There were red confetti hearts on the tables – ah yes, St Valentine’s Day, which was probably why there was not a table left for dinner on this Tuesday night at The Kings Arms in Heath.
This ancient village is a by-passed haven on the road from Wakefield to Castleford. Heath is built round a large common, all feudal-like. After dark, the long facade of the Kings Arms is outlined by white lights. Old street lamps are bolted to the walls. To say it looks inviting is an understatement. All it needs is a stagecoach and four to arrive.
Inside the place is a maze of small snug rooms and corridors and at least two bars and real fires in real old grates and real gas lamps. There is a warning that drug taking on the green outside will be reported. There’s another about swearing. Strewth, stone the crows.
The last time I was there was for a wake. But wake, wedding, divorce or birthday, this place intrigues and amazes. It is romantic, mysterious, dark in places, moody, even puzzling – and rather dimly lit which adds to the urge to explore.
The lease has recently been taken by Ossett Brewery, one of a number of independent brewers in the area, many of which manage to make a similar, sharp, hoppy beer. Yorkshire Blonde, a creamy 3.9 which was in excellent condition.
This being St V’s night, there was a £25 three-course Valentine menu which included a small glass of wine. Mustn’t get too tipsy and pop the question. There was a pick from three first courses, four “mains” and three desserts.
Our table was one of the last available – in a booth with glass double doors and most convivial with a fan heater to raise the temperature.
The baked Yorkshire “brie” was a yummy molten disc on a meat board, with leaves of rocket – which cropped up on all the starters and main courses. The braised red cabbage was a better fit with the cheese. More pieces of the warmed crusty bread would have been welcome.
My Valentine date was not as fortunate. Her fried queen scallops must have been Maids in Waiting. I have never seen any quite so tiny, and they were also gritty. Mains of baked haddock with a herb crust and meat balls with fresh spaghetti got the swerve in favour of “pan-seared” chicken breast on ratatouille (and sirloin steak and chips for the Valentine date). Wild mushroom risotto was a vegetarian alternative. After posting my best ever rowing time at the gym by a mile (well, five seconds) earlier in the day, I was treating the body to some lean animal protein. The hen tasted good but like the rest of the food there was no stated provenance. The ratatouille – Mediterranean vegetable stew – was sensational in its oily richness, with large slices of pepper and onion and tomato and courgette cooked almost to the point of charring.
The steak was good and larger than normal. The chips were flaccid, not crisply to attention. Puddings: a massive slice of mildly flavoured passion fruit cheesecake (with ice cream making a change from rocket leaves) and clarty chocolate and orange truffles with strawberries. Neither hit the spot.
Even with some room exploration and chatting to the excellent floor staff, the meal plus coffees took no more than an hour but never felt rushed. The night was still young.
Verdict: Pleasantly imperfect.
In fact this menu was on the cusp of transition. The new team here was in the process of bringing in new ideas in the shape of a set menu at lunch and dinner. I went back to try it.
Prices are £10.95 for two courses, £13.95 for three courses, Monday to Thursday from 12 until 2pm and 5pm until 9pm. With it, two people can buy a bottle of house wine for £6 (normally £11.99). Idea: two courses each and a bottle of decent wine for under £28. A light menu is served through the day, and there is another menu for Sundays.
The Yorkshire puddings with red onion gravy were okay. Jamie Oliver sampled them last year for one of his TV programmes. Prawn and smoked salmon cocktail was spread out on one of the bread boards. Again, okay rather than wow. A Med veg “stack” with grilled haloumi (a chewy cheese) came with rich, good tomato sauce. The vegetables were perfectly judged. The service was rapid but friendly. Puddings were all sugary.
Verdict: At the price and in this setting, it would be churlish to quibble at the new offering although some vivid “greens” would adjust the balance of the meat-and-spuds main courses.
The food fits the mood of the area, where gastro pubs and organic are still alien notions and they don’t bother to say much about where the produce comes from. It gets busy, so booking is recommended.
The Kings Arms, Heath Common, Wakefield, WF1 5SL. Open every day for lunch and dinner (or as they say in these parts, dinner and, err, dinner). Tel: 01924 377527. Website: www.kingsarmswakefield.co.uk. Slow off the mark. It may be “up” when you read this. Disabled access: Yes. Parking: at the door. Access: You’ll need a car or bike or horse.