Restaurant of the year: The Wheatsheaf scoops title at first attempt
A PUB which dates back to the 1760s is celebrating success at its first attempt of clinching an award.
The Wheatsheaf at Onneley has come out top in The Sentinel's English Restaurant of the Year competition after entering for the first time.
Manager Carl Birchall took up his post at the pub 14 months ago and said that after a number of changes, he thought it was the right time to enter the competition.
He said: "I am over the moon with the result. Not just for myself and the owners but for our whole team, from the housekeepers to the chefs and our waitresses.
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"We have never entered the competition before but there have been a few changes since I took over so I felt we were ready for a competition of this nature.
"I'm pleased we got the response we wanted from customers."
The 54-year-old, who lives in Onneley, started at the pub after spending time in retail.
Since his arrival, staffing changes have been made, a refurbishment has taken place and the pub's function room has been upgraded.
But Carl believes the secret to the pub's success is the quality of the food served.
The pub has just introduced a new menu and among the most popular dishes are home-made steak and ale pie and fresh cod with homemade chips.
Specials include roast crowns of pheasant and halibut.
Carl added: "Our food is always cooked and prepared well, as well as being served in the right atmosphere. That is what makes people come back.
"We are not going to be Crewe Hall or the Moathouse but we are something unique.
"We have created a niche because we are quite intimate."
The pub's history goes back to 1769 when it was used as a coaching house.
Although it has been modernised, it still has "nooks and crannies" for customers to hide away in.
Runner up The Old Plough at Etruria, has also found a speciality and is popular for its steaks.
Proprietor Bob Ward, aged 61, from Etruria, said: "We have identified a market and gone for it.
"We have improved every year for the last 30 years and people obviously like what we do."
The pub took the same title in the competition last year. Another venue which has held onto its place in the top three is The Waggon and Horses at Audley.
The pub, situated between Audley and Betley, has taken third place for the second year running.
Manager Paolo Verdiani said it tries to give a restaurant feel to dining in a pub environment.
The 41-year-old from Porthill, said: "People don't have the same sort of money that they had a few years ago so we are trying to maintain a good quality of food and high level of service as well as being value for money.
"We would have liked to have come a little higher but we're pleased to be in the top three again."
During the competition, pubs and restaurants are invited to enter and readers vote for their favourites.
The Sentinel then visits the top three to select the winner.