Restaurant review: Feast among the follies

Passion fruit mouse, dark chocolate ganache and passion fruit sorbet.
Passion fruit mouse, dark chocolate ganache and passion fruit sorbet.
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Elaine Lemm visits the Saddle Room at North Yorkshire’s quirky Forbidden Corner. Picture James Hardisty.

For six years, a tenacious team has been hard at work up in the Dales. They (in their words) wanted “to strengthen the food and drink offering in the area for local people and visitors”. The area is Tupgill Park near Leyburn, and as it is hardly awash with good eating places, they may be on to something.

If Tupgill Park doesn’t ring any bells, perhaps the Forbidden Corner will. The unique and hugely popular visitor attraction of chambers, follies, labyrinth of tunnels and surprises is home to this new eatery.

The Saddle Room is a four-part establishment and housed in the 200-year-old stable block of the park. The Hay Loft is a for a la carte dining and functions. The Saddle Bar is a more relaxed affair with booths built to replicate stalls, a few tables and a humongous fireplace. There is also a bar and chefs’ table. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the Stable Cellar, the fourth bit; apparently it is lovely. Each of the areas I did see, was individually styled, making it hard to tell where the old stops and new starts. Whoever had been at work with the follies next door had been playing in here too, and though I tried to like it, I struggled. Yes, it is an old stable block, but the forced references to all things equine jarred. That said, this is an adjunct to The Forbidden Corner which draws in vast numbers of visitors who will love it, I am sure.

Our lunch started at a table next to the fireplace in the Saddle Bar. With the fire long gone and an outside door open, the place was freezing. Amazingly not one member of staff seemed to notice a diner sitting wrapped in a coat and scarf rubbing her hands together trying to get warm. However, neither did they notice they gave us drinks menus, went away and did not return for close to ten minutes. Eventually, I gave in and asked to be moved to a booth before frost bite took hold. Within minutes, the fire was once again roaring and an all-round thaw set in.

Being a Sunday lunch, the menu was light and, understandably, with a roast, but well supported with a range of starters, additional main courses and puds. The prices are remarkably good with two courses at £18, three for £22. There is another one-plate menu for those not wanting a full-blown lunch. Again prices are good between £6 and £9 each with choices like bangers and mash, Yorkshires with beef and gravy, though I will admit potted shrimp and guacamole sounds a little odd.

They boast head chef Tom Morrell being a finalist in Professional Masterchef. Sorry Tom, I haven’t watched the tedious programme for years. Personally, I let the food do the talking and here, talk it did.

A pea, asparagus and ham soup was spot on. The bang-on-season asparagus shone through despite the meaty bite of ham. The soup was silky smooth and gratifyingly hot. However, a trio of duck and squash outshone it. The presentation which on so many plates can look fussy, here was neat, fresh and alluring. Every component stood its ground; meaty duck, the squishy squash centre, and just enough fig and port jam (chefs please take note) to support rather than swamp.

Sunday cannot pass without a roast, and this one was almost textbook; had they been a little more generous with the roasties and the veg, who knows what I may have said. A slab of sirloin came with a thick layer of fat, thus the meat was meltingly good with a thump of flavour. Gravy was more jus like, and shared the silky texture of the soup. Veg was excellent, just a little sparse.

How cross was I that I had chosen the veggie offering in order to give this review some perspective. I stared longingly at the roast as I chomped on a rather odd plate of square tarragon gnocchi. The little chunks were redeemed by some fresh English beetroot and a hefty cep purée. A goats cheese mousse and curd could have been a little more goaty; a punch of flavour would have lifted everything. Overall it was perfectly acceptable and may have had a better write up was it not overshadowed by that sirloin.

Not a problem with the puds. Sticky toffee was nigh-on perfect. A selection of local cheese was more than acceptable and more delightful as it did not have a supplement slammed on it.

With 100,000 visitors pouring into the Forbidden Corner every year, the Saddle Room has a captive audience. The food and drink are beyond the normal fodder churned out to such high numbers, so there is certainly something extra special going on here. Locals and visitors should be very happy. I was, despite not liking equine paraphernalia, and once I had warmed up.

The Saddle Room Restaurant, 
• Tupgill Park, Coverdale, Leyburn. North Yorks. DL8 4TJ Tel: 01969 640 596. Food Served 12 – 9pm, Mon – Thurs and 12 – 9.30 pm Fri, Sat. Sun noon – 5pm.