ONCE they bred racehorses here. The reins and saddles were hung from the hooks and bars still there today high on the ceilings of the Kings Arms. A rare sight. The stone floor and wide inglenook lend character – with a glow from logs and coal in the hearth on the wettest June day for some time.
It was mid summer, a Friday, and the rain may have explained why the Kings Arms, one of three Askrigg inns, was merely ticking over with trade. It had been newly taken on by the owner of the CB Inn, up in Arkengarthdale, and the Punch Bowl at Low Row, Swaledale – giving Charles Cody fascinating hostelries in three Yorkshire Dales. Gastro pubs are 10 to the dozen and very nice too. So, usually is the greeting, lending a cheeriness, a glad you are here feeling. It can be overtly gushing but at least it’s an effort.
The Kings Arms seems to be avoiding becoming anything which will frighten the locals and is devoid, so far, of too much gastro-pub frippery, but its prices tilt at the modern carriage trade of affluent tourists.
Half a pint of bitter, brewed only 23 miles away, costs £1.55. The day’s soup is £4.50. On this day it was a large bowl of cream of white onions – so the raw ingredients are cheap and the concept is rather dull.
Sweet potato soup and ginger being offered for the dinner menu was more appealing, but hardly stretching the apron strings in imagination. I can make that at home in half an hour. I want a soup with adventure in its bowl.
The welcome was warm enough, but despite the place being lightly patronised with diners there was not a sense that we were being looked after. The staff of one kept going out of sight, as if helping in the kitchen as well as running the bar and serving the food. It took the best part of two hours to get a three course meal.
The wine arrived opened but without a tasting or pouring. The home-cooked bread was in a basket with the tub of butter indecorously left askew in the same basket. A later accompaniment of watercress and pea shoots was replaced without notice or apology by rocket – that odd job man in the chef’s desire to decorate.
The chatter in the room is confined to a niche by the fire. Such as a treatise on angling, what lures a newcomer should use, a stop-press stuff about the return of early salmon to a certain location (sorry, no names – no poachers).
One learnt that in the 18th century John Pratt sent his horses out to victory from these premises. The win of Imperatrix in the 1782 St Leger is recorded. By the turn of the century it was becoming a coaching inn – and much of its history makes a visit worthwhile. There is an inscription of the charming poem August Dales by Glynne Hughes. There is a large painting of Askrigg Friendly Society at its bicentennial in 2009. There are photographs of the cast in television’s All Creatures Great and Small. The inn was used as The Drovers pub in the series, some of it filmed in the village. Times past, eh?
The best of the first courses was a light tart of filo pastry with red onion jam, sliced tomatoes and a layer of heated Wensleydale cheese. I found it under a cascade of crudely trimmed rocket leaves in lieu of the watercress. Like other first courses it was served on a square slate. This looks contemporary chic but your knife doesn’t half scrape the slate when carving through the hard pastry.
People came and went. Tales worthy of Salar the Salmon wafted from the fireplace. The smiling all-ops waitress came and went, not often enough in our direction. But it was all very cosy and worthy of the Dales – a visit to old inns such as the Kings Arms adds to one’s feel for the region.
Both main courses were served nice and hot but on cold plates. The fried bream was generous but the cold plate was probably the reason its sauce and juices became greasy. That’s a shame because it was otherwise a good meal. The steak casserole cooked with the inn’s signature ale was hearty beyond trencherman standards. There was enough for three decent appetites, with a baby dumplings described as horseradish but the root’s taste was too subtle for me, and al dente green beans. At £12.50, I’d suggest you get a few extra plates for your chums and tuck in. A bowl of mange tout, baby peas, sliced leeks and broad beans was in the price. An extra of Caesar salad was overdressed and soggy.
The pudding menu was eventually brought on request but nothing happened about taking the order. Time did not so much stand still as rush past. The crème brûlée was pleasant enough. The rhubarb and apple crumble was a dish of two parts, as if the crumble had been tipped on before leaving the kitchen. Too sweet and the jugged custard was tongue-blisteringly hot and at £5.20 was on the top side.
Verdict: Nice place, good low level buzz from the locals but it needs much more punch with the food and its delivery – based on this one visit and the premium charges. Prices: Reckon on £22 to £30 for a three course meal plus drinks. Beers include Theakston and Heineken.
The King’s Arms, Main Street, Askrigg, Leyburn, North Yorkshire DL8 3HQ. Tel 01969 650113 and on the informative www.kingsarmsaskrigg.co.uk. Disabled access. Street parking. Food served daily at lunch and evenings.