Once abuzz with industry, this lovely country pub is now alive with diners and drinkers clinking glasses. It’s been ten years since the building was converted after a long life as the head offices of a nearby paper mill, and it’s settled into its new role as a charming eatery with style.
There’s a lovely stained-glass window just inside the front door, beautifully depicting the original mill, all red-brick roofs and towering chimneys, with boats on the river and a miller in the foreground standing over his rolls of paper. It’s an inviting introduction to a large stone-flagged bar area, bookended by an open fire on one side and a log burner on the other.
The space is open and airy, subtly divided into cosy little nooks. There are wooden oak beams and large bay windows with seats piled with cushions. Fragrant wood smoke hangs in the air, and the decor includes exposed brickwork, rustic gas lamps and big button-studded leather chairs. Best of all, there are people: regulars, couples and families alike, chuckling and chatting over a pint of locally brewed beer from nearby Stamford’s Stoney Ford or Peterborough’s Nene Valley.
The menu is created by head chef Marcel, who arrived three years ago fresh from Edinburgh’s swanky Carberry Tower. Before then, he spent 15 years honing his skills in central London, on Caribbean cruise ships, and at an assortment of restaurants and hotels across Wales. It makes for an eclectic mix: fish and chip fans won’t be disappointed, and there are great steaks as well as a delicious burger for traditionalists. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, there’s pumpkin and sage ravioli, honey and lime chicken skewers, and tempting salted maple ice cream to finish.
We chose from the à la carte menu and started with the beetroot duo: it came with gloriously light baked balls of goat’s cheese, which were crispy on the outside and soft and creamy in the middle. Wafer-thin slices of orange beetroot looked pretty on the plate, and an inspired walnut dressing brought the whole dish together. However, it was the beetroot sorbet that proved the biggest treat – surprising and unusual, it worked like a charm.
We tried the duck liver parfait too: a meaty slab of rich pâté dressed with tangy pomegranate seeds, complete with fruity cranberry jam and peppery watercress. It was deliciously satisfying, especially spread thickly onto the house bread, which is baked fresh every morning at Kingscliffe Bakery in the next village along.
For the main course, I plumped for the signature lamb and mint pie. A mountain of perfectly seasoned meaty chunks arrived covered in buttery shortcrust pastry and paired with flavourful greens. You can see why faithful regulars return to try this dish again and again.
Across the table, my partner tucked into Atlantic cod with sorrel velouté and chorizo – another carefully selected combination that made for mouth-watering fare. The fish was delicately flavoured and beautifully flaky, and was complemented by tasty potatoes Parmentier. We could barely manage pudding, but a deep and decadent chocolate orange torte twinned with zingy blood orange sorbet and set in an ornate pattern of coulis, caught our eye.
It was the ultimate finale to our feast. We didn’t opt for coffee even though they offer everything from a flat white to an espresso macchiato and everything in between, including shots of gingerbread, vanilla, toffee nut or caramel in your latte.
We visited in the depths of winter, but in spring and summer guests can dine in a sunny conservatory at the back, which boasts views across the pretty grounds. Outside, there’s an enormous – and protected – gnarly ancient walnut tree, as well as a refurbished beer garden with 40 seats and heating for when night falls.
It’s worth a visit to picturesque Wansford any time of year, whether to relax in front of roaring fires in the colder months or soak up the sun when it’s warm. It’s also an ideal spot for business lunches as it’s a five-minute north of Alwalton. After all, this place is the real deal – and not just on paper.