It’s hello to John and goodbye to Eric

Changes at two Hathersage venues. MARTIN DAWES reports

John Parsons: back in Hathersage

JOHN PARSONS has taken over as head chef of Hathersage Social restaurant, replacing Cary Brown who has left to pursue a new venture in Sheffield.

Cary enigmatically announced on Facebook that the business, previously known as Earnshaw & Brown at Hathersage Social, was now simply Earnshaw.

For John, who had been cooking at the quirky staff canteen at Breedon Cement Works, it was a chance to return to his home village, where he has worked at different venues over the years.

Breedon was perhaps the only canteen which served tomatoes on toast with za’atar spices, Japanese noodles and other world foods and was also open to all-comers.

It had been a nice little number, acting as a base for outside catering, until Covid restrictions barred the canteen to its own workers. John survived by cooking takeaways for the surrounding villages.

“It’s been two and a half years since I have been in a serious kitchen and did I feel it!” he said on his first day back. His first menu has John Parsons written all over it from the beef cheek Marmite and sauce gribiche to the much-copied Three Little Pigs ‘with pig sauce.’

Owner Earnshaw diplomatically declines to discuss past events althoiugh he did say he had sold his Aston Martin to tide restaurant and staff over during Lockdown in the absence of furlough funding. Instead he enthuses about the menu including “a spectacular Paris Brest.”

Lisa Everest, known to many from years front of house at Yankees on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, will manage the restaurant.

Eric Marsh: bishop blessed his hotel

ERIC MARSH has sold the three star George Hotel which he took over a quarter of a century ago as “a rundown pub with rooms and a toilet with a condom machine” and turned into a plush three star hotel.

It is now being run as a companion hotel to The Maynard at Grindleford, owned by care home millionaire Peter Hunt, and Maynard general manager Rob Hattersley has taken over the lease.

Eric. who jokingly referred to the George as his pension fund, for many years also ran the Cavendish Hotel at Baslow on behalf of the Chatsworth Estate. Observers referred to the George as Cavendish-lite; he himself called it as “like the Cavendish but without the view.”

One of the old school, he encouraged loyalty in both staff and customers. He could work a dining room with consumate ease, leaving guests feeling they had known him for years, not minutes.

Very much hands on, it was his voice you heard on the recorded announcement if you rang while reception was engaged.

Outside the hospitality business he built and flew his own aeroplane.

At both the Cavendish and George, he had a gift for public relations and PR spin. A few years ago, to drum up business, he threw a party to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the latter. That would date it from 1515 but the earliest records are from the 1700s.

Nothing daunted, he offered an overnight stay to anyone who could come up with documentary evidence to back his claim. As far as is known the prize was untaken. But he did get the George blessed by a bishop.

Rob paid tribute to Eric as “an inspiration for Derbyshire hospitality for many years.”

Definitely not the same old poutine

P1060238 JOhn arsons' poutine 23-06-2017 15-12-18

John Parsons’ poutine at the Beer Engine

POUTINE sounds like a female follower of Russia’s President Putin but actually it’s a foodie fad which in my sheltered life I’d never come across until a year or two ago. It’s the Canadian version of cheesy chips, that student stand-by, although as I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties the most exciting thing to eat was a late night Wimpy. We never went exotic and put cheese on chips.

Back in 2015 I saw it on the blackboard at Jonty Cork’s eponymous little café on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, and asked what it was. He’d been taught it by a Canadian houseguest who was on a cheesemaking course at Welbeck School of Artisan Food.

The idea was to cook some chips, add cheese curds and bathe the lot with gravy. It is, apparently, a fast food dish which started life in Quebec, the mostly French speaking province of Canada. As I recall Jonty had a bit of a problem getting the right curds – apparently they have to be the same size as the chips – until he settled on a squidgy German mozzarella.

Well it was breakfast so I didn’t get to taste Jonty’s poutine although I saw it on other menus and, once, chalked on a wall. As I’m a bit of a food snob there never seemed to be a cheesy chips moment and then it seemed to fade from fashion.

But I’ve been going to the Beer Engine at the bottom of Cemetery Road quite a bit lately and noticed it on chef John Parsons’ menu. Still, I shunned it in favour of dishes like pig cheek ragu, dipped ox cheek sarni and crab and prawn rice rolls. Then, lunching with fellow foodie blogger and Masterchef contestant Craig Harris, we reckoned that if ever there was a cheesy chips moment it was then.

John makes no claims to it being authentic but says it is his Sheffield version. He didn’t use the word but I will, superior. It is listed as Sheffield Poutine: cheesy chips and ox liquor gravy with cinema cheese sauce. I had to ask what this last was and was told it squirts out of a bottle. See what I mean about a sheltered life? The chips were big and fat. The cheese sauce (curds are not the way with this dish) was a béchamel with cheese (I forget which), spiked with paprika, and the gravy the left-over liquor from the ox cheek. It was lovely with a glass of Neepsend Blonde.

“It’s been on the menu since I started. It’s a case of using up whatever is in the kitchen,” said John. It costs £4 and fills you up splendidly. There’s a veggie version but you’d miss the best element, the ox cheek liquor. So is it poutine a Quebecker would recognise? Probably not but I’d take this any day.

We had only one complaint: you needed a hunk of bread or a spoon, which we got. John was taking no criticism. “You do this” – and he mimed picking up the dish and drinking the gravy down – “particularly after a few pints!”

Check out the Beer Engine at and Craig’s excellent blog at

STOP PRESS: John Parsons has now left the Beer Engine (as from August) and is mulling over new plans. It is certainly still worth a visit, particularly for the Korean chicken wings.

On a roll at the Druid

Druid chorizo and black pudding sausage roll

Druid chorizo and black pudding sausage roll

After almost a year head chef John Parsons is still not entirely sure what his market is at the picturesque Druid Inn, Birchover, in the remoter reaches of North Derbyshire. There’s a camping and caravan site just up the road so does he cook the campers fish and chips or should he cater for the foodies?

The 200-year-old pub was a fashionable watering hole run by the charismatic and wonderfully named Brian Bunce in the Eighties, boasting a 100-plus item backboard menu and a woodland mural around the walls of a dining room. If you had a sports car, a sports jacket and a sporty girlfriend, you made sure you were seen here.

This century has seen the Druid in the guides as a foodie destination with, successively, Richard Smith, the Thompson brothers and Wayne Rodgers at the helm.

John is no slacker himself in the kitchen. He took Kitchen on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, into the guides and has built up his own loyal circle of admirers who have followed him around his many restaurants. For them the Druid offers fancy, thoughtful food as well as burger and chips.

I’d count myself as a foodie so I started with John’s sausage roll.

It’s not your average sausage roll. Inside the ultra crispy pastry, speckled with sesame, is not only sausage meat but tiny cubes of black pudding and chorizo. It sits on a quite spectacular slick of sticky tomato sauce, the house ketchup being reduced down with chorizo. The garnish is crispy sage. Not bad for a fiver and an object lesson in how to send a humble dish dizzyingly upmarket.

Meanwhile my wife was splashing out twice as much for a couple of soft seared scallops partnered, oddly, by a toasted crab and ham sandwich. It works!

I’d ordered a Parsons’ menu regular, cassoulet with Toulouse sausage but the waitress came back saying the butcher had let them down and not delivered any pork belly. That would have put paid to John’s signature dish, Dixie’s Three Little Pigs – a trio of cheek, belly and fillet. It’s named after his daughter.

The pork in the cassoulet was replaced by shoulder of lamb, in a chunk, to partner the duck leg and sausage. But when it came the liquor had been all but absorbed by the breadcrumb topping and was too dry. By the time I found the waitress my wife was halfway through her asparagus and broccoli risotto.

The Black Dog of gloom descended on my shoulders as she finished her main before I had been re-served mine. This time it had perhaps too much liquor but the kitchen obviously wasn’t taking chances. I ate it rather grumpily. To be fair, I’d conceded it was a pretty good cassoulet the time I finished.

We had hoped to share John’s trademark Paris-Brest, a cream-filled choux pastry ring, but despite it being chalked up on the board would not be ready for half an hour. We made do with a very, very runny chocolate and salted caramel tart, which I couldn’t help thinking ought to have been set.

So win some and lose some at the Druid, where the décor has been stripped down to its pubby essentials but the bar area looks a little scuffed. It could do with a lick of paint and some TLC.

Seared scallops with crab and ham toastie

Seared scallops with crab and ham toastie

Let’s hear it for the Big O

John Parsons with calves feet

John Parsons with calves feet

There’s been some Twittering from Sheffield foodies about eating offal after one cooked a pig’s heart for her dog. She tried a bit first and liked it. Good for her. There’s some fine eating to be had in those bits of animals we mention with a shudder.

We’ve all eaten liver, kidneys and oxtail in a stew but what about wyssen (an animal’s throatpipe), sheep’s brains, chitterling and bag (the rear end of a pig’s alimentary canal), lamb’s testicles, pig’s stomach, pancreas and thyroid glands and lamb’s lights?

I can tick off some of them but I know a man who has gone right through the list because he’s cooked them. He’s John Parsons, master of the Big O (for offal) and this area’s answer to Offal King Fergus Henderson, the London chef who made ‘nose to tail eating’ fashionable. At Food and Fine Wine on Ecclesall Road a few years back he ran occasional offal evenings for intrepid diners and repeated the idea at Fancie further along some time later.

It was quite a revelation. Wyssen, spongy in texture, was served with squares of tripe in a borlotti bean stew. I closed my eyes to eat the sheep brains, sliced and fried, which were crisp on the outside with a creamy interior.

It would be unfair to suggest that everything offal is a success. “The lambs lights – lungs – with sultanas and orange zest were particularly foul, to be honest. It’s the texture, like a big, fleshy Aero. And pig’s stomach was particularly gross,” he told me that evening.

You can’t just call in at the butcher for this type of meat so John has to make a special journey to the abattoir when he’s planning an evening and hope they’ve got what he wants. These days he’s cooking at the Druid Inn, Birchover, so check if and when he plans to get offally again on

Years ago I used to enjoy cooked Bath Chaps, which you could buy in Sainsbury’s, and was delighted to find them recently on Sheffield Market, not known by that name but Pig’s Cheeks. Sometimes we don’t realise we’re eating offal as in haslet, a meat loaf which includes all sorts of bits and pieces.

Tastes have changed. There used to be several tripe stalls on the old Sheaf Market which dwindled down to a single tray full of morose looking bits, sold only to pensioners. I am also partial to brawn, but only very occasionally, which requires a pig’s head and trotters if made properly.

We mustn’t forget the feet. I’ve had deep-fried hen’s tootsies as dim sum. The claws go remarkably crispy. David Blunkett MP once tipped me off about a little café on Devonshire Green which made gorgeous cow heel gravy.

I had a wonderful stuffed pig’s trotter a la Pierre Koffman from Max Fischer at Baslow Hall, filled as I remember with chicken and mushroom, and always look out for trotters on menus abroad. In Catalonia a waiter refused point blank to serve me trotter “because the English don’t like it.” I had to have something else.

I returned the next night and pointedly ordered it from the same waiter. This time I was served. So was it wonderful, a truly unexpected gastronomic experience? No.

Seen below, John’s offal tempura and spleen with mash