There’s a lot of press about the concept of ‘clean’ eating. Winsome young women called Natasha, Jasmine and Melissa are selling books by the million about the health-giving properties of quinoa, kale, cauliflower rice and spiralised courgettes.
You might argue that at the other end of the scale is French cuisine; all that butter, cream and rich sauces. I’ve sometimes been under-whelmed with food on holiday so it was with a slightly heavy heart that I pitched up at the Butchers Arms, home of ‘Delicious French cuisine in a traditional Yorkshire pub’, partly because it’s hard to imagine an authentic experience in an old stone pub in an old stone village which is more reminiscent of Last of the Summer Wine than Clochemerle.
But it’s a handsome building with outside seating for an al fresco lunch (and a rather fine view) on a good day and inside, a proper bar with stone flags, all the papers and pints of Farmers Blonde and Tim Taylor for locals. The large, informal dining room is on the other side of a wood-stoved fireplace – a cosy spot to be in winter, which I bet is pretty fierce up here. Dark beams loom overhead, the furniture doesn’t match, oak and pine tables are scrubbed and several menus arrive on a clipboard; a la carte, prix fix and a bar menu, which despite having no small amount of appeal is cast aside for the a la carte; we’ve set our stall out for La Totale (Google translate it. I did.)
Entrees include the likes of harissa spiced goujons with lime and chilli mayonnaise, salade de chevre chaud with walnut salad and honey, but two options stand out; gambas aux pastis with a cream and chive sauce, and gesieres. To you and me, gizzards. Yep, that tough muscle in the digestive tract in birds that grinds the grain they eat. Not glamorous or good looking, but in this classic, simple salad from the South West of France, cooked confit, so there’s no toughness at all. Served with garlic, parsley and a hard boiled egg it’s a terrific plate of food.
My chum’s gambas dish is a classic, the prawns fleshy and sweet, the puddle of Pastis cream sauce flecked with chives which cut through the richness; a steal at £8. Both our starters would do nicely as lunch if, unlike us, you don’t have the time to indulge in three courses of a Wednesday.
The chum’s confit de canard (‘crispy skinned, slow cooked whole duck leg’) arrives with a pile of green beans and parsley sautéed potatoes. It shreds at the fork, is just the right side of gamey with a ‘good, strong taste to the meat’. The spuds are bob on, crisp outside, floury within. We both remark on how good the beans are – al dente and with a lovely butter gloss. My poulet Forestiere is decadent in that uniquely French way – cream, butter, wine and mushroom sauce and a delightfully tender chicken breast, with a scattering of locally foraged chanterelles on top. It’s swoonworthy and I have to keep reminding myself I’m on a hilltop above Huddersfield.
Chef/owner Mark Hogan has form. Originally from Manchester he misspent his youth hitching round France working in restaurants – St Tropez in the summer, the Alps in winter. Even hotter climes beckoned and he spent the next 20 years in Australia, running restaurants in Sydney. He finally returned to Europe and lived back in France for five years. A couple of years ago he found Hepworth, and with his partner Caroline Kimber ran a few pop-ups in the Village Hall which went down a storm. The pub became available and the rest is history.
There are a couple of good-looking non-meat options; I like the sound of spinach and ricotta pie, and fish eaters will be happy with moules frites. On the prix fix menu (two courses for £14.95, three for £17.95) find the likes of Roquefort salad, crepe Provencale and Toulouse sausage with Puy lentils, and on the bar menu, ‘cheeky’ beef pie, tuna Nicosia salad and, for the traditionalists, a homemade burger.
The dessert sheet arrives; it would be rude not to, so chocolate torte it is, and two spoons. It’s a dense but uncloying flourless sponge, served with a wonderfully light raspberry mousse; there’s a bit of an unseemly race to the finish. Crème brulee is on the menu too, of course, and I bet it’s a belter.
Hogan knows his stuff. He handles quality ingredients astutely, and his offer is well thought-through. I take my hat off to someone who sticks to a cuisine he loves and is determined to bring to the good folk of West Yorkshire. There’s a welcome lack of faff and pretentiousness despite the food being really quite sophisticated, and as my chum said, it’s untainted by fashion, and ‘the sort of food you might be served in a good family-run restaurant in France’.
It’s a persuasive idea that we can ‘clean eat’ ourselves to immortality. Newsflash; that’s not going to happen, so might as well eat normally and from time to time, indulge ourselves in dishes that involve a significant amount of dairy – especially if they’re put together as skilfully as this. Much pleasure will ensue.
• The Butchers Arms, 38 Towngate, Hepworth, HD9 1TE. Tel 01484 687147 www.thebutchersarms-hepworth.co.uk
Open: Monday 12-3, Tuesday to Saturday 12 – late, Sunday 12-7. Meal for two, two courses each and a shared pud £59.75.