LESS than a mile from the West Yorkshire/Greater Manchester border lies a gastropub sited in splendid isolation on a hill top.
I vaguely remember The Rams Head Inn 10 years ago as a traditional red carpet pub but with views across Greater Manchester which were – and still are – quite spectacular.
The Rams Head has followed the path of many a country pub. You either serve decent food and ale or you fold.
The inn is keen to point out that it doesn’t serve any old meat and veg. It uses fine British ingredients. The chicken comes from Goosnargh, Lancashire, the aged beef from Cheshire and the venison from Round Green Farm near Barnsley.
Among the regular cuts is a super selection of game (including wild pigeon) and alongside the regular high-grade fish is a wide variety of seafood.
There’s also a number of upgraded British classics and serious, as opposed to token, vegetarian dishes.
For starters I picked a lobster bisque – I’d seen one on Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares the day before – while Steph, my co-diner, went for a twice-baked two cheese souffle. Both starters cost £4.95.
The bisque was pleasantly sweet as lobster should be and thankfully devoid of the fishy aftertaste you find in cheap seafood.
Steph found her souffle tasty though she found it hard to detect the actual souffle beneath the cheese sauce. The texture and presentation could have been better too and, like my soup, the dish should have been left to stand for a few minutes rather than being served as ‘molten cheese lava’ as Steph described it.
The freshly baked bread accompanying our start was soft and spongy as good bread ought to be.
Steph followed with Goosnargh chicken breast with a Yorkshire vanilla rhubarb compote (£14.95) while I opted for the Yorkshire venison haunch steak served with sweet and sour peppers in an orange reduction (£16.95).
The chicken was presented beautifully, the flesh was succulent and the skin crisp.
Steph won’t normally eat chicken hide but within minutes the skin was nowhere to be seen.
The mustard and tarragon sauce was tangy and added depth to the dish. And while the spring greens were somewhat wilted, they retained their flavour and shape.
My venison was expertly cooked to that fine point between barely dead and arid. It was a tad chewy but rich and strong.
The orange reduction was an excellent addition, as was the potato fondant (essentially a roast potato in this case) and the peppers, although the capsicums needn’t have been quite as sweet.
The chips were a let down. They were evidently homemade but disconcertingly dark in colour and soggy, bordering on lifeless.
There were too many scraps in the bowl rather than decent-sized chips.
Though it was gratuitous on account of how full we felt, we had to sample the inviting dessert menu.
I went for a sticky toffee pudding while my partner went for a brandy snap chocolate mousse with cream and kirsch cherries. Both cost £5.95.
My sticky toffee pudding was one of the best I’ve had. It was sticky, moist, fresh and fruity – maybe not the ideal pudding for a summer’s day but it was sweet triumph.
Steph’s dessert was rich and smooth, almost like a ganache. The cream was very light and the sweet cherries and brandy snap provided a great mix of flavours and textures. Like the mains, the presentation of the dessert was good.
The service was efficient, fairly friendly and surprisingly quick for the quality of the food.
The Rams Head has plenty of passing trade from Pennine walkers, even in the middle of the week. The inn theoretically could survive on selling mass-produced beer and bland, reheated food as so many pubs do.
Thankfully, the Rams Head has a higher estimation of its customers.
The pub has made a real effort to provide a culinary experience that borders on serious gastronomy.
The Rams Head Inn
Ripponden Road, Denshaw, OL3 5UN
Tel: 01457 874802
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday noon-2.30pm and 6pm-10pm, Saturday noon-10.30pm, Sunday noon-8.30pm, closed Monday
Disabled access: No stairs but advisable to check before visit
The bill: £64.49 (excluding service)
Would you go back? This was my second visit.