CHOLMONDELEY, Malpas, SY14 8HN
Set in rolling Cheshire countryside virtually opposite Cholmondeley Castle on the A49, and still part of the Viscount's estate, is this red-brick former schoolhouse. Quirky and eclectic, it's surely one of England's more unusual pubs, the decor and artefacts, including family heirlooms, educational memorabilia, bell tower without and blackboards within add tremendously to the atmosphere of the cavernous interior. It's no longer a draughty institute - owners Tim and Mary Bird have created a warm and inviting interior, with church candles on old school desks, fresh flowers, glowing log fires and a relaxing atmosphere. After exploring the local countryside, visiting the castle, or the fabulous ruins at Beeston, stapled to Cheshire's hilly sandstone spine, it's the perfect place to unwind, sup a pint of Cholmondeley Best or another local guest (only microbrewery beers from a 35-mile radius are stocked), or delve into the mindboggling list of over 200 different gins. Allow time to taste some of the best produce from Cheshire's burgeoning larder, including seasonal game from the estate. Nibbles to set the scene include venison and chestnut sausage roll before launching into a starter of stuffed pancake of creamed leek, goats' cheese and spinach. Mains are split into 'Old School Favourites' like fish pie with cod cheek, smoked haddock and spinach, whilst seasonal specials may feature rabbit and ham hock broth with baby winter vegetables and smoked bacon and thyme cobbler; or venison loin Wellington with parsnip dauphinoise, glazed carrots and red wine and game sauce. There's a gin festival each year. Please note that children under ten are not allowed after 7pm in the bar, or 9pm in the garden.