After reopening its doors to the public in November following a full-scale refurbishment and major overhaul of its food & drink menu, the newly re-launched Inkwell pub in Lichfield - formerly known as The Saxon Penny - comes with an impressive six-figure investment attached. But don’t let the lofty price tag put you off - when it comes to friendly service, a down-to-earth atmosphere and affordable quality, this contemporary twist on the classic ‘country pub’ ticks all the necessary boxes. 

General Managers Sally & Richard Hammond really have left no stone unturned in reimagining this much-favoured Lichfield local for today’s street-savvy punter. 

The renovation alone is worthy of an interior-design award. Once-muted beige walls and generic oak finishings have been replaced by statement log-burning stove, brightly coloured accents of peacock blue and burnt orange and a stylish line in signature light fixtures. I particularly love the bijoux booth seating, which comes complete with beautiful plant-lined bookshelves, marmalade velvet upholstery and dark-wood finish - effortlessly cosy but at the same time contemporary. 

The menu, too, is perfectly chosen for its clientele, whether catering for the extended family out for a Sunday lunch, the casual evening drinker/diner or those celebrating a special occasion with friends and loved ones. 

A brief glance at The Inkwell’s food offer reveals plenty of tried-and-tested pub-grub favourites, from Whitby scampi through to the classic ‘royale chicken tikka masala’. Coupled with this is an appetising choice of seasonal specials. These include a selection of homemade kebabs served with oven-baked garlic flatbreads, freshly made crayfish linguine served with Italian hard cheese, and the signature Aberdeen Angus beefburger, featuring glazed, slow-cooked pulled beef, streaky bacon and Monterey Jack cheese! 

Added to this is an extensive menu of British and Irish 28-day-aged beef steaks, signature pies and an impressive line in sharing platters, including a vegetarian-friendly mezze board priced at £14.25. For the meat eaters amongst you, there’s a ‘meat in the middle’ sharer (£13.75), complete with sausage rolls, mini honey & mustard chorizo, Korean-style chicken wings, pork crackling and - that ultimate pub-grub staple - HP sauce! 

Opting for a glass of the Chenin Sauvignon to start, it was the crayfish & lobster risotto starter (£7.75) that instantly caught my attention. Served in a rich and creamy risotto sauce and cooked with fresh crayfish tails and lobster meat, this small-but-perfectly-portioned dish was a real treat for the senses. Warming, rich and infused with the flavours of the sea, every mouthful was a sheer delight and a promising sign of things to come. 

My partner’s choice of duck, truffle & red onion marmalade terrine (£6.25) was equally delicious, extremely well executed and beautifully presented on the plate. The sharpness of the chilli, coriander & mint dressing provided ideal cut-through for the rich, earthy flavours of the terrine, whilst the tangy tomato & red pepper chutney gave the dish a welcome burst of freshness. The bread, too, was toasted perfectly and went down a treat with the homemade butter (served warm, of course) and pea-shoot salad. All in all, a refreshingly creative start to the meal! 

Now, some might say that the true test of an English country pub is its ability to execute the classics - and they don’t come much more classic than the solid, dependable 8oz sirloin steak, served with chunky chips, roasted vine tomatoes and a grilled, flat mushroom on the side. Priced at a not unreasonable £14 and also available as a 10oz ribeye at £16.25, the high quality of the meat was evident from the first bite. Served medium (exactly as requested) and delicately marbled with a thin layer of fat, the meat was beautifully tender as well as moist. The addition of a portion of ‘smoky bacon butter’ on the top (not so good for my waistline but certainly good for my soul) infused the meat with a chargrilled aroma of wood-smoke that carried through with each and every bite. 

Somewhat less successful was my partner’s main-course choice of smoky beef & pancetta lasagne (£10), a personal recommendation of our friendly waitress and served with a dressed side salad and garlic ciabatta. Despite its unique flavour (a delicious mixture of smoky-yet-sweet pancetta, rich tomato & herb sauce and hearty cheddar cheese), the execution of the dish was sadly wanting. This was a shame, as, by taste alone, the recipe had such great promise! An unlucky misfire, no doubt, given the quality of what was otherwise on offer. 

And whilst our stomachs couldn’t quite stretch to another course this time around, for the dessert lover in your life, I strongly recommend The Inkwell’s choice of ‘pudding tasting boards’. Served large (£10.75 for six) or small (£7.75), they come with a choice of espresso martini tiramisu (v) strawberry clotted cream cheesecake, cinnamon swirl bread & butter pudding (v) lemon panna cotta (v) Eton mess (v) and orange & lemon sponge cake (v). After all, why have one when you can try them all? 

With a signature cocktail selection as standard, The Inkwell’s future looks promising indeed, and I, for one, wish Sally and Richard every success with the next chapter of their journey

Reviewed by Katherine Ewing

Inkwell, Stonneyland Drive, Lichfield, WS13 6RX Tel: 01543 416475