This article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.
When TopicUK editor Gill asked me to find somewhere outside Wakefield for my next review, I sought advice from friends at Pontefract Civic Society and the Brown Cow at Ackworth was high on the list of the recommendations I received back. I was vaguely familiar with the establishment having visited the place a number of times in my younger days, but it’s been a very long time since I was last there (a very, very long time, in fact), so a return visit was long overdue and I booked a table for lunch.
The pub sits on a prominent, slightly raised, position on the Pontefract Road in the heart of the village. As you drive through Ackworth from the Wakefield direction, it is impossible to miss, being right on a bend in the road so it’s directly ahead of you as you drive towards it. Pull in just after the pub to access the ample car park at the rear of the building.
The Brown Cow is now under new management with a bright and friendly young team having taken over just a few months ago. Business partners Adam Wrightson, Kirsty Gillies, Dean Conway and Julie Gillies have been managing the pub since June this year. They already have experience in the licensed trade as they have been running The Angel pub, also at Ackworth, for the last eighteen months. They now split their time between the two pubs with Kirsty and Adam living in at The Brown Cow while Dean and Julie concentrate more on The Angel.
On the day of my visit, it was barman Hedley Conway welcomed me with a big smile – he knew I was coming to do the review and seeing the copy of TopicUK I was carrying was enough to cause the penny to drop. When I telephoned the pub ahead of my visit to book my table, I had explained that my dining companion and I were vegetarians so it was a pleasure to be told that the chef had created a vegetarian special for us to sample – a Provençale Vegetable Stew with Grilled Goats’ Cheese served with an Asparagus and Carrot Salad enlivened with homemade French mustard and vinaigrette. The pub caters well for vegetarians and there are always options available, including vegetarian specials. They can also cater for other special diets on request as food is cooked to order.
We chose a table by the window, drinks were ordered and shortly afterwards, the food was served. It looked good enough to eat and it was! Beautifully prepared and cooked to perfection, there was enough to satisfy the hunger pangs without over-facing us, which was important as we had to leave room for dessert. I settled for the old school dinners favourite of apple crumble and custard while my companion had the sticky toffee pudding, which also came with custard. Nice comfort food but not too heavy. Rounding off the lunch with coffee and mint chocolates, we relaxed and observed the comings and goings of the other customers.
Adam and Hedley were certainly kept busy as a number of people had followed us. Two chaps in the corner having what looked like a business lunch – all mobile phones and notebooks between courses, and a number of ladies were lunching, as well as what looked like a family group. Meanwhile, over at the bar, some locals had arrived for a pint (or possibly two – I wasn’t counting, honest!). Given its location in a village setting, The Brown Cow is of course something of a focal point for local residents and it was good to see the new enterprise being so well supported, even though one or two were clearly surprised and intrigued when I went through my usual routine of taking photographs of my lunch from every angle before tucking in.
The new management are keen to ring some changes; with chef Callum Gillies (yes, as you might have gathered, this is something of a family business), new dishes are being introduced and the menu given a more cosmopolitan feel, pub grub with a twist, you might say, but traditional favourites are there as well and it was notable that a number of the other customers had selected fish and chips for their lunch. If you fancy something off the specials board, you could try the Roasted Belly Pork on a Bed of Grain Mustard Mash and Savoy Cabbage served with Seasonal Vegetables which comes in at a very reasonable £9.95. Or how about Venison Steak served medium rare and accompanied by Creamy Mash, Sweet Onion Gravy and Seasonal Vegetables for £12.50? If that doesn’t tempt you, why not try something off the Tapas board where prices run from £2.50 to £4.50.
After my meal, I spoke to Kirsty and Adam. Since moving in, they have been giving some thought to what they can do with the place and have been discussing some refurbishment options with the owners, Enterprise Inns. These will be introduced slowly; at the moment, Kirsty and Adam need to consolidate their position and secure a good reputation for the quality of their food, drink and service with the local community as well as with the passing trade. As well as making changes to the menu, they are also introducing new beers – they were very proud of their bar which looked rather empty when they took over but now has three hand-pulled beers, three lagers, two ciders plus a bitter and, of course, Guiness which is on a ‘surger’ (a device that uses sound waves to produce the familiar creamy head on when Guiness is poured from a can; who knew?). Their favourite is the Black Sheep bitter although they do have a Yorkshire Blonde on the bar as well. They are also looking to improve the range of wines they offer.
With my interest in history, I had to ask about the pub’s back story. Over the bar there is an old black and white photograph of how the pub used to look. It was originally three cottages knocked through to create a pub. At some point, it was rebuilt as the building that exists today when it was originally run as a hotel. Although I didn’t take a look myself, Kirsty told me that the building was very spacious upstairs having five guest bedrooms and a function room. However, there are no plans at present to re-open these to the public as the upstairs is currently Kirsty and Adam’s private living. They are quite keen to learn more about the history of the pub, however, and are working with Ackworth Heritage Group to discover more about the building’s past: Ackworth is itself an interesting and historic place to explore with lots of attractive old buildings, so a post-prandial stroll could prove worthwhile. By the way, I was told that the name Brown Cow comes from a cow of that colour kept by the monks at nearby St Cuthbert’s Church and who always had very good relations with the pub……..I think that might be a story for another day.
We enjoyed our visit to The Brown Cow; the food was good and the hospitality genial. The new team deserves to do well. Why not make a date to see for yourself?
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Pontefract Road, Ackworth, Pontefract, WF7 7EL