It’s had a bit of a makeover, but Jill Turton finds the Craven Heifer needs a little refinement.
THE Craven Heifer’s website explains: “Seven of Yorkshire’s most famous sons and daughters have been honoured in our newly themed bedrooms.” Not half. They must have spent an MP’s second home allowance on glamming-up the restaurant and rooms in what was once a village pub at the top end of Addingham.
So for your romantic weekend you can now choose to stay in the Big Splash, the Hockney room; the Cabaret room themed round Judi Dench; or the De Havilland, inspired by Amy Johnson. But the good taste prize must go to Chuffin’ ‘Eck, the Fred Trueman tribute room.
I could just about handle sleeping beneath a scoreboard, even on a bed trimmed with bails and stumps and cricket balls, and I even quite liked the cushions made from cricket sweaters. But it’s the Trueman quote they use to sell it: “You should treat women the same way as any good Yorkshire batsman used to treat a cricket ball. Don’t stroke ‘em, don’t tickle ‘em, just give em a ruddy good belt.” I kid you not. Should be the honeymoon suite.
A similar misjudgment extends to the menu. There is not a single dish on the a la carte that does not contain either meat or fish. Out of 14 dishes on the bar menu, just one dish, macaroni cheese, is meat free. I’m not a vegetarian but I do appreciate vegetables. When I’m handed a menu, I invariably look for a light starter – a salad perhaps followed by a more substantial main of meat or fish. And in this day and age, when there is more awareness of vegetarians than ever, there is an expectation of a meat-free dish or two, especially across four different menus – the tasting menu, a la carte, bar menu, and daily specials. Perhaps it’s a relic from the days when Tom Rennolds, a former Masterchef finalist, commanded the kitchen after the refurbishment in 2012, and told me he had never cooked a meal that did not include meat or fish. A shocking admission, I thought, from a professional chef.
I did find one meat–free dish, a main course on the daily specials menu: gnocchi with kale and white onion puree and I’m sorry to report it was a disaster. Half a dozen leaden discs oddly looking more like seared scallops than the puffy little pillows I’d been hoping for. They were placed on a scrape of onion purée, with some watery, unseasoned kale heaped on top. It bore no resemblance to any gnocchi I had ever eaten. It was pasty and tasteless. Having got that off my chest, the rest of the lunch did get better and one dish was excellent but the overall weight of pretension would have been pushing it in a Park Lane hotel let alone an Addingham pub.
One of the better dishes was a starter of salt cod, smashed peas, radish and caviar. Caviar on a £15 three course daily special menu? Not Beluga, but tiny pink, shiny globes of salmon roe. The salt cod could have been more salt cod-like, rather than, well, just cod, but it was well cooked and presented and the salmon roe gave it a salty hit. A chicken and ham terrine with chicken liver parfait was good, too. The coarse terrine and contrasting super-smooth parfait worked well. So did the crisped-up chicken skin, though its arrangement like a pair of sails planted in the piped rosettes of chicken liver and a scatter of blackberries across a rectangular slate, was over-the-top fussy.
Surf ‘n Turf, that 60s throwback of meat and shellfish, was the best dish of all: seared scallops, Gloucester Old Spot belly pork braised in cider, with hash browns and parsley root, and at £20, one of the pricier items on the menu. But it was excellent. Soft, flavoursome, slow cooked pork with a well-crisped skin and enough sweetness in the cider sauce to give it some punch. The scallops had been taken to just the right moment. Blessedly, no poncy arrangements here, just a very good plate of food.
The inverted commas in the “lemon meringue pie”, should have been a warning. Another slate, this time scattered with shortbread crumbs, raspberry sorbet, a ceramic cup filled with lemon curd and a cone of white, can’t-get-your-spoon-in meringue. It was a deconstructed lemon meringue pie asking you to assemble a build-it-yourself lemon meringue pie. Masterchef has much to answer for. Chefs love strutting their stuff like this a whole lot more than their customers do.
On to coffee where our waitress arrived with a wooden box and a pair of tweezers to choose from fudge, truffles, shortbread and Turkish delight – “You’re allowed two” – and artfully placed them on a small slate. I haven’t seen such a box and tweezers since I dined at the Michelin-starred Box Tree and even there I thought it was preposterous.
So, another country pub obsessed with amuse-bouches, £55 tasting menus and enough slates to reroof Leeds Town Hall. When they’ve ditched the pretensions and dug out a decent vegetarian cookery book, the Heifer might just fly. But I suspect that anywhere happy to make a joke out of belting women is rather too pleased with the way things are.
• Craven Heifer, Main Street, Addingham, West Yorkshire LS29 0PL. 01943 830106, www.thecravenheifer.com. Open: Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm-2pm & 6pm-9pm. Sunday, 12pm-6pm. Price: £35 per person plus wine and coffee.