How far is too far to travel for a Sunday lunch? I thought an 80 mile-round trip was maybe pushing it, but lured on by the assurance of amazing food from a “newly-recruited top chef in what promise to be the latest, hottest gaff in Yorkshire” seemed worth the risk. The other half was not impressed with the idea; Sunday lunch, if not around our table, means a snuggly pub. Eventually I sucked him into the PR vortex of superlatives and the promise of a fun drive across Yorkshire’s glorious landscape. Ooops.
Torrential rain lengthened the drive by an extra 30 minutes – seemed more like an hour in the silence – and arriving at the restaurant, I sensed a problem. The restaurant was empty save one rather pleasant young man behind the bar: this, it turns out was the aforementioned chef. He apologised profusely for the lack of staff but no-one had turned up for work that day except him and the kitchen porter. When I enquired about the managers of this rapidly becoming far-from-hot-gaff; they apparently jumped ship several weeks earlier.
I felt so sorry for the chef. Looking at his menu I sensed great intention, enthusiasm and a professional approach; what a shame he ended up here.
Nevertheless, did I want to spend what would be the best part of £50 to sit in a cold, empty, unloved restaurant? No. We left and standing outside the restaurant, cold, wet, hungry and 40 miles from home, even McDonalds started to look appealing. I had to come up with something quick.
Several weeks earlier, following many recommendations, I had popped into the Victoria Cattal, near Harrogate, ostensibly for a drink but actually to give it a once- over. Liking what I saw, I had made a mental point to go back, perhaps now was the time. With fingers crossed – have you ever tried to get a Sunday lunch in a highly popular pub at 4.30pm? – I rang. The pleasant voice at the end of the line didn’t seem too sure, but sensing the desperation in my voice (I suspect) said they would squeeze us in. I could have kissed her.
The Victoria sits just 400 metres off the main A59 road and only 10 from the platform of Cattal Station and the main railway line connecting York to Harrogate. If you time it right you can hop off the train, have lunch or dinner and jump back on to go home, brilliant. No surprise then that when we arrived it was still busy.
The welcome at the Victoria Cattal was warm, thankfully so too was the place, especially as we were still drying out. There is nothing pretentious in the décor, it is a proper pub and looks like a pub with its patterned carpet, dark wood tables, and a hugely impressive bar, making this place as appealing to drinkers as any hungry diners. We loved it. There are vases full with fresh flowers and the whole place is clean and sparkling; now here’s a place which is loved.
Staff nip impressively around the busy bar and dining room yet still notice new arrivals. We are guided to the bar: drinks ordered and menus handed over in a jiffy. The carnivorous beast at my side has finally relaxed now the promise of lunch is so close. We don’t have to wait too long.
There’s more than the Sunday roast on offer: six starters offer pâté, prawn cocktail, soups, fishcakes. The Sunday roast and Yorkshires aside, another eight mains include steaks, lamb shanks, fish and chips et al. Vegetarians are taken care of with a separate menu. Roasted loin of pork with crackling, stuffing, apple sauce and a traditional Topside of Beef, both with Yorkshire puddings, were swiftly ordered.
The speed with which the food arrived (10 minutes) ordinarily would have alarmed me, but given the freshness and the appeal of the food placed in front of me, I deduce it is due to organisation and good preparation, not a microwave.
The pork is several thick slices of tender, moist and flavourful, meat bathed in a rich, glossy gravy. This comes with a sweet apple sauce, and I want to know how chef makes crackling that good. Likewise, the beef, a touch toward medium, is a hefty few slices with the same excellent sauce.
The Yorkshire puds have a spot on soft-edging-towards-crisp texture – not blown-up footballs so often found in pubs (bigger is not always better …) The roast potatoes are freshly cooked, as is the bowl of steaming, hot vegetables.
A cheese board seems like a good idea to follow and turns out to be the only disappointment of the meal, there’s not a whiff of Yorkshire cheese to be found on it.
“You should be thankful they are at least British,” comes the retort from across the table, as the contented husband tucks into a rather large, squidgy chocolate pudding. The smile on his face says it all, I smile back and conclude that this is exactly what a Sunday lunch should be.
All’s well that ends well thanks to the lovely staff, warm hospitality and great food and drink at the Victoria Cattal.
The Victoria Cattal, Station Road, Cattal, York, YO26 8EB. Tel: 01423 330249. Food served Tues to Sat : 4.30-9pm. Sun: 12–7pm.