Restaurant reviews: A night to remember

The plaice at Norse, 22 Oxford Street, Harrogate. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
The plaice at Norse, 22 Oxford Street, Harrogate. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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In search of somewhere special to celebrate this Christmas? We take a look back at the restaurants which have impressed our reviewers over the last year.

• Bear Cafe, Todmorden (01706 433606, www.bearco-op.com)

Forget any lingering associations vegetarian food has with worthy, knit-your-own sandals eateries. Rhian Warhurst has rebooted both the shop and cafe on Todmorden’s main street and the hard work has been worth it. The menu is a mixture of mezze boards and house specialities, which reinvent traditional dishes. Not least the ploughman’s which features a generous slice of celeriac and cheddar pie, a mound of raw beetroot 
and chunk of homemade fruitcake

There’s also a huge emphasis on careful sourcing and the young team are definitely going places.

• Spiced Pear, Hepworth (01484 683775, www.spicedpearhepworth.co.uk)

This is the latest venture from Tim Bilton who was behind the equally successful Butchers Arms. He bought the Spiced Pear back in May last year, gutted it and opened 10 weeks later. It’s impressive stuff. Tim has long been a seasonal devotee and it’s reflected on a menu which features the likes of Hepworth wild garlic soup, with homemade focaccia and pear and onion tart with Yorkshire Blue cheese. Mains, including the lamb cooked various ways and North Sea seabass with samphire, are all textbook cooking. Whatever time you choose to go - and go you must - relax. You’re in capable hands.

• Cona, Bradford (01274 727747, www.conarestaurant.com)

The streets of Little Germany have always been worth a wander thanks to the area’s ornate gothic and Victorian architecture. Now there’s another good reason to make your way there. Cona, a halal fine dining restaurant, is the brainchild of two young entrepreneurs, Armi Ahmed and Oman Rana. Their idea was to give young professional Muslims a decent alternative to curry. The Italian-ish menu is as stripped down as the room and features starters like asparagus, hazelnut, poached egg and cauliflower risotto with mains ranging from beef ragu pappardelle to mushroom gnocchi. This pair have poured heart, soul and no small amount of cash into the venture, but in so doing they’ve found an untapped market.

• Westwood, Beverley (01482 881999, www.thewestwood.co.uk)

Owned and run by twins Michelle and Matthew Baker, the pair were brought up by East Yorkshire pub-owning parents before working in all manner of culinary capacities all over the world. The knowledge of hospitality shows both front of house and in the kitchen. Starters like cured ham, pork and pistachio terrine and warm white asparagus with deep fried truffled hen egg were superb and are matched in quality by the mains which feature the likes of pan-roasted Leven duck breast. The Bakers have created a well-oiled yet creative dining machine. In short they’ve got it nailed.

• The Man Behind the Curtain, Leeds (0113 243 2376, www.themanbehindthecurtain.co.uk)

The name is a reference to the Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” where the wizard creates his magic. That’s tricky when the man behind this curtain is the 6ft bleached blonde, tattooed chef Michael O’Hare, who totters back and forth in the open plan kitchen in a black leather apron and silver leather cuban heel boots. But if it’s magic you are looking for it’s here in spades.The no-choice (except at lunch), 12 course, tasting menu comes in at £65 per head.

• Bundobust, Leeds (www.bundobust.com)

Launched by a member of the Patel family behind the ever-popular Prashad restaurant in Drighlington, Bundobust was much hyped by the food bloggers as Leeds’s newest big thing. Their praise for an eatery which pairs Indian street food with craft beer was justified. Timber cladding and a bold red sign may give it the look of a steak house, but inside bare light bulbs and exposed brick keep it simple. And the food? Twelve small dishes, all vegetarian, mostly vegan, mostly gluten free, presented in a polystyrene cup with a plastic spoon – this is street food remember.

• Yorebridge House (01969 652060, www.yorebridgehouse.co.uk)

The Dales hotel and restaurant has always been a safe bet, but until recently it lacked a certainty of direction. That changed with the arrival of head chef, Dan Shotton last year, resulting in Yorebridge receiving 3 AA Rosettes at the AA Hospitality Awards 2014. He has pared the menu down to five starters, mains and puddings. Each dish has a leading ingredient (scallop, pigeon, lamb, duck ...) plus supporting elements.In stripping away all the fluff and puff, what becomes imperative is great skill and quality ingredients. The food offering at Yorebridge is now perfectly aligned with what has made the hotel so special: the seemingly effortless attention to even the smallest detail.

• Norse, Harrogate (01423 202363, www.norserestaurant.co.uk)

Norse is the evening incarnation of Baltzersen’s cafe. As with all aspects of their offering the menu does not stand by convention. Abandoning the starters-mains-puds approach, they offer instead a succinct, highly seasonal selection of just eight savoury dishes and two desserts. Highlights include the deep flavours of the sticky, glutinous pigs cheek, an artichoke poached to perfect tenderness and chervil puree and broth so delicious the plate was mopped dry. Plaice was perfectly cooked and a hare dish was dark, broody and packed a gamey punch.