Dining Out at The Saracen's Head and The Yeaveley Arms

PUBLISHED: 14:10 14 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:13 26 February 2013

Dining Out at The Saracen's Head and The Yeaveley Arms

Dining Out at The Saracen's Head and The Yeaveley Arms

Our reviewers try lunch and an evening meal at two stunning country pubs serving traditional home-cooked food

The Saracens Head, Shirley

Shirley is a quaint little English village just a few miles from Ashbourn,e and in the heart of its community is the Saracens Head a gastropub with charm and character serving a wide and varied menu to suit all tastes. Arriving at around 6.15pm, my partner and I were soon seated and began to peruse the menu board which boasted around eight starters and twelve main courses. It was a difficult decision but I eventually decided on the Italian meat platter with tomato, mozzarella and garlic bread while my partner chose creamy garlic mushrooms served with a warm roll.

As we waited for our first course the tables began to fill and by the time it arrived the restaurant was full. My platter was a truly magnificent sight to behold and looked more like a main course than a starter. It consisted of three slices of salami and prosciutto served with salad leaves, mozzarella and tomatoes. The mix was light and delicious and my partners mushrooms were served in a beautiful creamy garlic sauce that was so good he needed a spoon!

For the main course, I chose the baked cod loin, tiger prawns and chorizo cassoulet served with new potatoes and a selection of fresh vegetables. The fish was moist with a crispy skin, sitting on a bed of tiger prawns with chorizo and vegetables. My partners choice of T-bone steak served with Bordelaise sauce, homemade chips and salad was equally delightful. The tender meat filled the plate and was cooked to a text-book medium rare; his knife melted through it and he left the fillet until last. The chips were crispy and golden whilst fluffy inside.

For dessert, I chose strawberry pavlova with strawberry ice cream and my partner chose the warm chocolate fudge brownie with warm chocolate sauce and ice cream. The pavlova was delicious - crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside - with fresh strawberries placed in the lush cream. The soft brownie was no less delicious and provided a delightful combination of hot and cold.

The portions were large, the service was second to none and even though by the time we had started our main course the tables were full, every guest enjoyed the same excellent level of service. At the end my partner said it was the best meal he had eaten in years. Looking at me, he then added, Apart from the ones you cook of course! To round off a perfect meal, our Border Collie got a doggie bag the bone from the steak.

The Yeaveley Arms, Yeaveley

Eating out on a workday lunchtime is something of a rarity, but then again, so is finding a hidden gem such as The Yeaveley Arms. Heading off the beaten track to Yeaveley, near Ashbourne, we arrived at this rural village pub to be greeted by a light and airy bar area, exposed timbers, comfortable seating and a cosy atmosphere.

We were cheerfully welcomed by a waitress who took our drinks order, handed us the menu and drew our attention to the specials board which included the likes of tiger prawns in spicy tomato sauce and roast duckling served in orange and ginger syrup impressive options that wouldnt be out of place in the finest restaurants.

It would be easy to lose yourself in the regular lunch menu with the likes of Derbyshire flat-iron steak and slowly-braised beef bourguignon but on this occasion I opted for box-baked Camembert cheese served with onion marmalade and crusty bread. It was a winning combination of smooth, sweet and zestful flavours and the portion size was ample enough to satisfy even the hungriest diner. My colleague chose fresh mussels in garlic, white wine and double cream sauce. A basket of bread including tomato, walnut and ciabatta varieties proved perfect for mopping up the sauce while the mussels themselves were plump, fresh and juicy.

Our main courses arrived with a flourish, both served with side dishes of fresh seasonal vegetables and salad. My colleagues quiche of warm goats cheese was topped with asparagus and served with chunky chips the tasty rustic kind and I had no complaints about my plentiful serving of fish pie. You can see and taste The Yeaveley Arms commitment to using the freshest ingredients and the contents of salmon, cod, haddock and prawns were all perfectly cooked and enveloped in cheesey mashed potato.

At just under 35 for two courses, The Yeavley Arms is well priced considering what it offers hearty food of the finest quality served in pleasingly generous portions. Far from a rushed light lunch, our meal was expertly cooked and this is certainly the kind of place worth a tour off the beaten track for.

Im currently planning a return visit to sample the rest of the lunchtime menu; the appetisers of olives, garlic bread or honey-baked chorizo and desserts such as lemon posset or double cream rice pudding, and then theres always the option of an evening meal

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