Pub & beer column

THESE are tough times for the English village pub, with many closing and others hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

So it is important and heartening to see investment and ambition to counteract the turmoil elsewhere.

It is easy to imagine a sad story at this week’s pub, The Half Moon in Newton on Derwent. The pub has been there since 1743, but it was closed for a couple of years around a decade ago, and when the owners decided to sell in 2014 it could very conceivably have become another former pub in another dry village.

Instead, this has become a welcome positive story, albeit it perhaps one with two sides.

Pocklington businessman Mike Reay bought the pub in 2014 and oversaw a wholesale refurbishment over the next few months, changing the look and purpose of the pub.

"It was an opportunity that came my way and I thought I could improve it for everybody - and with the team we have we seem to be getting there," he says.

The interior has been completely refitted, creating a bright, airy and modern pub that unmistakeably and unapologetically takes food very seriously.

"For a small village pub in the middle of nowhere to get its identity takes time, and we are trying to get it right," says Mike. "We want it to get a name for good food, good drink and nice entertainment but at a fairly upmarket level."

Some locals, I imagine, may regret the changes. Some no doubt liked the pub the way it was, but others, I suspect, will just be happy that the pub is still there, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted in a village of only 110 houses. Mike says local custom is not enough to make the pub thrive; and he is keen to attract visitors from further afield.

The pub design has a perhaps unique providence, influenced by O’Reilly’s Irish pub in Düsseldorf, which Mike liked. If that sounds garish, fear not. Mike has simply emulated its dark green and white decor; the ambience here is pleasant and convivial.

My wife, young son and I visited for lunch two Sundays ago and greatly enjoyed it. It was cloudier and cooler than hoped, scuppering our hopes of dining in the garden, which was a pity as it looked a well-kept little sun trap for better days.

York Press:

Chris Barham is the chef here and is working hard to maintain a balance between quick, efficient and reliable dishes, and occasional flourishes to create a wow factor on certain meals.

I opted for the roast lamb and was impressed. Tender and full-flavoured meat was accompanied by fantastic roast potatoes, a Yorkshire pudding the size of a pint tankard, and freshly cooked greens, mash and baby carrots.

My wife, who's vegetarian, opted for 'everything but the meat' from the menu - basically all the trimmings from a traditional Sunday roast, but with extra vegetables instead of the meat. It was a heartier dish than it might sound and she enjoyed being able to have the bulk of the traditional roast, still a relative rarity for vegetarians in pubs.

The beer range was a little less exciting. Tetley’s Cask, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Black Sheep’s Golden Sheep were on cask. All are good beers but a less commonplace option would have been welcome.

Helmsley Brewery and Hull’s Yorkshire Brewing Co have been represented on the bar before, and Mike says a beer from their namesakes Half Moon Brewery in nearby Ellerton will be on the bar hereafter, which is good to hear.

York Press:

The main evening menu includes a range of tempting dishes, including beef wellington with black pudding mash; posh fish and chips; and salmon with lobster risotto with paprika, chorizo and a Parmesan glaze. There’s also a lighter menu including platters, burgers and hot and cold sandwiches.

We’ll return, as this is an attractive village pub with friendly staff and excellent food, within easy reach of York. And if that extra pizzazz on the bar materialises and is maintained, The Half Moon’s appeal will only rise even more.