordon who invented it while head chef at Notting Hill’s Sugar Club restaurant in 1995.

He mixed the jam with crème fraiche and served it with scallops and watercress, taking a cue from a dish then popular in Australia, deep-fried baby potatoes with chilli sauce and sour cream, the latter tempering the fierceness of the chilli.

Other chefs soon took it up, giving it their own spin. In Sheffield, Cary Brown at Carriages made it a signature dish, keeping the fishy connection but serving it straight with monkfish. And he’s been copied, too.

I’ve been making it for a few years, in various versions, eventually putting my own spin on it. Half the fun of cooking is messing about with recipes. Now, to misquote Peter and Gordon, I can’t imagine a world without tomato and chilli jam.

Peter Gordon, who is Maori and a devotee of ‘fusion food’ which incorporates influences from around the world, uses Thai fish sauce in his recipe and my advice is don’t start without it. Worcestershire sauce is not quite an adequate substitute.

But I have added ginger, which he doesn’t, to up the oriental input as well as lemon juice, and shredded basil if it’s handy. It’s great to make if you have a lot of homegrown tomatoes and chilli so you might want to save this recipe for later. But you can substitute passata for tomatoes or use a combination of both, as I have when I’ve not had enough tomatoes for a big batch. I’ll be making some more soon as my last lot, made in 2014, is fast running out. It keeps for ages.

I eat my chilli jam dolloped straight onto homemade fishcakes (or mixed first with a little yoghurt) and it goes well on grilled goats cheese. And it makes a good marinade.

Here’s my recipe. You can find Peter Gordon’s original which is easily available online. Pick your chillies carefully: go for red and biggish ones which tend to be less hot than the smaller varieties. But as any curry chef will tell you, a spoonful of sugar lessens chilli heat and there’s more than a spoonful in this recipe!

2 kg tomatoes, chopped finely, including peel and seeds
3-4 chillies, de-seeded if liked
3-4 lemons, juiced
1 kg granulated sugar
Generous shake or two of fish sauce
Large knob of ginger, grated and juice squeezed out
120 m red wine vinegar (white or cider will do)
Sea salt and back pepper

Put everything EXCEPT the sugar into a heavy saucepan and cook gently until mushy.
Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
Increase heat as you would for making other jams and cook for 20-30 minutes until setting point. I use the cold saucer method – put three or four in the freezer, taking them out one by one to test. Put a blob on the saucer, stick it in the fridge for three minutes (you’ve taken the jam pan off the heat, haven’t you?) then try the wrinkle test. If no luck, put the pan back on the heat, and cook on for a couple of minutes before trying again. Pour into sterilized jars.
This quantity made me seven 300ml jars.

The Odd Couple

Cary Brown and Marcus Lane at the Royal Oak

Cary Brown and Marcus Lane at the Royal Oak

Do you ever wonder ‘What happened next?’ when a chapter in the life of a restaurant ends? Are you sitting comfortably? Then let me begin.

When Cary Brown, former enfant terrible of the Sheffield restaurant scene, closed the doors of his ill-fated steak and fish London Club in Surrey Street for the last time in 2012 it was the latest in a series of eateries he had either owned or run: the Charnwood Hotel, Carriages, Browns, The Limes, the Mini Bar, Slammers, the Supper Club (and I may have missed out a few).

Then, strangely for a man who was never out of the newspapers and who inspired a generation of young chefs, silence.

Rib and chicken but where do we start?

Rib and chicken but where do we start?

A year and a bit later, beset by ill health, Marcus Lane decided to sell Rafters on Oakbrook Road, his culinary home for more than a decade. Quiet, modest, he was the man who told Michelin not to bother awarding him any more Bib Gourmands because he wanted to concentrate on the food, not the fripperies which ensure an entry. He’s the chef’s chef and got a gong from his peers for just that in the Eat Sheffield awards. But now he was taking it easy.

So it’s a lovely sunny Sunday in the Derbyshire village of Millthorpe, down the road from Owler Bar, and here’s Cary, pulling a pint of Seafarers Ale behind the bar of the Royal Oak, the little pub saved by villagers when there were plans to turn it into a house.

And who’s that in the kitchen, peeling the carrots and checking that the rib of beef in the poky little oven is progressing nicely? Why, it’s Marcus. He’s helping out his old mate, the pub’s landlord.

I think of two brilliant chefs in one tiny kitchen and wonder about the dynamics. Who’s in charge? “No one. We do whatever’s needed. Marcus doesn’t work for me, he works with me. The only time we fall out is over who’s going to have the ‘oyster’ of the chicken,” says Cary.

They make an odd couple but food in the pub is only part of the story. They do outside catering. The snug, which can seat 14 at a pinch, had been hired by a christening party. They are planning afternoon teas on the lawn.

“This is a community pub still used by drinkers so food will not take over,” says landlord Cary.

The Royal Oak only does food on Saturday and Sundays. On Saturday it’s whatever they feel like cooking – a Scotch egg, pizzette, pork scratchings – but it’s unlikely you’d get a three course meal out of it.

Sundays are traditional. “We cook the stuff we’d want to eat, a proper roast. You won’t find a water bath on these premises,” says Cary darkly. There is no starter, unless you count Marcus’s beautifully soft bread rolls, served in an upturned flowerpot, or choice of main. At £16.50 a head you share a big wooden platter piled with thick, pink slices of rib and hunks of chicken. Honestly, it was so good I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.

The meats were very tasty and tender and the flavours were first class. Massive roast potatoes were golden and crunchy, soft inside. A pair of Yorkshire puddings towered upwards. There were little cubes of exquisite stuffing. Cary’s partner Shelley brought dishes of greens and cauliflower cheese. And there was a big jug of rich gravy.

It was the sort of meal you have dreams about on Saturday night but then are so often disappointed with the next day’s reality. This is probably the best traditional roast you’re ever going to eat. We followed it with very probably the best Bakewell tart, so light it could almost have floated in the air, and lemon posset (£5 each).

I ate as much as I could and took the rest home in a doggy bag. But I was ruined for the rest of the day.


Royal Oak, Cordwell Lane, Millthorpe, Sheffield. Tel: 0114 289 0870.

(This meal was paid for)

I've got a plateful!

I’ve got a plateful!

My Bakewell tart was so light it could have floated away

My Bakewell tart was so light it could have floated away

The Royal Oak at Millthorpe

The Royal Oak at Millthorpe