I find myself in the somewhat odd position of really wanting to advise you to eat somewhere but not wanting you to blame me if you don’t like it. I appreciate, I’m supposed to offer articulate, inspiring and devilishly witty opinion, so you can decide whether a trip to the establishment in question is worthy of your time.
When it comes to the King’s Head at Nafferton, though, I expect that if you follow my advice and try the place an equal number of you will curse me as thank me.
You see, between the front door and the dining room, there are a dozen reasons to believe that you’re not going to have good meal. Everything, from the exterior, to the decor to the poor use of apostrophes on the chalk boards, seems to have been designed to put you off. However, by the time the food turns up you’ll be very glad you came. Well, I was at least.
As underfunded and tired as the pub clearly is, it does boast Martyn Shaw at the helm, and he is turning out some terrific food. Seriously terrific. Martyn used to own and run the Dining Room in Driffield and if you ever eat there you’ll have an idea what to expect at the King’s Head.
The focus at the Dining Room was on small, elaborate, innovative plates, best sampled as part of a tasting menu. Since taking on the pub and closing the restaurant (he tried running both for a while but starting a family meant he had to chose just one project) Martyn has built his menu around ingredients sourced from local suppliers in dishes pub-y enough to feel familiar, but intriguing enough to (almost) make you forget the surroundings.
There is a full daytime and a Sunday menu, but the evening menu is rightly brief, with five starters, six mains and a handful of puds. There are also a few snacks for pre-starter starters; salt cured cod with garlic, potato and crusty bread is lovely in a tapas way or there are pub classics like pork pie, sausage roll or scotch egg on offer.
Of the starters, smoked haddock with slow baked leek mustard veloute and pickled samphire is recommended. The little slow baked and pickled touches elevate it above your usual plate of smoked haddock. Even better, though, is 12-hour herb-baked lamb; a deliciously juicy yet crisp hunk of lamb served with pearl barley, onion purée and a mushroom and thyme broth. It’s a dish where the attention detail comes to the fore and the broth is a perfectly balanced mix of deep umami and fragrant herb.
Initially, the mains appear less imaginative but, while it’s certainly true that they are more shorn of elaboration, there is no arguing with the quality. The gammon steak is thick, juicy and fresh and the pineapple it comes with has been slow baked to intensify the sweetness. The baked loin of cod comes with a rapeseed mash crust and mussels steeped in cider which all complement each other wonderfully.
Best of all, though, is pan roast venison with potato and thyme terrine, peppered swede purée, roast pear, greens and pear cider jus. I’d have liked more on the plate, but this was purely because it all tasted so good. The perfectly cooked venison is beautiful and all the accompaniments work with it great, but the roast pear and pear cider jus (made with Coleman’s Cider from just up the road) are the real touches of class. Venison and pear is my new favourite combination.
Of the puds, the real stand-out is the Yorkshire forced rhubarb plate. Here, rhubarb is served up in several different forms along with blobs of cider gel, quenelles of white chocolate, ice cream balls and bits of meringue. It’s a lovely mess of a dish.
Dosh-wise, The King’s Head charges £4-6 for starters, £10-16 for mains and about a fiver for afters. Not daft, especially for the quality of ingredients you’re getting and how much work has gone into the food, but I wouldn’t want to be paying much more until the surroundings are properly sorted out.
Martyn and his team deserve to succeed and they’re undoubtedly trying their very best, but the place needs a refit to transform it from tired village boozer to destination gastropub. For now, though, please go and don’t judge until you’ve tried the marvellous food.
• Kings Head, 22 Middle St, Nafferton, Driffield, YO25 4JS. 01377 259041, kingsheadrestaurant.co.uk. Food served: Tuesday to Saturday, 11.30am till late; Sunday, 12pm till late.