The time has come to update my ‘Where to Eat in Yorkshire’ list (for the original post, see here). I’ve continued to eat my way around this fabulous county and its diverse culinary influences since moving here in 2012, and every now and again stumble upon a gem that simply has to make it onto this blog. Here are a few new recommendations, ranging from a quirky meatball restaurant to a Spanish tapas bar, and including two of my favourite rustic pubs with some of the best gastropub food (and roaring fires!) in the country.
The Yorkshire Meatball Co., Harrogate & York
I was recently invited to an event at the Yorkshire Meatball Co. in Harrogate, inventively titled ‘Beer & Balls’. In partnership with Great Heck brewery, this evening aimed to showcase the potential of pairing beer with food – specifically, with large balls of meat, fish and vegetable protein served in miniature burger buns and smothered in delicious sauces. Gareth Atkinson, founder of the restaurant, and Denzil Vallance from Great Heck Brewery, talked us through the logic behind the delicious pairings. We began with Citra, a refreshing pale ale made with USA Citra hops, whose slight bitterness and fresh, almost elderflowery taste partnered wonderfully with a light, delicate meatball of flaked haddock, smoked chorizo and parsley, and a lemony sauce (one of my favourites from the evening - so much lighter than a traditional meatball with all the decadence of a good fish pie). Next, onto something decidedly more meaty: the Yorkshire meatball, made from Wetherby beef and pork belly and slathered in traditional gravy, with the fruity Shankar IPA. The smoky, peppery flavour of this meatball was perfect with the beer – as Gareth pointed out, it’s like eating Sunday lunch in meatball form. I really enjoyed the ‘Birdie’ ball – seasoned chicken, a mixture of breast and thigh meat, with a fragrant basil pesto that partnered wonderfully with the clove and banana notes in the Amish Mash beer, which bends a traditional German base with the hop profile of a US IPA.
The Smokey ball, made with Denby dales lamb shoulder seasoned with smoked paprika, paired with the Madagascar, a stout brewed with Madagascan vanilla pods. This was dark and unusual, and lovely with the fragrant, sweet lamb. I took a bottle of it home, and can’t wait to try cooking with it. For the vegetarians, the Yorkshire Meatball Co. offer a ‘Fake’ ball, which is a little like falafel but bigger, and more moist and satisfying, although I felt it could have done with a little more lemon. Mashed chickpeas and lemon zest were a satisfying partner to the Black Jesus IPA, which helped earn Great Heck their first award – even if it was only for the label! Finally, we rounded off the evening with a spicy pork meatball paired with the Yakima IPA, probably Great Heck’s most interesting beer, with hints of sherry and toffee apple (and a higher alcohol content than most beers). The unusual flavours were fabulous with the smoky, peppery pork. The Yorkshire Meatball Co. offer many of these beers during their normal service, and always have an enticing range of guest beers and ales on offer to pair with their flavoursome meatballs, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re a fan of beer, balls or both (and who isn’t?)
There’s nothing fancy about the food here, but you do get a wide, surprisingly varied menu that offers an enticing range of combinations, and the fun option to mix and match your own balls, blankets (sauces) and beds (mashed potato, linguine, seasonal greens, couscous, lentils or root veg) – or, if you prefer just meatballs and a salad, you can go for the ‘naked balls’ (of course they're called that. Of course). There are meatball subs and ‘ball-urritos’ on offer (slightly tenuous, that last one, I think…), as well as starters to nibble on while you wait for your ball action: crispy pork rinds, potted ham hock, soups, ‘cheeseballs’, chargrilled tortilla or potted mackerel. It’s good, honest food made from carefully sourced ingredients, true to its Yorkshire roots, and a fine choice for a hearty lunch or dinner with friends. The quirky décor in its Harrogate branch is also rather enjoyable.
On a chilly winter night, there is no better pub than the Chequers Inn, a short drive from the centre of York and located in a charming village. Its roaring fire, comfortable armchairs and cosy décor make it a perfect place to indulge in a hearty meal and a good glass of wine while the wind roars outside. Moreover, the pub, part of the Ainsty Group, regularly hosts fantastic food and wine pairing evenings. These are a perfect opportunity to meet new people and indulge in an evening of wonderful food, accompanied by refined and unusual wines served with the expertise of a local wine expert. It feels like a private dining club, secluded in a cosy and elegant corner of the pub, and is excellent value for the quality of food and wine on offer, at around £35 for four or five courses plus matching wines.
I recently attended the Burgundy and Beaujolais evening, a wonderful tour through some of France’s best wine and culinary classics. The Burgundy region produces some of France's most famous wines, with its well drained limestone soil providing the perfect conditions for certain grape varieties to thrive. We began with dainty canapés as we sat by the roaring fire: goat’s cheese fritters and pork rillettes were particular highlights. The first course was a beautiful, delicate plate of seared wood pigeon breast, carrot and cumin puree, scorched bok choi and hazelnuts. The rich, gamey flesh of the pigeon was a beautiful match for a slightly smoky Pinot Noir, produced by 10th generation winemaker Rene Monnier. The thin skin of the grapes gives the wine a light colour and flavour, which didn’t overpower the delicate combination of earthy game and hazelnuts. Game is such an underused ingredient, so I really appreciate it when restaurants make the effort to showcase such fantastic local produce. Next, my favourite dish of the evening: a vibrant salad of sweet fresh crab, gloriously flavoursome heritage tomatoes, aged parmesan, baby basil and garlic croutons. This was an incredibly fresh, zingy combination, the tangy sweetness of the tomatoes perfect with the fragrant basil and delicate crab. We paired it with a Chardonnay, again from Rene Monnier, who uses malolactic fermentation to give a creamy nose and better ageing potential to the wine. Its pleasant acidity makes it a good partner to pork and fish, and it managed to combine with the assertive salad to excellent effect.
The main course was a hearty Burgundian classic: boeuf Bourgignon, with sticky roasted baby carrots, an unctuous sauce and tender, crispy little ‘baguette dumplings’ to soak up all that gravy, deliciously dark and smoky. With it, the Fleurie Les Grand Cedres Beaujolais, whose toasty, almost buttery notes and little tannin mellowed and tempered the rich flavours of the beef.
Although incredibly full by this point, I still managed to polish off half the French cheeseboard, which came beautifully presented (and very generously portioned) with fresh butter, grapes, celery, apple wedges and a variety of biscuits. With this, we drank a Pierre Naigeon Hautes Cote de Nuits, an expensive (around £40 a bottle) red aged in oak barrels with a light acidity and notes of ripe berries and burnt cherries, as well as a hint of vanilla. This was just sweet enough for the French cheeses, without overpowering their subtle flavours. It was probably my favourite of all the wines, and may well have converted me to red wine (I normally much prefer white). I would heartily recommend the wine dinners at the various Ainsty Group venues – the price is fantastic value for some beautiful, inventive food (presented in Yorkshire portion sizes!), and the chance to try a new selection of interesting and carefully crafted wines. The drama of the group dining experience and the knowledge of the staff about the food and wine is an added bonus, as is the warm, cosy atmosphere of the pubs.
I dined at the Chequers as a guest of the management; all opinions are my own.
The Craven Arms, Appletreewick
This is the country pub you always dream of stumbling across, and rarely do. Nestled in a gorgeous corner of the Yorkshire dales near Skipton (a short drive from Bolton Abbey, which is definitely worth a visit for the wonderful walking and dramatic ruins), the pub looks out onto sweeping moors and hills and is worth a visit for the drive alone. It’s beautiful in summer, when you can go walking in the surrounding countryside, but I think it’s at its best in winter, when the fire is roaring and its ramshackle wooden beams and quirky décor (including various hunting paraphernalia, items found by local metal detectors and a jar of mobile phones suspended in water, with the label 'Phones found being used in this pub') make it a perfect place to snuggle down and treat yourself to some of the best pub food I’ve ever eaten. The menu is short but enticing, and changes daily. It’s written on a blackboard beside the bar (you can see it online every day, as they have a webcam pointing at it!), and is full of gastropub classics (gammon and pineapple, fish and chips, steak and ale pie) combined with more interesting, seasonal fare: roast grouse; roast partridge with butternut squash and cider sauce; seared rabbit loin with chorizo and pearl barley stew; venison steak with potato dauphinoise; pumpkin ravioli with local goat’s cheese.
Everything is beautifully presented and served with care and attention to detail. This being Yorkshire, the pies come with proper shortcrust pastry and incredible gravy and chips – the rabbit and chorizo pie, when it’s on the menu, is something you should not miss under any circumstances. The starters are elegant and refined – think delicate goat’s cheese fritters with pickled beetroot slices and micro leaves, or gin-cured gravadlax. Also unmissable is the sticky toffee pudding, which comes with toffee ice cream, and they do a fine baked white chocolate cheesecake with passionfruit, too. I’ve never had a bad meal here, and I go as regularly as I can – it’s by far my favourite pub in the UK. Highly, heartily recommended – every visit there is an absolute treat.
Ambiente, York & Leeds
This tapas bar has two branches in York – a smaller one on Goodramgate, and a larger, newer venue on Fossgate. I prefer the latter for the atmosphere and open kitchen. This is tapas that branches out from the tried-and-tested paella and chorizo formula (although it does both of these very well – the caramelized chorizo and potato tapas is not to be missed). The menu is divided into fish, meat and vegetarian tapas, plus paellas (these are cooked to order, so take around 30 minutes to arrive). It changes regularly, but always features unusual and enticing combinations: seared sea trout with a creamy sauce; slow cooked goat with pomegranate seeds and flatbread; a plantain and butternut squash curry with a creamy lemongrass sauce; deep-fried goat’s cheese with honey and beetroot crisps; glazed pigeon breast with Moroccan bulgur wheat; cod cheeks poached in a parsley and white wine sauce; green beans with pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes; mushrooms with caramelized shallots and tarragon cream. The flavours embrace Spain’s diverse culinary heritage, ranging from Middle Eastern and North African to European and South American. They also have a huge menu of different sherries, and recommend particular pairings with food. The desserts (unlikely that you’ll have room, but try!) are also imaginative and satisfying – I particularly liked the almond and orange scented sbriciolata crumble cake. This is a great place to go with groups, as they have designed special sharing menus for large parties, but also for an atmospheric lunch or dinner (there’s a good set lunch offer), where you can take your pick from the enticing flavours on offer.