Restaurant review: The Dunsforth, Lower Dunsforth, North Yorkshire

Roast Cod. Cockles White Bean Cassaulet, with Leek and Potato foam.
Roast Cod. Cockles White Bean Cassaulet, with Leek and Potato foam.
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There’s the odd teething problem, but given time Elaine Lemm reckons The Dunsforth is definitely onto ‘a good thing’.

When is the right time to review a new restaurant? It’s a tricky one. Too soon, with the restaurant not yet settled, is risky – unless for gratuitous provocation, as is the want of some reviewers. Leave it too long and the newbie misses much-needed promotion and the reader a new place to try. It is a struggle I tackle frequently.

Chef Paul Cunliffe and his wife Janine opened The Dunsforth, in Lower Dunsforth, near Boroughbridge, in late August. I couldn’t make the opening party but popped in the following Sunday and liked what I saw. Having known Paul from his stint as the head chef at Harvey Nichols in Leeds, I felt confident it would not take him an age to get into his stride. I went back two weeks later to review and will admit – I should have waited longer.

The renovation of what was a slightly, down-at-heel pub is nothing less than impressive. From the new sandstone floors, immense inglenook fireplace and shiny bar through to the spotless cutlery, crockery and tasteful glassware, the changes are striking. The horsey theme, including the whimsy, nostalgia-laden wallpaper used throughout, seems a little forced. Though not to my taste, it works in this setting.

The two rooms designated for drinkers, however, need a little work – this is, after all, supposedly also a pub. Though having undergone the same standard of renovation, the current layout looks more like an overspill to the restaurant. I feel both would benefit from more convivial seating. And, on a chilly September night, lighting the fire would have helped warm the atmosphere, not just the room. There is nothing lacking in the ambiance of the restaurant though. It is a lovely space.

Paul offers two menus, a prix fixe and an à la carte, and we could order from either or both. As they were extremely appealing, choosing became complex – for me at least. The wine list is equally captivating including 12 wines by the glass.

Dinner started with a tiny amuse of spinach and mushroom, followed, surprisingly, by a bowl of delicious olives and nuts – better served with our drinks in the bar, I think. Bread arrived after the starters. Oops. Thankfully, these were the only errors with the service, and the nattily dressed, cheerful staff zipped around all evening, very much on purpose, yet still finding time to chat to guests.

A starter of plump, sweet scallops may have benefited from a moment or two more in the pan but the black pudding alongside was sublime, packed with spice and flavour. The accompanying cauliflower promised curry but that was hard to find.

A parfait of Beverley duck wrapped in a meltingly soft confit on a bed of sticky, sweet cherry was the star of the evening, bringing with it the reassurance of Paul’s competence in the kitchen.

A duo of beef – a rib-eye and a long, slow cooked braise – was equally reassuring, though the steak sloped more to medium than the promised rare. The jus was dense, rich and packed with flavour and tiny chanterelles added a welcome change of texture. A highly recommended dish.

Sadly, the cards came tumbling down with the vegetarian main.

A lasagna of roast pumpkin and wild mushrooms was pretty as a picture on the plate; the pasta circles neatly stacked and oozing the pumpkin; mushrooms and what turned out to be an odd assortment of nuts surrounded the pile with another flavour-packed jus. So far, so good. However, the flavours were so disjointed I couldn’t eat it. The pumpkin was overwhelmed with sage, the texture of the pasta fine but the aforementioned nuts discordant. Very disappointing given all the other dishes I could have chosen.

Onwards and upwards though and we felt happily eager in ordering an assiette of desserts, though we also debated ordering cheese as there is a lovely range to choose from. We were not disappointed. Lemon pannacotta received a massive thumbs up as did a taste of strawberry (jelly, mousse et al) and a meltingly good chocolate fondant. Peanut butter parfait didn’t work too well but dehydrated raspberries and their explosion of flavour in the mouth were my favourite; I loved them.

To end on a high note, the price of the food and the wine at the Dunsforth is possibly the most reasonable I have come across in a long time, with three courses for two, wine, water and service at £78. Incredible. I find it hard to criticise this young couple and their team because fundamentally they have created a cracking restaurant.

All the slips above are simply teething problems with their hearts well and truly in the right place.

Would I go back? You bet I would. I have the utmost confidence in them.

All they need is a little more time and for the team to communicate more on what to serve when and with what. Otherwise, a cracking start packed with future promise.

The Dunsforth Pub, Lower Dunsforth, North Yorkshire YO26 9SA. Tel: 01423 320700. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11am-11pm (food served noon-2.30pm and 5.30-10pm). Sunday, noon-10.30pm (food noon-early evening).