There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Friday, 26 July 2013

Pateley Bridge and the Yorke Arms

Like last year, our wedding anniversary foray into the world of fine dining took us to God’s Own County. We even followed the same route as far as Bolton Abbey, but then, instead of heading east we continued north along Wharfedale.

We turned right, following a smaller road which climbed into a side valley and thence onto Greenhow Hill. Half way up we took an even smaller road through the remote hamlet of Skyreholme to its end at Parcevall Hall.

Sir John Yorke purchased this land in 1549 and the earliest parts of Parcevall Hall date from his tenure. Sir John Milner bought the by then dilapidated hall in 1924, rebuilt it and landscaped the gardens. The hall is now a retreat centre for the Bradford diocese, but the gardens are open to the public.

A rose garden and rockery stand above the house…..

Lynne in the rockery, Parcevall Hall

…..which is a low rambling building of solid Yorkshire stone….

Parcevall Hall, North Yorkshire
…while below it a series of terraces tumble down the sun-drenched hillside. (Other weather conditions are available, and this being North Yorkshire….)

Terraced gardens, Parcevall Hall
Pateley Bridge, the biggest settlement in Nidderdale, is the other side of Greenhow Hill. The town attracts many visitors on a fine summer’s day and we saw the Nidderdale museum, thoughtfully laid out in the former workhouse….
The Nidderale Museum in the old workhouse
Pateley Bridge
… and bought an ice cream at the ‘oldest sweet shop in England’.

Lynne eats an ice cream, Pateley Bridge

We continued to Ramsgill, five miles further up the dale past Gouthwaite Reservoir - which features in the opening credits of Emmerdale.

Like Parcevall Hall, Ramsgill was owned by the Yorke family and in 1840 they rebuilt the hamlet as a cluster of handsome stone buildings round a green.

The centrepiece was the inn, the Yorke Arms, now a ‘restaurant with rooms’. Head chef and co-owner Frances Atkins was awarded a Michelin star in 2003 and has maintained it ever since.
The Yorke Arms and the village green, Ramsgill

Our room overlooked the green, but we had pre-dinner drinks and studied the menu on the rear patio beside a brook, overlooking a field and surrounded by lavender and curry plants. Our drinks were accompanied by a slate bearing 3 small mouthfuls and a few flavoured almonds and hazelnuts.

The chickpea purée dusted with black seeds (nigella?) on a tiny biscuit was pleasant, the salmon with salmon mousse on a round of brioche was excellent, but the tiny cube of pork rillettes flavoured with a bloblet of intensely concentrated apple sauce, was toe-curlingly wonderful. There was a nasturtium flower or two as well; they added little except colour, but are a feature of the Yorke Arms experience.

A cottage in Ramsgill
Just as we started to think it was too cool to sit outside we were told our table was ready and we moved into the dining room. Tables were well separated and pleasingly large for two, though foursomes were eating at the same sized table. There were almost as many waiters as tables and service was attentive but not obtrusive.
The dining room, The Yorke Arms

A tray of breads, sourdough, cheese bread, wholemeal, arrived with a bowl of olive oil and some butter. The oil was the finest I have ever dipped my bread in, its deep olive flavour a million miles away from the stuff we get from the supermarket. I checked out the butter, too. It was good, but did not stand out in the same way – I am not sure butter can.

The amuse bouche was a disc of pea purée, surmounted by a few tiny pealed peas (is life not too short to peal a pea?) and a nasturtium petal. The flavour of fresh peas is always pleasingly, but this was raised to another level by the gentle application of a blow-torch to create a sort of pea brulée.

There were two menus with four or five choices per course. The Yorke House Classics looked interesting, but on such a day the ‘taste of summer menu’ was irresistible.

Lynne’s starter of ‘truffled rabbit with chicken press’ was wrapped in thin ham. A similar dish at La Bécasse had been overwhelmed by the smokiness of its wrapping, but here everything was in harmony, and set off by tiny mushrooms, the inevitable nasturtium petals and the discovery, deep in the ‘press’, of a burst of intensely sweet pickle. Lynne was happy with her starter, though she could detect no truffle flavour.

I had chosen ‘three smoked fish’ and was presented with a circle of small parcels surrounding a blob of green and left to work out what was what.  Most of the parcels were wrapped in shaved courgette, but a piece of langoustine sat alone. There was smoked mackerel and smoked swordfish, salmon mousse and a small pile of the tiniest shrimps anyone ever bothered to peel. That is what I thought I ate, but I cannot rule out a misidentification or two.  The word ‘pistachio’ had appeared on the menu and I presumed that was the central green blob, but sadly it failed to deliver. Although impressed by the cleverness, I liked the dish, but did not love it.

Lynne’s main was turbot, which had been heavily pushed earlier and, looking round us, seemed a popular choice. The fine and delicate flavour of the fish had been enhanced by light and sympathetic cooking. The turbot was partnered by a large scallop and accompanied by spinach, a skinned cherry tomato, a blob of mashed potato, pea purée and a few baby peas. The scallop was hardly cooked; soft and wonderfully flavoured it had been steeped in a sauce we could not at first identify. We wiped up the remains on the plate with our fingers, licked them and realised it was vanilla. It was the first unusual flavour combination of the evening and it should never have worked, but it did, perfectly.

My ‘shin of rose veal’ had some of the cheaper, slow cooked meat and slightly more of an expensive shorter cooked cut. Both were excellent as was the sweetbread, a piece of offal that requires, and on this occasion received, precise cooking. A roundel of carrot on the veal exploded with the extraordinarily sweet flavour of amaretto. Tasting again, unable to believe it, I found amaretto mingling with the jus. Then a baby turnip smeared with potato cleared my nasal passages with an onrush of mustard. I was losing faith in the ability of my eyes to predict the next flavour. Was this brilliant or dire? I finished the plate and found myself wanting more, so I decided it must be brilliant.

This mixture of fish and meat could have made choosing a wine difficult had not the summer sunshine suggested rosé. Sancerre rosé is never cheap, but the restaurant mark-up made it distinctly expensive, moreso as it delivered nicely on acidity, but could have done with more fruit.

My dessert involved a lychee soufflé, which was good if not very lychee-y, an almond biscuit and a jasmine tea sorbet, which was delightful, possibly the second best sorbet I have ever tasted. The best was the coconut sorbet in Lynne’s dessert which so powerfully concentrated the flavour of coconut it made my ears ring. The peach praline and rose petal jelly were excellent, too. A glass of Rustenberg ‘straw wine’, a South African take on the traditional Italian practice of concentrating flavours by drying grapes on straw mats, slipped down easily. It was ‘an unctuous dessert wine, with moreish flavours of marmalade and stone fruit’ to quote a wine merchant who sells it. It could not have been better.

Coffee and petits fours in the lounge produced a pleasing selection of sweeties, a ball of ice-cream encased in white chocolate particularly stood out.

And so ended a meal which lived up to its Michelin star billing. Frances Atkins is one of only six women in Britain to hold such an award. Her style is essential traditional but with sudden outbreaks of quirkiness, some of which border on brilliance, others misfire, but all were worth trying.

Frances Atkins
(Picture filched from Great British Chefs (click to see video))

The meal was well balanced, and although individual dishes were small the overall quantity left us well fed but not stuffed, thus allowing us to enjoy the breakfast we had already paid for.
Lynne ready for Breakfast
The Yorke Arms, Ramsgill

And what does a Michelin starred kitchen do for a full English breakfast. Firstly they use top quality ingredients – the bacon and black pudding were sublime. And then there was the scrambled egg. Traditionally I scramble eggs on a Saturday morning; this time I let the Yorke Arms do it. I had thought I was pretty good, but now I must reassess my technique, I never get it this buttery, this creamy, this smooth, this…. I could go on.