Big Bowls and Bevs: The Pub Grub You Need To Be Eating This Christmas

The best food to enjoy by a roaring fire while listening to that mad Christmas song by Chris DeBurgh

It’s not far off five o’ clock and the rain is cascading down onto Oldham Street in sheets, relentlessly dampening the spirit of myself and the scant few others around me, all hurrying our respective ways home, away from the bleak silence of an empty Northern Quarter. The occasional burst of strip lighting or a low glowing ember from one of the remaining shops able to open offering a desperate sense of whatever normalcy remains of the year. Every restaurant, bar and pub sits barren and lifeless where once Christmas parties would have spilled out onto the streets, all bawdy and debauched, causing bedlam on Stevenson Square and beyond. December 2020 could absolutely get fucked.

Twelve months removed from the drizzle sodden wasteland that was Christmas 2020 and the pubs are open, the fires are roaring, the Guinness is being poured (with varying degrees of success) and the bowls and plates being placed under your nose are as welcoming and warming as a bearhug off James Gandolfini (I imagine. Looked like he gave great hugs, didn’t he?).

Needless to say, after a year off, Christmas bevving is officially back, BABY.

And, just as importantly, so is soaking up said bevs. We will, of course, be deep diving into the various establishments across Manchester that are serving up their own festive fare in the coming days, from taster menus to turkey tinged specials, but in this article, it’s all about pub food. Both in the city centre and slightly further afield.

Tucking into the secure warmth of a decent pub when the temperature is plummeting outside is a moment that is seldom bettered, especially once the Christmas lights are flicked on and every member of the general public collectively loses their fucking minds. No one’s rushing, no one’s panicking inside the four walls of a pub. Like a booze soaked Fortress of Solitude. The mood simmers upwards from serene to ‘unbuttoned shirt, on the bar, belting out the chorus of ‘Spaceman Came Travelling’ by Chris DeBurgh’. And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?

The only thing that can enhance this scenario, which is already bordering on perfection as it is, is a series of arrivals from the kitchen, tailor-made to infuse you with enough festive spirit to karate kick a hole in a fucking brick wall. After you’ve slept every course off, that is.

But rather than merely regale you with an ensemble of the best city centre dishes to be enjoying between a roaring fire and the sound of The Pogues, this Christmas (I mean, we are going to do that as well) we thought we’d shine a light on a few select, further flung establishments that have captured our hearts and stomachs in the run up to Father Christmas’ birthday on 25th December.

So, first of all, it’s off to the Peak District…

The Pack Horse, Hayfield

“We started off just doing bog standard pub food, but ambition pushed us further on to where we are now,” explains Luke Payne, head chef and joint owner of The Pack Horse in Hayfield, just minutes after the five plates of his ambition driven pub cuisine have settled in our respective stomachs. Adjacent to the hallmark card crackle of flame caressed logs, the Kent born kitchen adventurer chronicles the progression of a menu that has recently been very publicly revered by Marina O’Loughlin in The Times.

“It was my own love and passion for the sort of food that we now serve that drove me towards getting to this point. It was always the goal, I just didn’t know how to do it in the beginning, so I’m completely self taught. I bought the right cookbooks, looking at the restaurants that I admire and look up to and just trying to replicate some dishes that I’d seen done elsewhere, which then built up my own sort of repertoire.

I mean, what more could you possibly need? Image: The Pack Horse/instagram

One of said restaurants is, unsurprisingly, the world renowned and adored St.John in London, helmed by the heroic Fergus Henderson and beloved by diners and chefs alike for decades, inspiring God knows how many top tier cooks into a set of whites. After inhaling every last morsel of Luke’s wild rabbit and smoked pig’s head pie – a dish I would happily develop chronic gout for if it meant I could experience it every single day of winter – it’s crystal clear the influence Henderson’s hallowed kitchen has had on Luke’s culinary evolution over the past five years since he and his partner, Emma, took over the Pack Horse.

“There’s such a beauty in their simplicity that I felt was perfect for us to replicate in a pub environment. Just quality ingredients, subtle technique and detail but really accessible food.”

– Luke Payne

It is this accessibility that has provided Luke with an enduring headache over the years, as the balancing act between providing quality, traditional pub food with a more progressive, fine dining, burgerless experience has proven nigh on impossible to achieve without alienating people.

“It’s an absolute nightmare. It’s the hardest thing we’ve had to deal with. And still, there are people who come in, look at the menu, and we have a bar menu too that’s a little more accessible, they look at it, they don’t get it and they walk straight back out. And that’s fine. We’re never going to be that pub that does fish and chips, burgers and sausage and mash. That’s just never going to be us. And it’s OK that we’re not that pub.

“We wanted to not be a gastropub, which in itself has become it’s own cliché and become a bit naff. We just want to do proper, seasonal food using the best ingredients that are available at that time of the year. The menu can change between lunch and dinner sometimes. It’ll be different tomorrow.”

Yes, yes, a million fucking times yes. Image: The Pack Horse/instagram

Casting an eye over the crumb dotted plates where a crisp, indulgent, Black Pudding lined Manchester egg once proudly sat, alongside a portion of pickled onion rings (THE BEST onion rings that will ever pass your lips, for the record) a High Peak lamb kofte, spiced immaculately with ras el hanout and accompanied by sheep’s milk labneh, green bean chutney and pickled shallots, followed by some eye waveringly amazing Loch Fyne diver scallops with Jerusalem artichokes, pickled mushrooms and hazelnut oil, you understand that there is a gastronomic barrier to this food that a section of pub grub enthusiasts will never be interested in crossing. But as Luke repeats for emphasis during our conversation, that is a fact that is absolutely fine.

Luke informs us of nose-to-tail tasting menus that he has laid on in the past, while grimacing at his early attempts to provide flourishes of unnecessary bullshit to his more basic original menu (“it was embarrassing. It looked sad and cold, sat on these trays to try and make it look better”). The aforementioned ambition that has seen him transform this Peak District pub’s menu from basic (but still very good) ‘stuff with chips’ to national newspaper heralded fare is showing no signs of receding either.

“Every menu we improve a little bit. Where the ceiling is I don’t know yet. I hope we haven’t found it. There’s still more to come and we’ve got a really great team who are as passionate as I am about delivering what we do.”

– Luke Payne

What remains undeniably most important about the Pack Horse, though, is that it is in every sense, a pub. There’s a quiz every week, there’s families walking in with their knackered dogs, fresh off an afternoon of venturing round the postcard worthy countryside, and there’s the serenity of being able to unwind with a pint and an aimless stare. On a frost dusted December weekend, make a pilgrimage to Hayfield a priority. Nip into the Pack Horse, procure a map from behind the bar for one of the myriad of walks available in the area, take in some scenery, do that thing where you pretend to be smoking when you can see your own breath, then crescendo the day with a tableful of Luke’s cooking. Also, make sure you’ve got a suitably dramatic playlist on deck to score your winding drive through the Peak District wilderness on the way there and back.

The Clarence, Bury

When an establishment can boast a pair of Best Food Pub awards at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival, you can rest assured that they’re probably worth taking a 25 minute tram journey from the city centre for.

The Clarence describes itself as a ‘three floor food and drink emporium’, which may sound a tad grandiose, until you make yourself at home in one of the pub, Kitchen Restaurant or (somewhat dramatically christened) Fallen Angel cocktail bar/function room. Hours can be easily lost in each storey of this stunning Victorian restoration, with the main and bar menus both stunningly good in their simplicity and execution. Ham hock terrine, pan fried mackerel and seared wood pigeon breast are starters that are worth the journey alone, before you even begin to think about whether you fancy putting their fish and chips to the test or opting for the bubble and squeak or chicken supreme instead. Oh, and there’s the small matter of ensuring that you leave enough room for caramelised pineapple with coconut shavings, mango sorbet and spiced rum syrup.

A good boy in a very good pub. Image: The Clarence/instagram

Like any self respecting pub, The Clarence keeps the colour scheme on the right side of mahogany, all wood and leather, with log burners roaring and dogs sprawled in front of them. You will be hard pressed to find a more suitable venue in which to enjoy a plate of bangers and mash. Oh, and the top floor Fallen Angel comes complete with a taxidermy owl on the bar, which only further improves the ambience over a couple of post-meal Martinis. Or Frisky Bisons or whatever cocktails you’re into.

Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom

The temptation with any visit to Ramsbottom is to simply make a bee line for Levanter and the reigning, defending, restaurant of the year Baratxuri. And that’s perfectly fair enough. But they are unfortunately restaurants that are, as of yet, not in the pub game (although such is the talent at their disposal they could probably transition quite easily and do a remarkable job) and it’s pints, not pintxos, we’re recommending here (note to self: open a Basque pub called PINTxos).

A hop on the X41 or a swift half an hour drive gets you to Ramsbottom easily enough, and you would happily make a journey of double that length for the tag team of champion pubs that are awaiting you in the old Bury market town.

First up is Hearth of the Ram, a heavily lauded pub and restaurant situated in a picturesque 200-year-old building that was reinstated to it’s former glory almost a decade ago by owners Euan and Dena Watkins. In 2016, the Watkins and their team were recognised for their efforts with a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, which recognises ‘good quality, good value restaurants’ all over the world. And in the five years that has followed, the Hearth has only gone from strength-to-strength.

Perhaps the most important meal on any menu. Image: Hearth of the Ram/instagram

The decor and menu pair classic and contemporary with cocksure ease. You can indulge in traditional pub tackle such as burgers, a variety of options from the grill and starters along the lines of honey and mustard chipolatas, goat’s cheese and chilli prawns or you can, as I would politely suggest, dive right into seasonal mains of seared Bowland pork fillet with confit pork belly, honey and Aspall Cyder jus or a slow braised local lamb shank with creamed potatoes. This is belt unbuckling territory, right here. And obviously, said trouser adjustment should allow enough room to comfortably wolf down a portion of sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and ginger ice cream. Quick drive home, big nap on the settee, few episodes of Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing. Spot on.

The Eagle and Child, Ramsbottom

Part Deux of our Rammy excursion comes higher atop the town, at the Eagle and Child. Littered with more awards than Daniel Day-Lewis, the myriad of reasons to journey to this gong hoarding hideaway are practically too innumerable to list. But before you’ve even taken your seat inside, there’s THAT view to marvel at from the ‘Incredible Edible Beer Garden’ – a visionary regeneration project from owner Glen Duckett which transformed an acre of brambles and fly tipping into a space that was named in The Guardian’s ‘Top 10 Beer Gardens’ in 2019.

Safe in the knowledge that much of the produce you are being served has been grown only a few yards away from where you’re sitting (with a whole roost of chickens clucking around the garden ensuring that it’s not just the fruit and veg that are homegrown), and has probably received about a dozen awards in-between the time you’ve ordered and the time it arrives, you find yourself in the rare situation of knowing whatever you order is going to slap very, very fucking hard.

Everything good is right here. Image: The Eagle and Child/instagram

The Ploughman’s Platter makes for as perfect a Christmas time lunch as you could hope for, all local cheeses, charcuterie, chutneys, warm bread and and scotch egg. It’s the go-to afternoon platter in that weird ‘ALDI middle aisle’ of a week between Christmas and New Year. Only you’ve not got to waste any time wrapping up all the uneaten leftovers back up and sling them back in the fridge afterwards. Result.

Similarly, you cannot really go wrong with the Barnsley chop or the whole seabass, served on the bone, with a small feta salad and blackened lemon. The real main event, however, may be the ‘award winning’ (of course) ‘Double Bomber’ cheese pie with Jenga block sized chips and brown sauce. Comfort food like your gran makes, washed down with five pints. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

In The City…

If you’re more than happy to remain within the confines of M3 and M4, with it’s reassuring red brick institutions luring you inwards, past the condensation smeared windows and, most importantly, away from the carnage of the Christmas Markets, then here’s a lovingly curated selection of boozers that will keep you chomping at the bit for the entire festive season and beyond…

The Black Friar, Salford

Tucked ever so slightly inside the Salford border, the Black Friar had laid dormant for 18 years, a sad relic of boozers-gone-by, sat shuttered on the side of Blackfriars Road, unloved and untouched for almost two decades.

It’s safe to say that, following a reopening over the summer, it is well on the way to returning to its former glory.

As I prop the bar up with a mercurial pint of Guinness, I am joined by manager Neil Burke, who arrived in May to oversee operations at the Grade II listed property and rapidly set about etching traditional pub aesthetics into the fabric of the place.

“We already had the kitchen in when I arrived, but everything else was still being done, so I sourced as many authentic bits of pub furniture and material as I could find.”

– Neil Burke

This scouring for everything from vintage floor lamps to classic, battered books, sitting dog eared and well read on a series of shelves, was time well spent by Neil, with the Black Friar enticing you into an immediate sense of serenity the minute you trade the bluster of the latest storm outside for the tranquility of soft carpeting and inviting armchairs.

All great pubs should offer you the emotional reaction of settling down in your own living room. That yearn for comfort and familiarity is a wonderful relief when it envelopes you, akin to eating your tea while binge watching the Royle Family for the dozenth time. And, of course, there’s the history. All great pubs have it soaked into their walls. You can feel it as soon as you step through the door and the Black Friar is absolutely dripping in it.

“The thing that excited me the most was that there’s so much to work with here. The building’s been here since 1886, we’ve got an amazing chef on board, Ben Chaplin, who’s worked at Australasia, 20 Stories and worked under Aiden Byrne. So there was just so much raw material, it’s brilliant, we have the beautiful glass extension at the back and then the traditional front. I just love the twist of the old and the new and how vital the pub is and how many of the original features are still left.”

This, then a nap. Then this again

A short stroll around the full space is eye opening as you realise the scale of the operation that has been undertaken by the team here. An open plan kitchen greets you upon making your way into the glass fronted restaurant space, a conservatory replete with grandeur and attention to detail, perfectly offsetting the Boddington’s signed Victorian frontage.

“Great pubs are all about the people. You need brilliant people on board, greeting the customers, getting to know them, making sure they’re sat in their favourite seats when they arrive, knowing their usuals. A pub needs a heart and soul.”

– Neil Burke

Sequestered by the hypnotic log fire on a Friday afternoon that most respected meteorologists would describe as ‘miserable as fuck’ outside, a monkfish osso buco is served, complete with a boisterous bourguignon sauce that propels the corners of your mouth Northwards. A big, daft, beaming smile is unavoidable once that first mouthful drops, the sauce providing a glistening coat for some truly special roast onion mash and sharp pancetta crisps, which provide that final salty flourish to complement the gentleness of the monkfish.

Paired with a second Guinness, the temptation to settle in for an hour long snooze before tackling the dessert menu is immense (Amaretto poached pear? Bitter orange parfait with olive oil cake and candied pistachio? Yes fucking please), with my only regret being that I don’t have enough room to wade through the entire offering. Pan fried turbot, Cumbrian pig served three ways (pressed belly, fillet and cider braised cheek) and winter truffle + confit leek bake all sing to me, as do Confit artichoke + cep gnocchi and British boar + pheasant terrine. The modern day Black Friar is a spectacular, towering triumph of a relaunch, well worth the 18 year wait.

Edinburgh Castle, Ancoats

A few Fridays on from my lunch at the Black Friar, I am once again commencing the weekend away from the bleak Mancunian elements within the confines of one of the city’s finest, most historic establishments.

Edinburgh Castle has stood in Ancoats since 1811, recently reopening to rapturous acclaim, and rightfully so. Balanced at the bar, I observe the post-work crowd ambling excitedly through the heavily curtained entrance way into the candlelit bar area. With the mercury sinking below freezing point outside, I order up a second pint and decide the only logical thing to do is ask for a bowl of chips to come with it.

What arrives a few minutes later is a moment that instantaneously etches itself into my memory, like seeing Brazilian Ronaldo in full flow for the first time, bedecked in those glorious Kappa Barcelona kits, turning the ankle ligaments of La Liga defences into Cheese Strings . Or my first viewing of Home Alone as an impressionable, hyperactive seven-year-old. Each column of fried potato that is settled down on the marble topped bar in front of me is a triple cooked colossus, golden and glistening, a work of art that is hands down more culturally significant than anything hanging in the Louvre.

This is actually too good for the Louvre, tbh

“We’ve had a few compliments about the chips,” EC’s General Manager Marc Farrell informs me, “We’ve changed the oil to a pomace oil and triple cook them. The response as been excellent.

The chips alone are worthy of earning EC a place in on this list, but it would be horribly remiss to not wax lyrical about literally everything else on their expertly curated menus.

Snacks of five seeded sourdough from Ancoats’ own Companio Bakery (and while I’m mentioning them, I should urge you to go and buy about 50 of their croissants immediately, regardless of how big the queue is outside) with whipped butter and confit lamb ribs with mint salsa verde are eye catching enough, before you work your way down to flame grilled Pittenweem mackerel with avocado lime and fennel and then onto the business end of proceedings, with mains of braised ox cheek suet pudding and whole roasted plaice on the bone nigh on impossible to choose between. Chops of both Mangalista and Barnsley are available, while a retired Dairy Cow steak is the natural partner of EC’s absolutely heroic chips.

“We have a great relationship with our butchers, which are the guys at the Butcher’s Quarter,” Marc tells me, as we discuss both the menu and his approach to maintaining the endearing joy EC provides so many of its regulars.

‘AHA!’…get it? Because it’s partri….oh never mind. Image: Edinburgh Castle

“We are in constant communication with them regarding produce. When possible we like to source our produce as close as possible. However, we get our game down from gamekeepers in Scotland. With us being independent and having the ability to change the menu regularly we have not endured some of the logistical issues that the industry is facing. However, recruitment has been an on going battle.”

Recruitment may be problematic for EC, but from back of house to front, the staff currently serving there are a joy, further fuelling a festive atmosphere that makes you never want to leave. And, if Marc’s final declaration is anything to go by, the next 12 months is only going to further cement EC as one of Manchester’s most vital institutions.

“I came on board as General Manager of Edinburgh Castle with a view of creating the best pub in Manchester. Which I personally think we have achieved with the ground floor. The next step is to keep developing the food concept and I expecting even better things in 2022.”

– Marc Farrell

Marble Arch, Rochdale Road

Between the architecture and the selection of about 4,000 ales, there’s already two convincing reasons to immerse yourself underneath the gaslight chandeliers of this Rochdale Road behemoth. The floral mosaic floor, azure blue intermingling with terracotta and bottle green, is hypnotic like a magic eye your mum and dad got free with an old Pink Floyd LP or something. The windows to your left, practically gargantuan, ascending towards the roof are draped in lush ruby curtains. This is most certainly a den of a million ribald tales and one which forever finds itself unashamedly adored by everyone in Manchester.

But howling mad sessions working your way through Marble Brewery’s ceaseless beer menu are not the sole persuasion for a journey to the Northern Quarter outskirts. How about some Nori tempura to accompany a couple of those beers? Just to start, obviously. Then continue on with a portion of pork and leek bonbons with pear porter sauce. Not a bad one-two that, is it? Oyster mushrooms with crispy egg and truffle mayo could even be the play to make for a starter, or the grilled polenta with creamed garlic spinach and tomato and herb dressing. It’s like wondering whether you should watch Scrooged or Jingle All The Way. Either way you can’t lose.

Wondrous place. Image: Marble Arch/instagram

That’s before you’ve even got to the mains. A panko fried chicken sandwich with pickled fennel and chilli jam is every bit as moreish as the first box of After Eights on Christmas Day night. An Indian spiced cauliflower risotto, complete with samphire and toasted cashews is a triumph of a vegan option, as is the Thai spiced tofu salad. But it may be the ham hock, roasted in honey and thyme, which really has our hearts. Or the steak and ale pie with thick cut chips, beer gravy and buttered greens. Topped off with a cheese board or a melting chocolate pudding, it’s all so fucking sumptuous and robust. Like a hot tub party with Brian Blessed.

Oh, and we can confidently confirm that the Sunday roasts here absolutely BANG too.

The Bay Horse Tavern, Northern Quarter

A Northern Quarter stronghold, the Bay Horse deserves a multitude of platitudes for resolutely remaining itself, even when everywhere around it was regenerating. Apart from The Millstone, obviously (never, ever change, Millstone).

For either breakfast, lunch or dinner, you cannot really find fault with anything the Bay Horse offers, and they serve it all up with minimum fuss and maximum execution.

Chorizo arancini are always two wonderful words to read together on any menu, as are the following three ‘pigs in blankets’ and brilliantly, both make up a portion of the starter menu.

Sticking with the porcine preferences, the BLT here is deviously dolloped with bacon fat mayonnaise, which eases it into the can’t miss category.

Festively, the butter basted turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce on white bloomer is as ideal a Christmas sandwich as you will find in any watering hole in town, especially as it comes with Bay Horse’s thrice cooked chips and gravy. There’s a ‘need something to soak up the extra two pints I’ve had on this Friday lunch break’ meal if ever there was one.

A banquet fit for Father Christmas himself

Not to dwell on the sandwich menu, when there are some very, very fine options listed under the rotisserie and pie sections, but any cheese toastie constructed with cheddar, gruyere and gammon deserves a fucking sonnet writing about it. Or a full volume of ballads. One of these decadent, dairy heavy motherfuckers and ‘The Bells of St.Mary’s’ whirring out of the speakers is all you want for Christmas. I don’t give a fuck what Mariah Carey says (I do a bit, actually. She seems like a laugh).

The Fountain House, Albert Square

Without the Christmas markets around to melt everyone’s brains, Albert Square’s newest addition should thrive this festive season, just weeks after opening, sitting in the old residence of Albert’s Chop House.

Even without the holly and the ivy, the presence of the grand old Town Hall, just behind the central library and not far adjacent from The Midland makes this corner of town feel particularly festive, as if these opulent architectural landmarks were built to lend themselves specifically to the autumn and winter months for generations to come. So the Fountain House’s offerings feel right at home in such illustrious company.

You can rarely go wrong with locating a pub in a Grade II listed building that dates back over 150 years, and over three floors (with another two yet to be opened that are earmarked for a hotel and rooftop bar) the Fountain House team have done their new surroundings proud.

Original exposed brick and stripped back wooden beams are paired with the sort of mood lighting that makes you want to put the world to rights, or at least discuss who was really the best Beatle after you and all your mates have finished Get Back (spoiler: it’s Paul).

“Alexa, play the Charlie Brown Christmas album on repeat”. Image: The Fountain House/instagram

The food, like the fixtures around it, is built for comfort. The clotted cream mashed potatoes that sit alongside the charter pie make you want to shake hands with everyone in the kitchen, regardless as to whether or not they actually had a hand in making them. The lamb shank Lancashire hotpot, replete with the bone jutting from the middle, challenging you to remove it like a hungry, half cut King Arthur yanking the sword from the stone, is another highlight, although we didn’t sample anything that topped the mighty beef hash brown, delectably served with a crispy Burford Brown egg, smoked pancetta, hen of the woods and horseradish gravy. The special sort of dish so mesmeric that no words are exchanged during the consuming of it. Only gleeful groans and gasps.

The Bull and Bear, Stock Exchange Hotel

It’s a thought provoking query: Who would win in a fight? A bull or a bear? As soon as the thought crossed my mind I couldn’t shake the internal debate that raged within my brain. Obviously, a half ton grizzly, loaded up on salmon and the eternal rage of being accused of swiping pic-a-nic baskets by jobsworth park rangers, would probably murk anything else on the planet. But bulls, with their shoulders the size of a pair of fucking Land Rovers and actual horns sticking out of their heads, look ready to drop a motherfucker at a moment’s notice. Their entire species has been taunted by flamboyant arseholes in luminous outfits and red capes, so naturally, they’re just pissed off every waking hour of the day and, if push came to shove, could you really bet against one just mullering anything in its path? Who knows. Maybe it’d be a draw.

Either way, the Bull and Bear, Tom Kerridge’s palatial Northern gem, is certainly a magnificent enough space to hold such an event. I mean, it absolutely shouldn’t, but y’know, it’s massive so it could do. Just, Tom, if you do end up reading this, don’t book a bear and a bull to have a full on scrap in your restaurant. But do feel free to chime in with who you think would win.

Anyway, Kerridge’s Mancunian masterpiece is a breathtaking site (and sight). Lodged luxuriously in the Stock Exchange Hotel on Norfolk Street, you can immediately envisage revelling the night away with a gang of mates over a tableful of Christmas bevs and ferociously good food.

You cannot help but be awe inspired by the appearance of the room. A domed Edwardian baroque ceiling lifts your eyes towards the heavens, while the bottle green and gold colourscape is an old Newton Heath style nod to Manchester’s titanic industrial history (although the colour scheme is, presumably, only accidentally ‘Glazers Out’). The TVs on the walls are an odd touch, as it doesn’t feel like the sort of venue where you would come to enjoy a Super Sunday, but nevertheless, it’s what’s on the tables rather than the walls that is most pressing. And fortunately, it’s utterly incredible.

A dish as picturesque as it’s surroundings. Image: Bull and Bear/instagram

Eyes are immediately drawn to kabanos beer sticks on the snack section. Alongside Pollen sourdough, how could you possibly start a meal any better?

Salt pollock scotch egg with red pepper sauce and grilled chorizo is the inventive twist on the traditional that Kerridge enjoys so much, and his team at Bull and Bear knock out each dish with impassioned energy and technique.

Short rib of Yorkshire beef is veered majestically towards Hong Kong with a mushroom XO glaze, while the dry aged duck with soy glazed bok choy is given a European tilt of duck croquette ‘cassoulet’.

The fun doesn’t end there though, as the dessert menu throws up a selection of wonders such as a cinnamon waffle with mulled wine poached pear and Christmas pudding ice cream. Or if that festive frivolity doesn’t do it for you, there’s a chocolate orange choux bun with hazelnut, Baileys ice cream and salted caramel sauce. I don’t really need to go on, do I? OK, there’s also a vanilla buttermilk panna cotta with ginger wine jelly and mandarin sorbet. Happy now? Good, you fucking well should be. It’s all as uplifting as that moment Kevin McAllister and his mum, fresh from her stint in the back of John Candy’s polka van, are reunited in the entrance hall of the family home. That’s what this dessert menu is, alright? It’s the end of Home Alone, served with a spoon. Not the very end, though, where Buzz tries to come across like he’s actually alright and not a massive dickhead. Fuck that guy.

It would be remiss to make out as if these pubs are only worth visiting during Christmas, because of course they are world beaters all year round, but with it now being officially the most wonderful time of the year, regardless of what the shower of treacherous gobshites in Downing Street try to do to dampen everyone’s spirits, you really should be making the time to enjoy these places with the people you care about most, who you were robbed of enjoying last Christmas with. Or maybe just go on your own to mentally recover from Christmas shopping. Whatever you prefer. I’m off to sink a few pints at the bar of Edinburgh Castle and have the Bull vs Bear debate with anyone who’ll listen. Feel free to join me.

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