In March 2018, I visited the New Inn at Walton on behalf of TopicUK magazine. This is my review.
There was a time when you could have reached The New Inn at Walton by land or by sea. OK, that last part might be a bit of a stretch, but Wakefield was once an inland port, navigable to (and from) the sea, and the canal system enabled boats to reach just about anywhere inland. The Barnsley Canal, dug in the late 1790s used to connect Barnsley and Wakefield and passed close by the pub until the canal was closed in 1953. Although the canal has long gone with some sections filled in and even built on, there is a group, The Barnsley, Dearne & Dove Canals Trust, who are campaigning to get the canal re-opened. Until that lucky day, though, the only way to get to The New Inn is by road.
The name ‘New Inn’ seems a misnomer for such an old building although it must, of course, have been new once upon a time. Walton is known to have been settled in Anglo-Saxon times (when it was known as known as Weala-tun, meaning ‘village of the Welshmen’) and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Waleton.
Records show that there were at least six licensed houses in Walton at one time. As well as The New Inn, there were The Cross Keys, The Star Inn, The Rose and Crown, The Boot and Shoe and an apparently unnamed beer house on Greenside, not to mention numerous other unlicensed ones.(1) That there were so many thriving pubs in the past can probably be attributed to the fact that many navvies came to the area to help with building the canals and later the railways, adding to the number of agricultural labourers and coal miners already working in there.
Today, though, The New Inn is the only pub in the village and is run by husband and wife team Ria Brooks-Bell and Iain Bell. They bought the property in November 2011 and invested heavily in the premises and the business to create a thriving village pub and restaurant that offers visitors a warm welcome in comfortable surroundings.
Ria, who is a native of the village, and Iain each have a background in the licensed trade and were both working for the Slug and Lettuce chain when they first met ten years ago – Ria was employed in sales and marketing while Iain ran one of the chain’s pubs in Leeds.
Having ‘teamed up’ the couple took on responsibility for running the Slug and Lettuce in Deansgate, Manchester, but then, around seven years ago, Ria’s father, Adrian, drew their attention to the fact that The New Inn was being offered for sale and, with a bit of help from the bank of mum and dad, the couple decided to make an offer, which was accepted.
The pub is today very much a family affair; Ria’s father and two brothers help to keep the business running (if mostly by doing their socialising in the bar) while Ria’s mother, Jacqui, does the office work, allowing Ria to focus on running the pub and Iain to lead in the kitchen where he is head chef. It is perhaps a mark of their success that the pub now employs some 28 staff: it was certainly very busy when my partner and I dined there one Wednesday evening at the end of March as guests of the establishment.
As I’ve mentioned before, the life of a restaurant reviewer is not without its challenges. To do the job right, you have to work your way through three courses and so it was that we set about ordering our meals. For a starter, I opted for Salt and Pepper Halloumi Slices in batter. These come with a salad garnish and chilli chutney (although I had mine with ketchup!). I followed this with a Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie served with ‘seasonal vegetables’ and then topped it all off with Caramel Apple Pie and custard. Had I been paying, that would have set me back £21.65, which is not at all bad for a three-course meal and typical of what you can expect to pay there.
Meanwhile, my partner chose dishes from the specials menu. He started with a Bread-Crumbed Brie Wedge, with mixed salad leaves, and for mains chose the Penne Pasta with Pesto, topped with rocket leaves and parmesan shavings. For dessert, he went with the ice cream. Again, the meal would have cost around the £20 mark. The specials’ menu is changed daily while the standard menu is refreshed every six months (so by the time you are reading this, the summer menus will be in use – you can check the menus on the pub’s website).
Should you be visiting at lunchtime, there is the option of a main course from a lunchtime specials menu for just £6.95 and even the offer of a sandwich, chips and a soft drink at the same price. No wonder the place does good business. Or how about an afternoon tea – you have to order these at least a day in advance but at just £12.95 per person (£17.95 if you want it with Prosecco), it certainly looks like good value.
The New Inn can cater for groups in the main restaurant area or there’s the option to book a private room – the Chef’s Table, which seats up to eight people for a private dining experience. Or try the upstairs dining room, Lock Eleven, named after the Eleventh Lock on the afore-mentioned Barnsley Canal which was closest to the pub, where you have the choice of dining inside and experiencing the cosy surroundings, or outside on the open air terrace enjoying views of the surrounding countryside. Lock Eleven can be booked for private groups of up to 20 people.
The New Inn is open from 12 noon until late, seven days a week, and food is served until 9 pm. There’s an extensive garden area with lots of seating and a large car park, there’s plenty of room for everyone. Taking the dog for a walk? Well, provided your pooch is well behaved, you’ll find your four-legged friend is even allowed into the tap room!
So, there you are. If you’ve not yet sampled The New Inn for yourself, there’s really no excuse. The service is friendly, the food is good and the price is right. The canal may no longer be there, but the road still leads to Walton….. Why not follow it there?
My partner and I dined as guests of the New Inn.
(1) Source: A History of Walton by Peter Wright Published in 1985 by Countryside Publications.
The New Inn, 144 Shay Lane, Walton, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF2 6LA
Telephone: Tel. 01924 255447