The Nottinghamshire village that's small in size but big in taste as both a pub and restaurant up for awards

Gary Booth, executive chef at Langar Hall
-Credit: (Image: Langar Hall)

The south Nottinghamshire village of Langar may be small in size but big in taste. Nestled in the Vale of Belvoir it boast an idyllic rural pub, the Unicorn's Head. On top of that there's a grand country house, Langar Hall, that was once a private residence but is now a hotel with an impressive fine dining restaurant.

Both are strong contenders in the finals of the Great Food Club's awards - an annual celebration of independent food and drink business across the East Midlands. More than 6,000 votes have been cast over the last few weeks by the region's food lovers.

Langar Hall's kitchen team are in the running for Food & Drink Heroes of the Year, up against Leicestershire heavyweights, the Radmoor Restaurant in Loughborough, Romail Gulzar, founder of the Leicestershire Curry Awards, and the Round Corner Brewing Team in Melton Mowbray.

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It was Imogen Skirving who turned Langar Hall, her family home into an award-winning hotel. The stuccoed, apricot-washed Georgian manor, at the end of a lime tree avenue, has welcomed notable guests including actress Keira Knightley, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and former Labour leader Ed Miliband was married there.

The inimitable and eccentric Imogen died after being hit by a car while on holiday in Menorca in 2016 but eight years on her team are doing her proud. And it's one of the loyalist kitchen brigades you'll ever find.

Executive head chef Gary Booth has worked there for more than two decades, head chef Ross Jeffrey for 21 years, chef Daniel Bellamy has been there for 15 years and pastry chef Nick Davies has notched up 25 years. It's a similar story with the front of house team.

The chefs conjure up dishes such as quail scotch egg and pickled walnut ketchup, pan fried wild sea bass, asparagus, smoked eel agnolotti and oyster beignet and Langar treacle bread tart, olive oil and Amalfi lemon. And as anyone who has ever eaten it knows, the twice-baked cheese soufflé is the stuff dreams are made of.

Just half a mile away is the village pub. The Unicorn's Head is vying for the crown of Pub of the Year. Towards the end of 2023 the Everards' pub was taken over by Andy Hunt, who runs the White Horse in Ruddington, and chef Leroy Allen, with Simon Barnes as operations manager.

After a tumultuous time, with temporary licensees, the pub is now on a firmer footing with the new custodians going all out to make it a success. It is up against Hercules Revived, at Sutton Cheney in Leicestershire, the White Horse in Lincoln and The Lancaster Arms, Newtown Unthank, Leicestershire

Hoping to scoop Best Restaurant is the Carpenters Arms Italian Kitchen in Walesby, at the other end of the county. The former pub, dating back to 1830, became an Italian eatery in 2022.

Mezzaluna at the Carpenter's Arms Italian Kitchen
Operations manager Simon Barnes and co-owner and chef Leroy Allen at the Unicorn's Head in Langar

As well as homemade pasta dishes such as mezzaluna, spaghetti and lobster-filled cappelletti, the restaurant serves mains of porchetta, saltimbocca and red wine braised ox cheek with roast potatoes. They are up against Ember in Wellingborough, Northants, Hitchen’s Barn, Oakham in Rutland, and Mallories in Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire.

Bakery of the Year finalists include the Welbeck Bakehouse on the Welbeck Estate at Worksop and Leys Bakery at South Wheatley. The two artisan bakeries specialise in sourdough and other baked goods.

The winners will be revealed on October 1 but one has already been decided. The winner of the People's Champion award, the business with the highest overall number of public votes, is Hambleton Bakery in Oakham, which supplies Hart's Hotel and Kitchen in Nottingham and has a shop in Melton Road, West Bridgford.