“ Address: The Saracen's Head, Church Lane, Shirley, Nr Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 3AS „
The Saracen's Head Pub, Shirley near Ashbourne, Derbyshire
This pub is in the village of Shirley about five miles from Ashbourne just off the A52 and about twelve miles from Derby coming from the other direction on the A52.
Just out of interest the Shirley near Birmingham also has a pub called the Saracen's Head so don't get this confused as that is not exactly a small English country village pub.
This pub is one I have known for well over thirty years and I have seen it go through several changes and about half a dozen landlords, some good, some average and pretty awful.
The present landlord has a reputation in our area for his food and has made a name for himself in a number of local places in Ashbourne and other villages. He is also the owner of the nearby Yeaveley Arms pub which was closed for many years so it is nice to see that it being brought back to life again.
When I first came to the village in 1968 I was a young teenager and the publican had a daughter my age so I spent quite some time in the pub though not as a customer. It was a traditional village pub with cosy snug and smoke filled corners that the local villagers would spend many happy evenings.
Over the years it has had wall knocked out and extensions until today it has no snug or cosy corners although it still has two open fires which do add a bit of atmosphere to the place. A huge extension on the back has doubled the size of the place and it is now really more of a restaurant than a village pub.
The pub is a very pretty building painted cream and it stands in the middles of the village not too far from the little church and the real heart of Shirley. It was originally built in 1791 which I know because it is on the end wall of the pub in dark bricks. Incidentally it is two years older than our house nearby which also has the date in bricks on the side and our top floor was added in 1793 but the rest of our abode is a lot older we understand.
In past times we used to pop over to the pub with friends for a drink or a pub meal and it was a reasonable price for average pub sort of food. Our sons would also go over and meet friends over there and enjoy a drink or two without the worry of one of them having to drive.
Since Robin, the present landlord has been in charge the standard of food has considerable improved and we now have very good quality food in a gastro pub. People come from far and wide to eat in the pub and it is very unlikely that you would get a table if you just turned up one evening. We have found that if you want a week end table then you really need to book at least a week in advance, sometimes two.
So outside you have a pretty old building that looks like a traditional village pub but inside the place is now all open plan, the decor is very chic and looks classy but has tried to keep some older style furniture such as pine tables and chairs which looks smart and creates an upmarket feel to the place. They have still kept a couple of open fires which do add a bit of cosiness in the winter though I have to be careful not to sit too close to them as they do get very hot.
There is a menu on a blackboard which changes from time to time. The ingredients used in their recipes are as much as possible locally sourced and the food is all freshly prepared into quality English dishes. We have found that the menu does not change very much and that is a bit off putting if you wanted to go regularly as my choices are limited by not actually liking some dishes to begin with, then Ii discount the steak because of the price and the fact that it is not the nice juicy fat free cut but the supposedly tastier cut with fat in it which I am not keen on - I believe it is rib eye but I always have to check!
Starters range from the cheapest which is soup at around £4 through to Tiger Prawns Pil-Pil, Chilli and Garlic Oil at £7.25 and in between the average is about £6 for things like cod and coriander fishcakes with chilli syrup or Tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella, Rocket and Basil Salad or maybe a pate with fresh toasted bread. All are very well presented and as much as possible ingredients are from local sources. The presentation is always spot on and the service efficient and friendly but you do pay a pretty high price for the food.
Main courses vary from local free range sausages , mash and gravy or a butternut chilli (sin carne) or roasted asparagus tart, mustard cream and poached eggs for around £10. Then prices rise to around £11 for a rabbit pie with creamy mash, or haddock and chips, we then have another price rise of a pound for lambs liver and kidneys with mash and red onion gravy but after that the price leaps to around £16 or £17 which will get you Half a Crispy Duckling, Orange and Ginger Syrup or Pan Fried Rib-Eye Steak Au Poivre, Chips, Mixed Dressed Salad or Cassoulet of Fresh Fish and Prawns, Homemade Bread or a rack of lamb. As you can see this is not average pub food , if you go for a meal here you are paying high prices for quality food, nicely prepared and served as you would find in a smart restaurant.
All the main courses come with extra small dishes of freshly cooked vegetables and new potatoes served on the table. I do like the fact that these are separate as it means you can take as much or little as you want. It also means that if one person doesn't like a particular vegetable they can leave that and have a bit more of another.
Desserts are all the same price and this is %.25 and for this price you can choose from puddings such as Summer Pudding with Clotted Cream Centre, Fresh Berries and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream or maybe Dark Chocolate Pudding, White Chocolate and Amaretto Sauce, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream or perhaps Sticky toffee pudding which is a family favourite of our children. There are several other choices such as a cheese cake which varies, a pavlova which fruit in season and so on. My own complaint with the desserts is that they are all very filling and often all I want is a Crème Brule or a selection of ice cream ,or a panacotta but all these are big what I call comfort food filling puddings.
They will serve you just ice cream if you ask but it isn't on the menu. Cheese and biscuits will cost you an extra pound and they are all local cheeses such as stilton and so on.
A huge selection of teas and coffee with additions such as whiskey and so on is available at various prices and de caff tea and coffee is also on offer.
The bars and stables behind the pub have been converted into very comfortable self catering accommodation. My sister has stayed in the place once when they came back from Canada for Christmas and it was very nicely fitted out with a double bedroom, a single bed room and a sofa bed in the lounge with a fully fitted kitchen. The price for this is £70 FOR TWO, £50 for one and extra people are £10 a night. If you fill the accommodation with five people it is £100 a night. Should you fancy a cooked breakfast from the pub you can have it delivered for £8.50 a person but my sister just walked over to us for hers!
Wifi is available but I can't remember if there was a charge for this. What we were impressed with is the kitchen and fridge has a few bits in it which are included in your tariff and these include orange juice, milk & butter, fresh bread or croissants, honeys & jams, teas and coffees.
WOULD I RECOMMEND?
Yes if you want quality British food and don't mind paying the price. The drinks are not cheap either so be aware. The accommodation gives you a nice village place to stay close to great country walks and only five miles from the Peak National Park and all that others.
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