It was fascinating – and reassuring – to see work going on to transform the Halfway House through the spring and summer while we were driving daily to the old Gazette offices off Squires Gate Lane.
We moved on to new premises just as the landmark pub was about to reopen following a seven-figure investment by the Joseph Holt brewery and we were eager to see the end result.
The family and I tried in the first week of its new manifestation, but the place was so packed and we hadn’t booked – the best possible sign of how eager others were, too – so we moved on elsewhere and resolved to mark it down for a future dineout as soon as possible,
As our Tuesday evening visit came around, I thought, following our previous experience, it would be best to ring ahead to reserve a table and I’m glad we did.
On arrival, the car park was very busy and the place was buzzing with more customers than we might have expected to be the case so early in the week.
There was no-one obviously placed to greet us, short of just heading for the busy bar, so we headed into the conservatory section and asked a waiter which was our table.
We found it marked in chalk with the time but not our name - in a rather draughty spot directly opposite the doors onto the outdoor terrace - but at least we were in after a long day’s work and we proceeded to decided what we wanted to order at the bar.
I was rather disappointed to find that the festive menu, which had tempted me on the pub website, is only available via pre-order but there was certainly plenty to choose from anyway.
The ordering process was swift and efficient, if a little too clinical – a smile would have been nice – and we looked forward to tucking into our food.
But before heading back to the table, I suddenly remembered reading in an online review of the premises that the extensive car park requires registration numbers of vehicles to be logged on arrival at the bar to avoid a parking fine.
Arriving in the dark and deep in conversation as we walked in, that still very rare instruction had escaped me until we had been inside for several minutes.
There is a sign by the main entrance which says ‘register your car at the bar’ but it is easy to miss, especially after dark, and a query from staff on ordering, along the lines of ‘have your registered your car details?’ would be a good fail safe.
It would certainly help people avoid being caught out by those conditions, which in decades of driving to such premises all over the country, I can’t recall encountering anywhere else.
To start, the three of us shared a plate of nachos (£6.50), topped with cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole and jalapenos which proved an ideal appetiser.
For mains, I chose a ‘Peak District Lamb Tagine’ (£9.25) – Matlock meets Marrakesh perhaps – found, perhaps surprisingly, among the ‘pub classics’ on the menu, along with the likes of chilli, sausage and mash and various steaks and pies.
Featuring tender chunks of lamb cooked with apricots, dates and peppers, it came with rice interspersed with pomegranate seeds and two slices of sourdough pitta bread (but not the mint yogurt dip mentioned on the menu) and was very tasty and great value.
My wife enjoyed her seabass (£11.25), served with olive oil crushed new potatoes and spinach and topped with a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce, while our daughter checked out the pizza menu which is a particular feature of the Halfway House, but opted for an halloumi cheese hanging kebab (£9.75).
She had seen them served at another Holt pub and was intrigued by how the kebabs hung vertically, served with peppers and onions and chips and pitta bread on the side.
Sadly, there was no such ‘hanging’ to be found for us. The kebab came horizontally – ‘hanging loose’ perhaps – but it was tasty and a good portion, although plain pitta would have been preferred to the seeded variety.
With soft drinks, our bill was £43.49.