I knew before I went that there would not be much to mutter about darkly. The Fleece Inn had a name for good food for several years under the regime of the locally-renowned Chris Monkman and all that irritated on several visits was the consistent cacophony in the main dining room. Happy eaters are a convivial bunch and they chatter and make noise to be heard above everyone else and it all bounces off the stone floor and hard wooden surfaces.
At the end of 2011, the lease from Punch Taverns was taken on by the Minto family – Scots with a desire to cook good food. They had been there before, run by Ian Minto, while his son Craig trained at the Devonshire Arms in Bolton Abbey. Then Ian Minto sold the business to Chris Monkman and moved to Spain with Craig to run a restaurant.
Today, Craig is in charge of their pub restaurants, with the Fleece joining the Gray Ox, in Liversedge, near Dewsbury, and the Sun Inn, Dalkeith, Edinburgh. Accolades include AA pub of the year and Scottish gastropub of the year for the Sun Inn and Marston’s food pub of the year for the Gray Ox. A delicatessen at The Fleece should open in March, with cookery courses on the way. Head chef David Clokey has been with the Mintos for many years. It all looks promising.
So, it’s Saturday night. The car park is full and when you step inside you can tell it is popular and confident. Signage to amuse: mucky boots and mutts in the room to the left, posh frocks and high heels to the right. A droit we went. Our reserved table for two was maybe 20 inches in diameter, with one seat in a curved arch by the fire. Cosy indeed but giving a full-on view of local chaps in their flat heels and women in high heels that took nerve. A man was stoutly defending his black and white harlequin jumper, a bit Val Doonican, and boldly admitted to buying it himself. Bravo.
To the right, a long table set for a Christmas party, paper hats and crackers, this in mid-January. We were soon offered a larger table in the main room, but the jolly yet clattery noise there was too much and we stuck to our fireside perch.
Today, despite its bypass, Addingham still supports five pubs and, across from the Fleece, a social club (new members welcome: the beer is cheaper there). The catchment area includes Ilkley (no introduction needed), Bolton Abbey, Skipton, Silsden and Draughton.
Addingham itself is a block of post war and late 20th century development round the old heart, a sort of des res second string to Ilkley proper. The Fleece runs more smartly than ever. Youngish waiters, lots of them, in jeans and open shirts are here and there, working hard, watching, polite and finding time to chat. The food reads well and much of it is from a regular menu at £5 for first courses and £10 for main courses and then £5 for puddingy things. This is a smart idea and while soup is price-rich at a fiver, something like the excellent ham hock potato cake, with a perfectly judged poached egg and what tasted like home-made piccalilli is good value. Main courses include steak and kidney suet pudding, with mashed potato, roasted root vegetables and “proper” gravy. There is attention to local food, with Lishman’s, butchers of note in Ilkley, supplying the pork sausages for toad in the hole, while Craig Minto is not averse to going a bit further if he feels like it – or dropping a consonant in his menus. The dry cured gammon steak, served with “beef drippin chips” and a poached egg and pineapple pickle, is from Waberthwaite in Cumbria.
Vegetarians could have macaroni with leeks and cheesy sauce, garlic bread and salad. There is fish pie, fish and chips, spiced lamb with coconut milk and rice. I decided I was going back as soon as possible for this menu and another glass of the lovely Mary Jane ale from Ilkley Brewery: £1.50 for half a pint. On the night, from the specials menu, I had nine oysters at £1.50 each. They were almost all creamy and meaty. The shallots in red wine were a drab non-event. Addingham Moorside game terrine with yet another poached egg (if you can do them well, why stop?), scallops and so on (£6 and over). As for the main event and being on a random high-protein, low-carb diet for a while, it was a tick for the Yorkshire game: a rabbit leg braised in cider, a venison chop and a chunk of partridge Wellington. All delicious. The champ mash was nearly irresistible but the braised kale was slightly tough. Interesting eating, and nice to taste rabbit again (as a child in Draughton, a familiar diet, shot by my father) but £17.95 was enough to pay.
To finish, a fruit crumble which was rather sweet and too shallow in its flan dish and the cinnamon custard tasted like custard. The bill included bread, ordered at the start of the meal but never delivered. The three-course meal for two, without drinks or the bread, cost £71.65 – boosted by all those oysters. Choosing solely from the “cheap” menu we’d have got out for £40. Plus £20 for the Old Vine Garnacha Spanish red – delicious and almost three times its retail price. Verdict: Regains its status as a place to eat, worth a detour.
The Fleece Inn, 152-154 Main Street, Addingham LS9 0LY. Tel: 01943 830491. Open every day for lunch and dinner (Sunday, all day).