Less is definitely more says Elaine Lemm as she discovers the secrets of Yorebridge House’s critical acclaim.
The delight I always feel on driving through the Yorkshire Dales never wanes. I doubt it ever will. In the fading light at the end of an unseasonably warm autumn day, I swear they have never looked more beautiful. As we sweep through the picturesque village of Bainbridge in Upper Wensleydale, I am amused to see yellow bunting still sweetly fluttering around the vast village green. Who can blame their reluctance to let go of these remaining symbols of that remarkable July day when Le Tour swept through the village?
Our destination is Yorebridge House about a half a mile beyond. I have been there several times over the six years since David, and Charlotte Reilly renovated the imposing former headmaster’s stone house. I am always impressed by the way Yorebridge sits so well in its dramatic background. In those six years, Charlotte has sprinkled her interior-design talents across the stunningly beautiful bedrooms, smart restaurant and bar; David his management and business skills throughout. Together they have created one of the most talked-about Yorkshire hotels for a long time.
The food, however, fluctuated with the seemingly-frequent change of chefs. It has never been below par, but lacked a certainty of direction. That is until the arrival of Head Chef, Dan Shotton last year resulting in Yorebridge receiving 3 AA Rosettes at the AA Hospitality Awards 2014 this September. That they are the only restaurant with rooms in Yorkshire to receive this much-coveted award, just adds to the accolade.
So what of Dan’s food? He has pared the menu down to five starters, mains and puddings. Each dish has a leading ingredient (scallop, pigeon, lamb, duck... nothing new there) plus supporting elements. Though this simplification may at first appear to be an easier way of cooking, it is the opposite. In stripping away all the fluff and puff, what becomes imperative is skill and quality ingredients
Dan has both in abundance but that alone could not bring in the three glittery rosettes. He is also supported by a great team in the kitchen, an accomplished front of house and the trust of David and Charlotte to work his magic.
We pushed aside pigeon, salmon and venison starters for a tempting hand dived scallop dish and another with poached fig. If they sound simple, they were not. The chubby scallops glistened on the plate and came surrounded by matchsticks of Granny Smith, smears of delicate celeriac purée, pear and crisp shards of chicken wing. Definitely a happy-ever-after marriage on a plate if I ever saw one. Though lacking any flesh, the fig dish did not suffer in the substance stakes. The lovely ripe fruit was amply supported by fresh walnuts, celery and one of my favourite goats’ cheese from Yellinson Farm.
Mains again sounded uncomplicated but came packed with attention to detail, flavour and creativity. Thick slices of tender, melting best end of lamb and a confit of shoulder lay on the plate surrounded by Chanterelles, broccoli, and sweet pine nuts. However, the star on the night was wild halibut, which came with langoustine, slivers of cauliflower florets, baby leeks and (thankfully) just a faint waft of truffle. The fish was an accomplished piece of cooking revealing thick, chunks of perfectly seasoned fish. The memory of that fish will forever remain with me as my benchmark for halibut. And, if I were to be super-picky I would have liked it just a tad warmer.
In true three-rosette style, we had been served with canapés, three different breads, an amuse bouche and finally, a pre-dessert, leaving no room for real dessert. So we settled on cheese, though we could have enjoyed panna-cotta, a chocolate pave, plum parfait or crème brulée. The next day we did admit regret at the missed chance; Dan is an accomplished pastry chef. The cheeses though were excellent and served unusually with Lavoche (Armenian crispbread). Only three of the six came from Yorkshire, but we felt generous enough to overlook this. We couldn’t, however, overlook the slightly raw chutney served alongside.
Yorebridge has made a great name for itself in just a few years which is remarkable as David and Charlotte are not from a hospitality background. What they have done so well is to find the right people. Their hand picked team have done them proud, and now they can add Dan to that list because Yorebridge has finally found its food. The food offering is now perfectly aligned with what has made the hotel so special. The relaxed yet stylish décor; the warm yet still exceptionally professional staff; the seemingly effortless attention to even the smallest detail.
Thank you David and Charlotte for giving me another reason to head up into the Dales (not that I needed one).
• Yorebridge House, Bainbridge, Leyburn, North Yorkshire DL8 3EL. 01969 652060, www.yorebridgehouse.co.uk. Three-course menu at £45 per person (exceptional value for this quality of food) making dinner for two with pre dinner drinks and wine £132.
Light bites and afternoon tea available during the day. Dinner, daily, 7-9pm; light bites lunch and afternoon tea, daily, 12-3pm; Sunday lunch, 12-2.30pm.