Picture two fine dishes – a trembling cheddar cheese soufflé of helium lightness and a brooding French onion soup of unfathomable depth – while I tell you a story.
In the mid-1980s, I was contacted by a chef from Wetherby who was vibrating with excitement about a restaurant located between two former pits in West Yorkshire. He thought it worthy of a review. As he was no slouch in the kitchen, I took him at his word. But frankly things didn’t look promising.
The place he’d nominated was a busy roadside pub, the Kaye Arms at Grange Moor, popular for safety-first staples like prawn cocktail, scampi, chicken-in-a-basket and gammon and eggs. It also had the world’s swirliest carpet. No need for extra stimulants here, one glance was the equivalent of two pints.
But at the rear, and known only to few, was a wood-panelled snug curtained from the throng and with seats for perhaps two dozen. This was the Ash Restaurant, the holy-of-holies, where chef Adrian Quarmby indulged his passion for serious, mainly French, food. Cookery books, including everything by Elizabeth David, lined the window bottoms. It was here that his signature cheese soufflé began its rise to glory alongside fish, meat and game in an unfussy display of bright neo-classicism and secure technique.
As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, this menu came to dominate the whole enterprise. The family-run Kaye Arms was now the place to go for rillettes of pork, jambon persillé, chicken liver and foie gras parfait, boudin noir, confit of duck with garlic roast potatoes or lamb with Provencale stew.
And then about five years ago, the family sold it to a pub firm. The recession arrived but after more troughs than peaks, it is good to see that it has found fresh purpose under a bright chef, Chris Kelly.
Fast forward to 2013 and the solid stone village of Kirkburton where Adrian Quarmby and his wife Nicola, having rested for a time in France, have started a new café/bistro. It’s not the first restaurant to occupy the site, but it is the best. Chinese and Italian owners once toiled here but, decoratively, there’s no trace of their legacy.
The small dining room is spare and modern: white walls are relieved by grey blinds and the striking black bar finds an echo in a wall-mounted blackboard.
While the room is not long, those with tables at the front should take binoculars to avoid staring at diners seated beneath the rear-wall blackboard. That’s the trouble: the price of a freshly-chalked menu is social intrusion, especially if you’re short-sighted and need to stand close to it. On my first visit, I gazed for so long that a woman asked if I was going to propose. We marry on Thursday.
Mind you, it’s worth gazing at. Here’s a taste: goat’s cheese parcel on pepper stew, chanterelle risotto, smoked duck with walnuts and apple, marinated quail with celeriac and orange salad, pig’s cheek cassoulet, braised rabbit, boeuf à la bourguignonne, rib-eye with bataille (fried, cubed) potatoes and roast onion salad, pigeon with lentils, chicken breast with wild mushroom sauce, sea bass on Mediterranean vegetables.
There are many virtues to this repertoire, not least its individuality and conviction – and tightly focused flavours. The chef is a Francophile and has plainly absorbed more than the surface manners of the cuisine he loves.
That became brilliantly apparent in the onion soup. I’ve criss-crossed France in search of good soupe à l’oignon, to be rewarded by feeble brews the colour of silt. Nothing feeble about this: armies could fuel ballistic missiles with it.
Richness doesn’t start to describe it. The onions are reduced to a dark stickiness before being conjured into a mahogany broth. Some cheese-topped croutons are set afloat and that’s it.
A co-equal star is the Cheddar cheese soufflé. Translated from the Kaye Arms, it has lost none of its soothing splendour. It wobbles up to the table in a dish moated with a cheese sauce whose suavity induces a whimper. In short, the menu delights and surprises at every turn. How else to explain a main course of lamb-leg steak that had been marinated in herbs and wine to yield a plashy pink interior?
Lunch brings some lighter dishes plus specials: perhaps fish and shellfish gratin with sauce Americaine, fish cake with tartare sauce and crayfish rocket salad or French black pudding with bubble and squeak and poached egg.
Would that more neighbourhood restaurants were like this. That said, there are a couple of duff notes. Bread is one. There are no side plates – this, remember, is a corner of France in a corner of Kirkburton – and it arrives in a brown paper bag. But even that questionable novelty can be betrayed by indifferent contents. The pudding menu – scripted on a small mobile backboard – offered a tarte tatin one evening. Decent ingredients, but it arrived too quickly to convince it had just been baked. A classic tatin would be great. The wine list is short, interesting and biased towards France. Service in this buzzy place is crisply organised by Nicola Quarmby and her daughter Lauren, a young woman of uncommon presence. One warning: although the Dyeworks has been open only a few weeks, booking is essential for dinner.
The Dyeworks, 22a North Road, Kirkburton, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD8 0RH. 01484 602891. Open: Tuesday, Wednesday 9am to 5pm. Thursday, Friday, Saturday 9am to 11pm. Street parking, disabled access.