Restaurant review: Prayers answered

A main course of slow roast local pork belly with crispy crackling, apple mash, black pudding, cider and pork jus at The Sawley Arms, Sawley near Ripon.
A main course of slow roast local pork belly with crispy crackling, apple mash, black pudding, cider and pork jus at The Sawley Arms, Sawley near Ripon.
  • The reports were right, says Elaine Lemm, the Sawley Arms is a real gem.
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As he took the two large gulps of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, my husband declared it as “a cracking pint.” Anyone who knows him understands this is high praise indeed. It certainly took me by surprise with him being unknown for over-enthusing. We had stopped off at the Sawley Arms, close to Fountains Abbey, for a quick drink following a lovely long walk. As the pub had been on my radar 
for a while, I was curious to see what all the fuss is.

The smart country pub is certainly impressive in its neatness from the car park, the lovely gardens and throughout the pub. And, late on a Sunday afternoon, it was still very busy. In the bar area and cosy dining rooms, there were several people eating. Unusually in an old country pub like this, there is modern private dining room, in which an extended family were enjoying Sunday lunch. My least favourite area – a somewhat stark conservatory – was unsurprisingly empty.

A starter of Yorkshire Blue and caramelised red onion tart with red cabbage and celeriac coleslaw  at  The Sawley Arms, Sawley near Ripon.

A starter of Yorkshire Blue and caramelised red onion tart with red cabbage and celeriac coleslaw at The Sawley Arms, Sawley near Ripon.

We were happily propped up at the bar in a tiny snug watching the comings and goings when a waitress walked past with two plates loaded with a rather tempting looking Sunday roast. There was no discussion if they had room; we were staying. Not only was there room, but also the perfect table by the window in the small dining room and close to the fire.

At home, we never have a starter with Sunday lunch. Not so here. I had already set my cap to a beetroot gravadlax, spied earlier. Across the table, a Yorkshire Blue and caramelised onion tart sparked the second surprise declaration of the lunch.

“No soggy bottoms here,” he announced – and there was me thinking he never watched Bake Off. There was justice in his praise. Despite being a little sparing in size, this was more than made up for by the depth of flavour and the crispest, lightest pastry on the tart. I was just a little jealous of his evident delight. I must find out how they do it.

They had not held back with my plate of gravadlax; there was almost enough to feed two. It was plump, squeaky fresh and loaded up with fat salty capers, and I was delighted with it.

There are several choices for mains, as the Sawley offers their regular menu every day. There is a generous selection of the real pub classics including fish and chips, burgers, belly pork, and venison medallions on offer. For us though, only a roast and Yorkshire puds will cut it on a Sunday. So one beef and one pork it was.

The mains are served just like at home, all on one plate. There is no scrambling around to get the best roasties; it was all there ready and waiting. On both plates, were several thick slices of meat and, for the most part, with the beef pink. The gravy was glossy, thick and packed with meaty flavour. All the vegetables came crisp and perfectly cooked though the roast potatoes were just about to pass their best.

The football-sized Yorkshire puddings were the only disappointment; size is not always the best way to judge a pud. They were quite dry and without any distinct flavour to them. On this, husband said mine are better than the Sawley’s. Phew.

Do not ask me how, but, despite all that food, we ordered dessert. I would never manage that at home, but, we were on a roll and besides, the puddings on offer were simply too good to pass on.

Could you have turned down a whisky and marmalade bread and butter pudding, or rhubarb crumble?

Both were exceptionally good and like the pastry on the tart, the crumble on the rhubarb was buttery and crisp at the same time.

Not only have they got the Sunday lunch cracked here, but they also have an excellent handle on service too. It was keen as they have a lot to feed but was always friendly and helpful. I find being called “madam” in a pub a little over 
formal, but said with the best of intentions I am sure.

The Sawley Arms has been around for a long time but did close for a spell. The pub re-opened in August 2013 under new ownership, and a full refurbishment. Hence why the place looks so well-looked after. Julie Wilks is the manager of the Sawley and with her team, they are 
doing (to borrow my husband’s phrase) 
a cracking job.

It seems all those rumours I heard about the Sawley are true. I will be back for sure.

The Sawley Arms, Sawley, Ripon, HG4 3EQ. 01765 620642. Open, Monday to Saturday, 11am–11pm (food served 11am–2.30pm and 5-9pm. A light lunch menu is served 2.30pm-5pm); Sunday, 12-10.30pm (food served, 12pm-8pm).