The Leagate Inn, Coningsby
Our review this month spotlights one of the county’s most historic country inns and hotels.
There is an inscription on an interior beam which reads ‘Satisfying the hungry traveller since 1542’ and no, ho ho, that isn’t nearly quarter to four: The Leagate Inn can trace its heritage in hospitality as far back as the middle of the sixteenth century.
As probably the last of the fen guide houses, The Leagate Inn still has the ironmongery in place on an exterior gable wall from which hung a burning beacon to guide travelers across the treacherous bogs and unruly wilds of Armtree and Wilmore fens.
We visited on a cold and windy winter evening and even arriving by car still gives you some idea of how welcome a sanctuary the inn must have been for those on foot or horseback. You feel that you are walking into a quintessentially English inn: the warmth and smell of an open fire in the large inglenook fireplace (which conceals a priest hole), flagstone floors and a succession of intimate spaces with an eclectic mix of pews, armchairs and settles.
The Leagate is a free house and the second and third generations of the Dennison family are upholding this fine legacy with hospitality and cuisine that now delivers to expectations of customers in the twenty-first century.
We had a drink at our restaurant table while we looked through the menus. There were already tables occupied around us with more guests arriving as the evening progressed.
The Leagate also has many links to the county’s aviation heritage, with its close proximity to RAF Coningsby, and is a popular base for tourists wanting to explore ‘Bomber County’.
Specials for the day are itemised on a blackboard by the bar, while there are separate lunchtime and evening menus. Specials on the day we visited were butternut squash soup, scallops and Moroccan chicken with sweet potato puree.
The menus offer a mix of firm pub favourites plus international influences too. Starters include a classic prawn cocktail, of prawns and crayfish tails, a trio of Thai fishcakes with a spring onion and cucumber soya salad, or Portobello mushrooms served with Stilton cheese. I chose moules marinière in a white wine, cream, garlic and parsley sauce. What a good choice. Large, plump mussels in an excellent sauce served with chunky portions of bread. My companion chose a homemade local game and pistachio terrine served with an apricot and shallot marmalade which she also thoroughly enjoyed.
For main courses, there were choices From the Grill, Something Fishy?, Leagate Favourites or Veggie – too many options to list but there are plenty of interesting dishes and definitely something to suit all tastes. A gentleman at a table close to ours was tucking into a mixed grill with a seriously good piece of beef steak, pork, chicken, gammon and sausage. A feast of meat indeed.
I went for slow-cooked game casserole with thyme creamed potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables, while my companion chose freshly grilled Grimsby haddock with rustic chips and pea puree. My dish was a perfect comfort food choice for a winter’s night. The milky haddock was perfectly cooked and delicious, I was told.
The desserts at the Leagate Inn have an A4-sized menu of their own. Homemade and generous when served, our first problem was choosing from the eleven on offer (if you count in the cheeseboard) plus the two specials – pecan pie or strawberry and chocolate roulade.
My fellow diner chose pecan pie while I had ginger cream roll, described as ‘a delicious combination of ginger, biscuits, brandy and cream’. It was indeed seriously wicked, with a big kick from the brandy soaked biscuit centre. The pecan pie was equally naughty and both made a delicious conclusion to our meal.
It is the son of the present owners, Josh Dennison, who is leading the kitchen and his skilful and honest cooking is perfect for the genuine country inn welcome the Leagate extends. While there may not be a lit beacon to guide you, beat a path across the fens soon to find the Leagate Inn.