Cap­tain Crab, in the Print Room, with a cheese slice

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Bolton Abbey, Skip­ton, N Yorks BD23 6AJ

01756 718111; thede­von­ Three course à la carte menu: £65 (about £100 with wine, cof­fee and

ser­vice); “Sur­prise”

tast­ing menu: £75 (£125 with match­ing


Our jour­ney to the York­shire Dales had not been an easy or a gra­cious one, and the ef­fects of six blad­der­tor­ment­ing hours on all the car’s oc­cu­pants was plain. The woman in­side the Sat­nav had lost her pa­tience. Her queru­lous tone when I made my 11th emer­gency U-turn sug­gested that a 12th would lead her to aban­don the niceties, and scream: “Are you ac­tu­ally a sim­ple­ton? Did you not hear me say ‘in 400 yards, take the turn­ing on the left?’, or are you do­ing this to wind me up?”

Mean­while, the friend who had per­sis­tently ar­gued for the car’s aban­don­ment at var­i­ous rail­way sta­tions (Kings Cross, Lu­ton and Coven­try) fought a brave if fu­tile rear­guard to keep the re­prov­ing edge from his voice. “Let the train take the strain,” he mut­tered mo­rosely. “My God,” he ex­ploded, be­lat­edly re­call­ing who had fronted that Bri­tish Rail ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign, “I’m quot­ing Jimmy Sav­ile ap­prov­ingly. This is what you’ve re­duced me to.”

All in all, it was not in the sun­ni­est of moods that we ar­rived at the Devon­shire Arms, perched on the edge of the Dales in 30,000 acres of its own land. I men­tion this by way of full dis­clo­sure, lest ir­ri­tabil­ity af­fected the old crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties; for nei­ther the ho­tel nor its feted restau­rant matched our ex­pec­ta­tions. For years, an ac­quain­tance who stays there when sit­ting as a fam­ily di­vi­sion judge in Leeds had raved about this flag­ship of the Duke of Devon­shire’s elite ho­tel ar­mada.

With a long, bungalow-es­que mod­ern de­vel­op­ment tacked on to the orig­i­nal house, it is no Chatsworth. But the scenery is gor­geous, a vast log fire in the lobby thaws glacial spir­its, and the staff are ex­pert and friendly in the cor­po­rate: “Can I get any­thing for you two gen­tle­men your­selves this evening for your­selves?” man­ner. We liked the com­fort­ing so­lid­ity of a bar which could, with the lone ad­di­tion of a crys­tal ra­dio cab­i­net, moon­light as an Agatha Christie set.

The ma­jor dis­ap­point­ment – and it was ma­jor, this, af­ter all, be­ing a restau­rant re­view – was the restau­rant. Named af­ter a clan of earls who mar­ried into the Devon­shires in the 18th cen­tury, Burling­ton feels slightly but nag­gingly mis­guided.

Ini­tially, we were seated in what struck us as an over­flow area by a jolly man­ager who, de­spite the empty ta­bles we could see through a door­way, in­sisted the main bit was full. He quickly and el­e­gantly re­pented, and led us within. “This is a very brown room,” ob­served my friend. “Very male.” It is a shade mas­cu­line, al­beit in a del­i­cate, post-Re­gency way, with a plethora of an­cient ar­chi­tec­tural draw­ings join­ing the portraits on mush­room-coloured walls.

The Burling­ton re­cently hired a very young and promis­ing head chef. The 25-year-old Adam Smith ev­i­dently has flair and abil­ity, though we sensed a se­ri­ous tal­ent shack­led to a cui­sine – a kind of neo-nou­velle, with weeny serv­ings and the em­pha­sis on aes­thet­ics – that suits nei­ther him nor the set­ting. This is clever, artful, prissy food of the kind that in­vari­ably leaves you crav­ing a Big Mac, when the build­ing and lo­ca­tion call for vi­brancy and earth­i­ness. My friend’s crab salad came in pan­cake form, to re­sem­ble Viet­namese sum­mer rolls, en­cir­cled with out­moded blobs of green and pink. The crab was im­pec­ca­bly fresh, and the taste light and zingy (too zingy, in fact, thanks to dom­i­neer­ing le­mon zest), though this was a weirdly unsea­sonal dish for a dank and misty win­ter night. My foie gras ter­rine (or “goose liver” as the menu put it in a stab at cut­ting through the “faine dain­ing” shtick with a bit of York­shire plain speak­ing) was vel­vety and de­li­cious, and came with an ef­fete, show-offy piece of ginger­bread styled af­ter a chef’s hat.

If the lead at­trac­tion here is a ca­pa­cious, fan­tas­ti­cally well­priced and fa­bled wine list, the run­ner-up is the ba­sic qual­ity of in­gre­di­ents. The meat and much of the veg are farmed on the grounds, and it shows. Beer-fed Dex­ter beef, with turnip and a mush­room purée, was ex­cel­lent, though the jus had been overre­duced, and was too in­tense. “This beef is ex­cel­lent,” said my friend, “but the por­tion… Not that this nou­velle re­vival isn’t hugely ex­cit­ing…” My pep­pered veni­son, ac­cu­rately cooked to a ruby red fin­ish, worked well with truf­fle shav­ings and chest­nut, but clashed with the sweet­ness of a spongy glazed pear. If you brag about the re­liance on fresh, lo­cal pro­duce, do not serve pear in De­cem­ber.

“I’m go­ing straight for the cheese,” said my friend, “and I’m treat­ing it like a sec­ond main course.” We can all dream. The slices were cut im­pos­si­bly thin, as if to chal­lenge the laws of physics. But the cheeses – par­tic­u­larly a lo­cal ched­dar and an époisses (the lat­ter so vi­ciously pun­gent that it is a crime in France to take it on pub­lic trans­port) were su­perb.

For all that, it had been only a par­tially sat­is­fy­ing din­ner, though over the cof­fee my sweet-na­tured friend ap­pointed him­self lead coun­sel for the de­fence. “I re­ally en­joyed that, and you’re not to up­set the staff,” he said.

“But 10 min­utes ago, you said the food was Bri­tish Air­ways first class.” “I did, and I loved it.” “So you’d come back?” “It’s an ab­so­lute de­light. But if I brought the mis­sus here for the weekend on the back of a rave re­view from you,” he con­cluded, “I would kill you, very slowly, with my bare hands.”

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