The rebuilding, repair and refurbishing of Hebden Bridge continues apace. Since the disastrous deluge on Boxing Day 2015, houses, shops, pubs and cafes have been making themselves flood-proof, or as near to it as it’s possible to get. A fleet of white vans has been a constant presence, and many places closed altogether while tons of mud was hosed out.
The Stubbing Wharf, a handsome, old stone pub, a short walk along the Rochdale canal was one such place. For months there were metal shutters at the windows and doors, with yellow and black striped signs saying ‘danger of contamination’ tied to the six foot railings; a sorry state of affairs.
Gladly, those days are behind us. The Wharf threw open its doors with something of a flourish in June, and they’ve made a great job of it. It was always a good boozer, full of locals and walkers, and serving decent pub grub; it’s still those things but with added class; what a difference a flood makes.
The décor is very pleasing; think tartan wool padded banquettes, one or two plain dark grey walls and a smattering of cute bird and butterfly wallpaper, with sturdy tables on the stone flags that thankfully survived. There’s a fabulous fireplace with a roaring fire in the grate, exposed beams and stylish hanging lights. Perch on one of the high tables by the bar for a pint of Saltaire Blonde and a sandwich.
There has been a settlement at Stubbing for over a thousand years; it was a sleepy cluster of buildings until the upper Calder valley became a major cloth manufacturing centre with the birth of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. The Rochdale canal was built to serve the many mills in the valley and the influential Foster family of Erringden built the Stubbing Wharf Hotel and by 1810 it was serving the needs of travellers on both the canal and the turnpike road.
So does the menu match the smart refurbishment? You’d be disappointed if you walked into a country pub and not find classics, and they’re here; sausage & mash, fish & chips, steak & ale pie (though with puff pastry lid, so not strictly a proper pie IMHO) but you’ll also find black pudding and goat cheese ‘tower’ and wild pea & asparagus risotto. The specials board adds interest, with the likes of Serrano and salmon bites, belly pork with pumpkin puree and baby toffee apples, and venison meatballs. The ‘tower’ is three stories high and literally in-yer-face. Subtle it isn’t, but it’s a tasty beast, the pudding crumbly and the cheese soft and giving. There’s a pile of red onion marmalade big enough to feed the next table as well.
The Serrano and salmon ‘bites’ are a delightful couple of mouthfuls, with nicely poached fish wrapped in ham with a rocket salad, a sharp lemon dressing and a cheffy flourish of a zig-zag drizzle of balsamic syrup.
Venison meatballs are dense, fatless, moist and packed with flavour, with wince-sharp bramble compote. Edible flowers add colour and whimsy; it’s one of the best small plates of food I’ve had in some time. Unlike the toad in the hole, which we will draw a veil over and never mention again, other than to say to the kitchen: if your Yorkshire pudding doesn’t rise, don’t send it out. Bin it and have another go.
In complete contrast, three huge pieces of tender, succulent, perfectly cooked duck breast keels up with crispy curly kale, pear jus and a poached, neatly splayed apple and a pile of excellent roasties – great value at £14. I’ve a feeling the kitchen contains cooks with different levels of skill.
There’s a pasta section and ‘burgers and grills’ and an impressive number of options for vegetarians and the gluten intolerant.
Puddings include an exemplary treacle tart with orange marmalade ice cream and syrup: it’s a triumph, with a lovely sharp citrus kick against the unctuous treacle, and no whiff of a soggy bottom. Likewise a ‘New York style’ cheese cake.
Service is exemplary – attentive, friendly and efficient. Trot down to the Wharf next time you’re in town. The food is up a notch or two from pub grub and it’s heartening to see a valued local bounce back with such style.
• The Stubbing Wharf, Hebden Bridge, HX7 6LU 01422 844107, stubbingwharf.com
Open daily, 12-9pm for food and until 11pm for the bar.