The Blacksmith's Arms at Lastingham: Meet the young chef running a North York Moors pub using game from his parents' farm

Tommy Banks and Andrew Pern are two chefs that immediately come to mind when thinking of those who have made their name through country pubs, but one young man who now owns a village pub in the North York Moors said he isn’t aiming to be like them.

Alistair Moran took over the 17th-century Blacksmith’s Arms in Lastingham last year.

He’s a chef too and grew up in the neighbouring hamlet of Hartoft, and now has his eye firmly fixed on growing what has worked in the past through previous owners, Peter and Hilary Trafford, who had the pub for 17 years.

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Alistair said it has been a whirlwind eleven months since the Covid restrictions were relaxed.

Alistair's parents have a farm and game shoot in nearby Hartoft

“I officially took over from Peter on May 10 last year. We’ve always had a very good relationship and we started the ball rolling over me taking the pub on around the time the pandemic started.

“Peter said it would be best to hold on over any change until we knew what was going on.

“No-one quite knew what was going to happen when we opened on April 12 last year, but we’ve been absolutely stacked out ever since, both inside and outside at the front and back.

“The pub has always been about good home-made, fresh, honest cooking using lots of local suppliers and I’m no different.

Alistair Moran with his dog Gus

“I’d been chef here for six years before taking it on and so I’m fully aware of what our customers want and expect.

“We get our Belted Galloway beef from the Strickland family in the next village of Hutton-le-Hole and we have great suppliers of local lamb, venison and pheasant. The Horny Cow farm shop run by farming couple, Richard and Lucy Lunn, at Home Farm in Wilton is also a regular supplier.

“We pride ourselves on having a really good supply of real ales, all from Yorkshire, including Theakston’s Old Peculier, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, Black Sheep and a real current favourite of the locals, Saltaire Blonde.

“I’m really not aiming to be a Tommy or an Andrew, who are fabulous chefs. I’m quite big on the whole pub experience and I work hard on trying to get the ambience right.

Pete Trafford pulls a pint

“The Blacksmith’s is your classic village country pub. The bar’s not very big but we have a fabulous open fire, low beamed ceilings with tankards hanging in traditional pub style.”

Alistair said the Blacksmith’s reputation is down to the work of his previous employers Peter and Hilary, sadly Hilary passed away a couple of years ago.

“Pete and Hils, as they were known to everyone, made this pub what it is today.

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“It’s the kind of pub where everyone is welcome and we have a very good local following. All of the gamekeepers, underkeepers and farmers come even though some have pubs closer to their home but call us their local.

“A lot of people might think that because we are in the North York Moors we only survive off the summer tourist trade but while that is good we also move from that season into the shooting season trade and from that to Christmas.

“During the early months of the year we still have the shoot trade, but we also put on specific game tasting nights. We held two last month that were both sell-out occasions using all local game and well supported by BASC.”

Alistair’s parents have a 50-acre smallholding at Hartoft where his mum Angela, who is involved in the animal feeds industry and is a governor at Bishop Burton College, has a small flock of Herdwick sheep along with hens and horses.

His father, David, worked in the grain trade and hosts a shoot on the farm.

Alistair said that shooting is his sport away from the pub and the game shot on his parents’ farm may appear on the menu at Blacksmith’s but not Herdwick lamb from the farm.

“Mum loves her Herdwicks. She just has a dozen and enjoys them for their looks. I don’t think we will be putting Herdwick lamb from our farm on the menu any time soon.”

Alistair admits to being taken aback at times, when he is a distance away from the pub with friends or at meetings, when he mentions the village in the course of conversation.

“It surprises me sometimes. I used to go to school in Pocklington and so I have friends south and east of York, into East Yorkshire, and when people who don’t know me ask where I’m from and I say Lastingham they invariably say ‘Oh, The Blacksmith’s Arms! What a lovely pub!’ That is really nice.”

Alistair said it is that feeling that he is keen to foster and carry on the good work that Pete and Hils had done for many years.

“We’re not really aiming to be à la carte dining, but we do what we do, I believe, really well.

“We will cook such as lobsters, venison and partridge but we are probably best known for our proper steak and ale pie, which isn’t just meat with a bit of pastry on the top.

“While our food is vitally important to our success I think we all feel that the Blacksmith’s is about making people feel welcome, relaxed and part of our community.

“There is always lots of conversation whether from the gamekeepers, farmers, people who have retired, young farmers, holiday makers and even international visitors.”

Alistair said his first year holding the reins has seen not just a return to the pub for everyone but also considerable upkeep.

“Last October we refloored, repainted, put in new light fittings and updated the three en-suite rooms upstairs.

“It has been a fabulous first year and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it with my great team and with Pete still offering his advice.

“If the demand is there, which it is, you’ve just got to do what you can for your customers. They are what make it what it is.”