Possibly, this is the first time I have written a restaurant review knowing that what I tell you I have eaten you will not be able to have. As you read this review, all will have changed; such is the nature of Horto, the exciting, new ‘pop up’ restaurant at Rudding Park Hotel, Harrogate. If you don’t know what will be on offer next week, then neither does head chef Murray Wilson; it is the magnificent vegetable garden at Rudding which is the palette for his creativity and very much the dictator of the menu there.
Horto popped up in early June and seems not to be popping off anywhere soon despite the early promise of it just being around for the summer. The restaurant is above the golf shop and, will be moving to a more permanent home (perhaps) following completion of the new spa next spring.
I like this transience, which, by its very nature creates a a sense of urgency to visit just in case it should suddenly disappear. It keeps us all on our toes and also gives Rudding a chance to try out what is an entirely different offering for them.
Understandably, given the dictatorship of the garden, Horto takes the tasting menu route. Love them or hate them, they are here to stay and knowing Murray from his days at Norse in Harrogate, this one I suspected would be the former. They take it a step further at Horto, with a recommendation that you eat blind and, before you panic, not blindfolded. The menu is there but eating without the reading of it, will, apparently, give you a better experience. Fair do’s, I was willing but, just like the answers underneath a crossword, I found it hard not to peek.
Each dish – and there’s a lot of them – is carefully explained and for the most part, also served by the chef and the front of house. This orchestrated approach gives time for the chef to deliver the story at the table before beating a hasty retreat. I have rarely seen chefs being so involved with guests yet, here at Horto, it works.
So to the food. It is brilliant, which the sager part of me knew it would be, but hey, you never know. Starting at the top there are two types of good bread and three kinds of butter; Lincolnshire Poacher, toasted hay, and the third a horseradish dripping which made me think of long ago Sunday teas with my grandmother.
Three ‘snacks’ arrive, one by one, starting with a tiny bowl of clear in colour and gorgeous in flavour tomato water with mozzarella and sliver of dehydrated tomato. The 100-day aged beef came covered with a leaf of tree spinach and sprinkled with a porcini and chocolate powder. Finally came Morecambe Bay shrimps and a potage with hints of cinnamon and the heat of cayenne.
This astute technicality and cleverness of taste and texture combination stayed with us on the journey through the menu. En-route, we encountered Cornish mackerel, sea mustard and epazote (the musky flavoured Mexican herb known for its ability to reduce the side effect of eating beans). The tenderest of Scottish squid was arguably the best I have eaten in 20 years. With this came carrot and fennel and citrusy notes of Yuzu – a great word for the Scrabble board. There was North Sea wild halibut with chicken skin, nasturtium, garlic and a meat dish of Nidderdale grouse which sat quietly at the edge of a large plate with pied de bleu mushrooms, cabbage cooled in fat and Pedro Ximénez sherry. English berries as pre-dessert and theatricality with dry ice and spoons resulting in a rum flavoured puffball with blueberries, and skyr cheesecake brought the meal to a close.
There is so much here to praise that it is hard for me to mention niggles, but the can of water at £3.50 for 330ml of imported water beggars belief. On a happier note, whoever put together the drinks and wines knows their stuff. The list is concise yet packed with quality.
Murray’s food has matured from what I first encountered three years ago. I do miss his sense of adventure just a little, and occasionally I felt he played it a little safe, but he does now have a very different audience. However this meal had flashes of absolute brilliance – squid – say no more. And his team deserve just as much praise, a class act all round. This place is brilliant, I hope it continues.
• Horto, Rudding Park Hotel, Follifoot, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG3 1JH. 01423 871350. Dinner for two with two glasses of wine each £155. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday.