Inns in villages you'd like to live in…" is a bold strap line. Well, there's plenty of beautiful villages I'd love to live in, in Yorkshire there's also an abundance of inns but sadly, not that many where I like to eat.
The yawning gap in country inns providing honest food, accommodation, good service and a welcoming atmosphere has been growing for many years but the newly formed Provenance Inns partnership, apparently, aims to fill it. The partnership brings together two formidable heavyweights of the food world, in the shape of Michael Ibbotson, who for the past 10 years has operated the award-winning Durham Ox at Crayke, and Chris Blundell, a former director at Morrison's supermarkets who now farms 750 acres from his home. Their portfolio currently contains the Durham Ox and the recently-refurbished Carpenters Arms at Felixkirk with more inns to follow in 2011 – a courageous plan in these straitened times.
Negotiating the tiny road to the Carpenters on a freezing winter's night, I quietly pray I am not going to be let down by their promises because I will have a very cross driver on my hands if they do. But, arriving in the picture-perfect village of Felixkirk, the inn blazes against the dark night and the warmth exuded outside is keenly enhanced inside; there's not one but two roaring logs fires and a plethora of staff lined up eager to please. Within minutes, coats are whisked away, menus are offered, drinks ordered and again all seems well with the world. A big tick in the box goes to a noticeably defined bar area – filled with the remnants of a shooting party, though a whisky or two the worse for wear, amusingly, they add to the atmosphere – so popping in for a pint here is clearly no problem.
The menu is solid and straightforward pub food with enough flair to make it interesting and thankfully devoid of twists, fiddles and foams. The regular menu supported with specials on the boards lining the bar area provides enough choice to accommodate everyone, but is irksomely written as Smaller or More (starters that can double as mains), Considerable (mains to you and me), plus a section called Simple and Tasty (fish and chips, sandwiches, toasts and so on). Prices are a whisper closer to a restaurant than an inn but not too bad if they deliver on quality.
Wines, however are the best value for money here, with a good spread of styles, countries and prices. There's a decent selection of whites by the glass, but less choice with the reds. There's another price listed for off-sales, so, if I like the wine (or if I live in the village and need a bottle) I can buy it to take away and bravely they reveal their mark up. A pretty reasonable Sauvignon Blanc will cost 13.95 to drink in, 8 to take home. Another big tick.
A feather-light twice-baked cheese souffl was packed with flavours from the Quicke's Cheddar cheese and caramelised red onion and even though the tasty pear chutney served alongside was a touch on the sweet side, the dish was a sound combination.
Steaming mussels, the size of which I have never seen save the New Zealand Green-Lipped variety came, I was assured after asking, from the Shetlands. I was more than willing on this occasion to forgo the distance these beasts had travelled for their quality with delicious chunks of sweet tender meat. The pre-requisite bread for dipping was pillow soft and made the perfect sponge for the creamy sauce. If I am to be a little picky, the onion in the otherwise good marinire sauce was undercooked. Yet despite their rawness I thoroughly enjoyed the dish.
A Sirloin steak complete with skinny fries, onion rings and tomato was acceptable. I really can't say more than that, it was neither remarkable nor in any way upsetting. Any accusation of a slight toughness was dismissed thanks to the rather stylish and highly effective French Laguiole knife provided which slipped through the meat effortlessly. Venison casserole with horseradish and herb dumplings on the other hand was outstanding.
Chunks of tender venison and chunky dumplings, though a touch dry on the top, fought with creamy mashed potatoes to soak up the rich, dark sauce.
Desserts are as would be expected from a country inn – sticky toffee puddings, crme brule, chocolate tart, Winter Pavlova and our choice of warm pear and almond tart with vanilla ice cream which, like the steak was unassuming and inoffensive.
Dinner for two at the Carpenters with wine and service nudged close to 70 and despite a few minor points, delivered well. Big ticks to the partnership for the flashes of brilliance, lack of pretension and impeccable service which even with my continuous questions of provenance make this all a good quality inn should be.
The Carpenters Arms, Felixkirk, Thirsk, YO7 2DP Tel: 01845 537369. Mon– Fri: 12noon - 3pm 5pm - 11.30pm. Sat & Sun: All day from noon (Sundays 10.30pm). Food served seven days a week.
YP MAG 24/12/10