I last reviewed the Hare at Scawton in 2012, shortly after new owners Liz and Paul Jackson moved in. They came to the relatively remote location on the fringes of the North York Moors, heavily armoured with an impeccable reputation and laden down with plaudits gained from their years at the Crown Inn at Great Ouseburn.
Back then I was nervous about what they had taken on. Not just a location where snow can close the place for lengthy periods – though I have thought there are worst places to be stranded; the inn is chocolate box pretty and the setting mind-bogglingly gorgeous. My concern back then was the offering at the Hare. Paul is a supremely talented and creative chef. I rank him amongst the top in Yorkshire.
But his serious tasting menus for me jarred with the preconceptions of a North Yorkshire inn, where popping in after a good ramble over the Moors necessitates pie and chips, doesn’t it?
Well, how wrong I was, I am more than happy to admit.
Not that the past few years has been without its challenges for the couple; a kitchen fire resulted in a closure at a very busy time for them and let’s not even get started on the weather. I am so impressed, not just with their unflagging belief in their concept, but their tenacity when frankly; many would have thrown in the towel.
They didn’t, and in the past few weeks have scooped not one, but two major awards. The first as Yorkshire Restaurant of the Year at the White Rose Awards with Welcome to Yorkshire. The second highly impressive accolade for them, again as Restaurant of the Year, came from The Flavours of Herriot Country Awards which covers the whole of Richmondshire and Hambleton, so the competition was fierce. And, you can add a couple of AA rosettes into that mix.
Going back to the Hare after a few years, it was sweet to find little has changed, except it is much, much warmer and post-kitchen fire, there has been some sympathetic redecorating.
With a slight sulk and barely audible muttering of “I like to choose my food”, the Tasting Menus-only policy at the Hare was not well received across the table; unlike me who loves to hand over the responsibility.
If a chef is brave enough to do the choosing for his guests, I’m happy to let them get on with it. Paul and Liz have packaged theirs into three price brackets £60 for eight plates, £45 for six and a very affordable £30 for four with optional wine pairings at £35, £25 and £15 respectively. Thankfully, there is still a vegetarian tasting menu but (as I found to my disappointment) this must be ordered in advance.
A couple of clever amuse bouche got things underway, though I found the texture of a crispy cod skin a little challenging.
The six courses started with bream, took us through Scawton Lane hare, to mackerel, deer and, on the sweet spectrum, milk and honey and a plate of Black Forest-style goodies. Highs. A fat, chunk of fresh mackerel gently kissed with smoke in a small Kilner jar; supremely tender and flavourful deer with accompanying celeriac, apple, hazelnut and smoked eel adding a precise balance between the contrasting flavours and textures.
The hare too was faultless, but personally not a flavour I like, so I handed the judgement over the table for which it received nothing but praise.
The dessert plates too were innovative combinations, but my favourite was a feather-light cheesecake mousse with bee pollen, cinder toffee and a honey bubble.
Three years ago I described Paul’s dishes as art in the style of Jackson Pollock, as a frenzy of purées and jus crisscrossing the plate. The food was beautiful and artfully arranged and it is still is, but now more serious, considered and less distracted.
While Paul hides away in the kitchen working his magic on faultless plates of food, the other part of this dynamic pair, Liz, manages front of house.
From her precise explanation of both the menu and the carefully chosen wine matches, to orchestrating the delivery of food, she never misses a heartbeat. Between these two and the small number of staff both in the kitchen and out front, they are an expert team.
Their accolades and successes are clearly well deserved. In 2012, I wondered if Paul and Liz’s foodie ambitions would work. Time, their clientele, some of the county’s top food judges and this visit have shown unequivocally it works supremely well. I am so proud of them.
DRINKS SELECTION 5/5
The Hare at Scawton, Scawton, near Helmsley, North Yorkshire, YO7 2HG. 01845 597769, thehare-inn.com
Open: Wednesday to Saturday, 12-2.30pm and 6-9pm; Sunday, 12-4pm (the restaurant offers a different menu on Sundays).