It might be a little off the beaten track, but those who seek out the The King’s Head in Barmby On The Marsh will be rewarded says Dave Lee.
Barmby On The Marsh is weirdly cut off. Despite it being just four miles from Howden (and not much further from Goole and Selby), it feels like the sort of quiet little hamlet you’d find deep in the middle of the Dales.
This is because it’s tucked into the bit of land at the confluence of the Ouse and the Derwent. It’s the last thing up a dead-end road so unless you have a reason to go there, there’s no reason to go there.
This is a bit of a problem if you’re running a pub in the village. As local trade will only get you so far, you need your customers to travel to eat, drink and be merry under your roof. You need to become that most sought-after of beasts – a destination pub.
The King’s Head, situated in the very heart of Barmby On The Marsh, is trying very hard to draw people to the village, keep the locals happy and pay the wages of the Smith family. Twins Tim and Katy run the pub, cousin Jamie is head chef and it is owned by the twins’ parents.
The villagers are well catered for. There’s a cosy bar with real fires, there’s a characterful lounge area filled with settees where the old folk and community groups can meet for coffee during the day and there is fresh baked bread and other sundries available for sale on the bar. There is even a function room and marquee attached to the rear for weddings and events. Pub as sanctuary, place of celebration, community centre and village shop. A model of a modern village pub.
For those making the effort to seek out the pub for the first time for something to eat, there is a comfy dining room, a warm welcome and a menu intriguing enough for hardcore foodies but solid enough to satisfy the more unadventurous. As many of the ingredients as practical are sourced locally and daily specials available. I’d have liked the selections to be more on the ambitious side as Jamie is clearly a capable chef but this obviously has to be tempered with the demands of those who want burgers, steak or fish and chips.
When, for instance, you order fish and chips, it’s perfectly good but it’s just fish and chips. If you try the Barmby smoked guinea fowl breast, though, you get little slices of locally-sourced and smoked breast served on crisp pancetta and local black pudding with various micro-herbs and chorizo jam. I know which of these two options would get me coming back.
The guinea fowl dish is a starter (£6-£9) as is sweet pickled asparagus with Serrano ham. I’ve only had the type of pickled white asparagus that comes in jars before and I’m never falling for that again. Here, it’s a different affair altogether. I’d never realised how well asparagus pickles and how good it tastes. Particularly when it’s served with a pickled egg, toast, pickled cucumber and shallots and a hollandaise sauce.
Finding something equally adventurous amongst the mains (£13-£20) is rather more difficult. Of the standard fare, the lamb shank is decent, but it’s just a lamb shank (although the crushed peas were excellent) and the burger is – you’ve guessed it – just a burger. I’d push you toward the cider braised belly pork. It’s local pork served with more of the local black pudding, potato fondant, red cabbage and a reduced cider jus. That it is the most adventurous dish on the main, though, emphasises my point that there should be more ambition on the menu.
We had the dessert plate (£12.95) to finish. It features mini-versions of all the desserts and is very good. There are meringue-y bits and chocolate-y bits and tasty ice cream and an excellent caramelised apple and cinnamon crumble.
Should you visit? Yes, you should. Make the effort. Cosy village pubs with decent grub and real fires are worth a trip out.
In order to attract incoming punters there has to be a good reason to drive past all the other pubs doing burgers, steaks and fish and chips. And to get those punters to visit repeatedly, the menu must be more intriguing. The skill is there, I just hope there is the will. It may be dark at the confluence of the Ouse and the Derwent, but there is a light on. It just maybe needs to burn a little brighter.
The King’s Head, Barmby On The Marsh, Howden, East Yorkshire, DN14 7HT. 01757 630705, kingsheadbarmby.co.uk. Open: Tuesday, 5-11pm; Wednesday to Friday, 12-2pm & 5-11pm; Saturday & Sunday, 12-11pm.
Drink selection 3/5