There is no disputing chef/owner Andrew Wilson’s enthusiasm. For knitting. Food too, but we begin our conversation by remembering the side-to-side shooshing sound of a knitting machine operated by our respective mothers in their front rooms circa 1960.
While waiting for my plus one (genial Josh Sutton aka the Guyrope Gourmet whose culinary campsite capers have been documented in this paper), Andrew strolls out of his kitchen to greet his customer(s). We establish I’ve come from Hebden Bridge: ah yes, he says, that’s where Makepiece is. For the uninitiated who did not see the fashion pages in last week’s issue of this magazine, it’s a rather cool shop selling knitted stuff. But with a twist. Wedding dresses, ball gowns and spider-web fine shrugs. The kind of thing Helena Bonham Carter might sport. Andrew visited and was so inspired he tracked down a vintage knitting machine and is currently coaxing it back to use.
It turns out he’s a hands-on kind of guy. His pastry is out of this world (see below).
There’s very much a café/bistro feel here: during the day, very good cakes and coffee are served and it feels quite European. I spent a very happy hour here at lunchtime a week or two ago in the company of a stonking espresso and an exemplary chocolate brownie: there was a good buzz going on.
The evenings feel different. Or at least early on a Tuesday evening in March it does. It’s quite hard to judge the mood of a place when there are only four people in the room; you end up feeling a bit exposed and inclined to whisper.
The efficient, friendly woman serving at lunchtime has been replaced by a cheerful, well-meaning but slightly ditzy young lad who very nearly gets it right. I suggest he needs a bit more steering before he’s let loose on a full room.
A short menu featuring rustic, wholesome dishes is an interesting read, with starters including the likes of moules marinières and goat’s cheese with Mediterranean roast veg. But tapenades and quesadillas stand out. Josh goes for the latter and once I establish the tapenades are home made, my choice is easy.
I win this round; two colourful piles arrive, one made with olives and the other with sun-dried tomatoes and served with toasted brioche. It’s a delightful way to start the meal, the tapenades just the right side of piquant and they rattle my taste buds just like they’re designed to do. The quesadillas are pronounced flavoursome but they don’t look cooked through to me.
It’s quite difficult to choose a main course: Boeuf Carbonnade à la Flamande, Skordalia (a Greek vegetable stew with chick peas, mushrooms and green beans) or venison marinaded in strawberry and Stilton? It’s got to be the latter but it’s not on tonight. Shame. Josh goes for the one-pot herby sausage and bean cassoulet with a weather eye on his next cooking demo under canvas. So it’s the Carbonnade for me and what a triumph: deeply sticky, gloriously tender beef and gravy you can stand a spoon up in topped off with slices of nutty bread spread with mustard, the rich cooking juices seeping up through the bottom of it.
I’ve chosen well again. Josh likes the locally-made garlic and herb pork sausage that replaces the traditional Toulouse variety but would have liked some juices to be slurped up by the accompanying garlic bread. It might just be me, but dry cassoulet is plain wrong.
We fare much better in the pudding department. Gin and Tonic sorbet is three points on your licence in a dish, packing a proper punch and leaving my companion both shaken and stirred. Pear and ginger flan (my timing is brilliant, it comes straight from the oven) is sublime: perfect pastry and a dreamy, fragrant filling.
There’s clearly some passion in the cooking, and certainly a commitment from Andrew to breathe life back into a lovely old building. He’s mindful of limited job opportunities locally and is offering apprenticeships. He supports neighbourhood microbreweries. He buys local and fair trade ingredients and uses energy from environmentally-friendly sources. His intentions are honourable.
But he’s got to get the kitchen right. My dinner was enjoyable, but there were one or two odd decisions elsewhere and this kind of inconsistency needs addressing before I go back for more.
My suggestion would be to stick to the first rate café aspect for a week or two: it’s only a matter of time before the evenings come good.
Frewins Café/Bistro, 113-115 Main Street, Addingham West Yorkshire LS29 0PD; Tel: 01943 831011www.frewinsbistro.co.uk. Dinner for two (three courses each) with a bottle of house wine: £48.12
Open every day 9-5, Tuesday to Saturday evenings from 6pm.