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The Rams Head review

Jonathan Schofield takes a trip out to a famous gastro-pub in t'hills on the western fringe of West Yorkshire

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.


The Rams Head review

Say the word ‘country’ and it’s likely the next word will either be ‘lane’, ‘cottage’, or in the Confidential office, ‘pub’.

Around Leeds there are numerous places to go where there are more trees, fields and sheep than people. These often come with cuddly pubs attached. And the best for me are the ones with less trees than sheep, the ones which sit high on on the Pennines.

For me that’s no choice at all. There’s only one way to go and that’s up. Get perspective, get elemental.

One beautiful evening recently a friend and I made it from the city centre to the Rams Head Inn, just off junction 22 of the M62, above Ripponden. Ten minutes later we were sat in a window alcove looking a thousand feet down and forty miles west into Lancashire.

The view inside the pub was all about intimacy rather than epic scale, with a series of comfortable and sturdy rooms with chunky no-nonsense furniture and fireplaces which fill up with log fires in winter.

I can’t use the word ‘cosy’ as in ‘cosy pub’ because we’ve banned the latter phrase editorially from Confidential for being a cliché. And we avoid clichés like the plague. But it would probably be appropriate here.

We'd come because the Rams Head has a bit of a reputation as a gastro-boozer. The dish descriptions written out on blackboards were enticing and indicted that the pub deserved its reputation. The starters seemed to confirm we were in for a good meal.

The first of belly pork (£4.95) had been slow roasted and coated with sweet and sour sauce. Normally I would call the police over such a glaze, yuck, but the balance between the two opposites here was perfect. The meat underneath was lush too with the slow roasting immediately apparent. It was one of the best belly porks I’ve enjoyed for a long while.

The other starter was Finnan haddock (£5.95) with potatoes and bacon, smothered with wholegrain mustard cream. It was a powerhouse of rich flavours with nothing going wrong. The mustard could, maybe should, have killed it, but it enhanced the other parts instead. I want the recipe. Look at the picture on this page: it’s a beauty.

The mains paled in comparison with the starters.

The monkfish skewer (£15.95) with rice and a dipping sauce was boring in every part. You don’t want to go out and find dishes you could think up in less than a minute...and dismiss in less than two. The fish was bland, the peppers clunky. The less said the better.

The duo of game (£12.95) was an improvement on the monkfish fiasco but instead of being dull it was overfacing. There was pheasant and mallard, parsnip puree, juniper and red wine sauce. This sounds promising, but the various parts were constructed with the same finesse as one of the dry stone walls outside. The meat was slightly too dry and the sauce slightly too cloying.

This put doubts in our minds about the whole meal. Had the starters been arrived at through luck rather than design?

The chips (£1.95) were exceptional though, and the veg good at £1.50. A lemon tart with ice cream and set off by strawberries, clawed confidence back a little after the disappointing mains. We made a good choice with the wine too, from a very good list, the Chablis La Columbe, matched the best dishes with its flinty, sturdy character.

You have to say though that foodwise the Rams Head Inn provides an uneven food experience. It’s all right delivering big dishes designed in a big way but you have to be careful to give the dinner balance as well. There is talent in the kitchen but it needs to be refined.

Still it was grand to get out of the hot city for an evening. And despite the problems, I liked the place. The service is charmingly all over the show and you don’t quite know what’s coming out of the kitchen but the location is spot on. It’s a roller coaster ride on a roller coaster road out of the city.

You have to think well of the owners for all the extras they do. Currently the lobster festival is on. This provides a meal for two which includes a Nova Scotian lobster to share, strawberries and cream plus half a bottle of rose champagne. Then there’s the Pantry, the Rams Head's very own deli, with top regional foodstuffs and cracking wines. If for no other reason, you might want to venture out to the hills for that.

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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