Three brothers have revived a former award-winning village eatery, writes Elaine Lemm. Picture by James Hardisty.
I am always sad when a restaurant closes, whatever the reason, especially one I once praised. I have no idea what happened to the Aldwark Arms, but the doors slammed shut last year.
Inheriting bad feelings and prolific poor reviews can be a problem for a new owner. That is unless you are the Hardisty brothers. Locals Pete, Ian and Andy have taken the former award-winning village eatery, knocked it apart, rebuilt and reopened in December last year. Little of the former is left including the failing reputation.
The Arms is light, bright and somewhat quirky – check out the Udder Room, the name says it all. The idiosyncratic touches work OK, particularly if you want not to be a typical North Yorkshire country pub.
There are three distinct eating areas, including a conservatory. A well-appointed bar area keeps drinkers-only happy. And (my irk of the evening) there’s a couple of tables in what is best described as a busy thoroughfare. You will guess this is where we sat and I didn’t like it. The constant rush of staff whizzing by, diners in and out between the bar and lavatories does not a relaxing evening make. There was even one young child who thought it a great place to race around unsupervised. Not great.
The oversized, laminated menus are a little frantic and take some sorting out. There’s Asian, Italian and a smattering of good old British. Oh, and there’s a curry of the day, a grill menu, side orders, and to top it off the waitress reels off a list of specials. By this time, I became totally confused and stopped listening. Embarrassingly, I asked she kindly repeat them. She did with a smile she probably reserves for the deaf or elderly, and I paid more attention.
The schizophrenic menu comes about, I am told, because head chef Dave Standford has a passion for Asian-influences in his cooking, Chef Adam for Italian and Jim claims a “proper” chicken Kiev, his specialty.
One dish on the menu had me reeling. We didn’t order it but it deserves a mention. An Aldwark Toll Bridge Mixed Grill comes as pork leek and black pepper sausages, 5oz gammon steak, 4oz rump steak, lamb cutlet, black pudding, deep fried hen’s egg, grilled garnish and fries (£22.95). I heard the heart monitor bleeping rather loudly as I read it.
There’s a hefty range of dishes guaranteed to satiate the carnivore. Equally, there are some great-sounding salads, shoals of fish and seafood and more than just-a-token-gesture for the vegetarians. Despite or because of (I am still not sure) this perceived food frenzy, what they do here is really good. Get your head around the menu and you are in for a treat. By the end of our meal, I may not have forgiven them for our seating arrangements, but I certainly felt more generous in my thoughts.
A shredded Asian Confit Duck salad was as per the description. The Asian flavouring was precise, leaves of various textures a-plenty and a good helping of the duck. Strangely, the duck was a little wet but still tasted excellent. Another starter of Three Little Seasonal Pigs was an interesting plate of a meaty ham hock, a half of a black pudding Scotch egg; Parma ham cooked to a glass-like slither with a few chutneys and syrups to liven it up.
It was the threes and an Asian influence again for the mains. Plate companions on a trio of fish included delicate scallops, grilled prawns and a rather handsome squeaky fresh sea bream. Irresistible butterflied king prawns and a side order of hand cut chips interestingly, knocked spots off all the other main dishes for me. The prawns were meltingly, soft, oozing garlic but not swamped by the flavour. How I wish I’d ordered the option of a round dozen.
The range of luscious, sticky puddings came just as expected in a pub with food. The irresistible chosen brownie sadly didn’t not live up to its promise by being a little on the bland side; it was OK but not much more. Which cannot be said of the cheese board of Yorkshire cheeses at their best. Generous wedges of Yorkshire Blue and a Wensleydale were outshone by a fine-looking, tasty cheddar, with a generous helping of biscuits, celery and a relish.
The wine list at Aldwark deserves a mention with an impressive range of wines by the bottle but then let down by only three unremarkable whites and reds by the glass? We resorted to a bottle from which we had a few glasses and took the rest home. One area of the offering at this otherwise delightful restaurant that perhaps needs a little rethink.
Reflecting on our dinner later that evening I realised this was the first meal in quite some time where we ate everything before us. We had no niggles with the food and are looking forward to going back, which is good as the Aldwark Arms is 15 minutes from home.
I raved about the Aldwark Arms in its last incarnation and I feel much the same about here, regardless of their different approaches. I so hope these guys keep this standard and attention to detail up. If they do, I see great things ahead for them. A welcome and refreshing addition to the Yorkshire dining scene.
The Aldwark Arms, Aldwark, Alne, York, YO61 1UB. 01347 838324, www.aldwarkarms.co.uk. Open Monday to Friday, 12–3pm and 5.30 to 11pm, Saturday and Sunday, 12–10.30pm.