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The Highwayman: an absolute steal

Susan Hall loves the Highwayman and wants to have his baa-lambs

Published on January 14th 2010.


The Highwayman: an absolute steal

Vaut le détour is what the Michelin guides say when they wish to inform you that some hostelry is worth getting off the beaten track for. However, as the dashboard clock ticked on to 1.15pm, the outskirts of Buxton loomed, blizzards of gale-driven autumn leaves threatened to obliterate the windscreen and we’d still not managed to track down The Highwayman at Rainow. We were starting to wonder if this might be a detour too far.

On no account follow the directions in the Good Pub Guide, which claims that The Highwayman is located on the A5004. It isn’t. It’s on the B5470, between Whaley Bridge and Macclesfield, a mile or so above Pott Shrigley, on a wind-swept hill-top which commands one of the finest views in Cheshire. Not that my starving crew were planning to hang around admiring the scenery. They were into the bar and ordering themselves a brace of warming whisky and ginger ales before I’d finished parking the car.

Once inside, a blazing wood-fire and a blessedly authentic, unfussy pub interior made us instantly welcome. The wind outside was still doing its wuthering thing, but this pub was built in the 15th century, and they knew a good bit about environmentally efficient, heat-conserving building techniques back then.

The food, too, is based on the twin principles of superb, locally-produced ingredients and something that will keep you ballasted against the worst the local weather can throw at you.

The term “locally-produced” can sound like one of those tired restaurant mantras. The Highwayman takes it seriously. The menu names most of its suppliers: Richard Barrow’s beef, Patrick Kidd’s pork, Richard Woodall’s pancetta, wine from Rodney Denson in Crewe. The Northern counties of England supply ninety-percent of the produce and the genius of the Finney brothers in the kitchen does the rest.

Kathy ordered the confit of leaping duck leg (£6.95); a rather stylish North of England riff on Chinese aromatic duck; a crisp-skinned leg sitting on a salad of shredded leeks, red onions and spring onions. Not, perhaps, the sort of thing to order if you were up here on a hot date, but every last shred vanished in short order. Pam opted for the locally smoked mackerel with soft poached egg (£6.96). Apart from reporting that the egg-white was just a smidgeon under-done, she looked pretty happy about it. My own choice was the pressed ham-hock terrine, studded with sizeable cubes of Bury black-pudding, and set off with a surprisingly subtle dollop of home-made piccalilli (£5.95). Great flavour, if not perhaps the best choice for a cold day.

Having demolished our starters, which were on the generous side, we were presented with formidable main courses. Kathy, who isn’t technically a vampire but can easily be mistaken for one in certain lights, ordered her 10oz rib-eye steak (£15.95) very rare. Whether it was from the gleam in Kathy’s eye or the fangs hanging over her lower lip, our waitress got the message. The steak arrived seared on the outside and oozed blood as soon as Kathy’s knife – a spoon would have sufficed – cut into it. She pronounced, “the best steak I’ve ever tasted”, and we didn’t hear much from that end of the table for some time. My rack of High Peak lamb (£16.50) was fantastic: three beautiful cutlets sitting on a contrasting layer of confit shoulder, which removed the blandness lamb cutlets often have. The cubes of roast beetroot and accompanying shallots set it off perfectly.

I talked Pam into ordering the lamb’s liver with crispy pancetta (£10.95). Traumatic childhood experiences – the Sixties weren’t just the Beatles and hippy prints, you know – have put me off liver for life, but since many of the Confidential readers are partial to the stuff I thought it deserved to be tested. She was in ecstasy about it and even managed to persuade me to try a mouthful. Pretty good, actually; the raspberry jus cut through the excessive richness of the taste, and it managed to be tender without that potentially revolting smoothness which is one of liver’s principal drawbacks.

Although there are several imaginative vegetarian options, this is very much a carnivore’s pub. The chips are fried in beef dripping, the black-pudding mash is a thing of glory and the short, robust wine-list (we had a bottle of 2006 Urbina Tempranillo Rioja which weighed in at an honest £17.95) seems designed to complement good meat and plenty of it.

We finished up with an Eccles Tart with sultana sauce (£4.95) – like an Eccles cake, only more so – a Baileys white and milk chocolate mousse (£4.95) and pistachio ice cream (£4.25). I think I got the best of the deal, but I’d consider a recount on the Baileys Mousse.

Two flavoured lattes and an Americano later and we were ready to face the weather outside. It had, if anything, got rather worse. Not that we cared. We were warm, fed and relaxed, and all for £95.20 for the three of us.

Worth a detour? Worth a full blown expedition, in my opinion.

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: Gordo gets carried away

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Judith Robertson

sorry last few visits the food was very dissapointing need to do better than one free glass of…

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Anonymous

Cool post very informative. I just found your site and read through a few posts although this is my…

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Anonymous

This is another good reason to travel. This restaurant is a place to go to. Nice chinese restaurant…

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Malaysian tea? I know that India and China are known for that, but I suppose that places like…

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