I’m a big fan of small, intimate restaurants run by just a couple of people. Half-a-dozen or so tables catered for by a pair of hands in the kitchen and another front-of-house allows the restaurant to focus its offering and demands that everything runs efficiently. Ingredients are used wisely and product knowledge runs deep. It’s a very attractive way to cook and to eat. No-one is ever going to make a fortune running such a small concern but a chef can ensure that the food he wants to make is delivered to the diner without compromise. That feeling of complete control must be just as attractive to the person making the dishes as the feeling that every morsel you eat has been truly cared for is to the customer.
The latest restaurant I’ve found that fits this bill is the marvellous Thirteen in lovely Leyburn. Owned and run by husband-and-wife team Michael and Sarah McBride, Thirteen offers clever British dishes (with subtle touches of the Med and Far East) served unhurriedly and unfussily in two rooms just off the Market Square.
I was using Leyburn as a base of operations for a recent trip to the Dales and so – during a languorous, gluttonous long weekend – I enjoyed a lunch and evening meal there recently. The menu seems slightly simpler for the lunchtime session but otherwise there are few changes and the three courses for £16.50 lunch offer makes it very difficult to not indulge thoroughly.
After a couple of delicious fingers of homemade bread – one rosemary focaccia, the other spelt sourdough – I started with potted local rabbit. It’s served as a generous oblique-cut cylinder (yes, I googled shapes till I found it) with carrot puree, sourdough crisps and a pile of fascinatingly tasty pickled candied beetroot cubes. The sweetness of the carrot offset any gaminess in the rabbit and, so good and unusual were they, I now want pickled candied beetroot cubes served with everything.
I would have had the lamb sausages for main but the scores of gambolling baa-lambs I’d driven past in the fields around Leyburn had left me feeling guilty about being a carnivore. Fortunately I’d not seen a single pig on my journey so the slow cooked pork shoulder with mashed potato, apple and sage jus was devoured without my pesky conscious getting a word in. The pork was outrageously tender but also crisped nicely at the end to avoid it losing too much texture. I was glad I’d ordered a bowl of the fabulous triple cooked chips to go with the dish, not because it wasn’t hearty enough but because they gave me something to soak up the lovely sage gravy.
For pud, I had the grapefruit and lime bavarois. If you’ve not had a bavarois before (I hadn’t), it’s a sort-of a deconstructed trifle – sponge and fruit with gelatine for jelly and whipped cream. Here it arrived looking like a little covered wagon with slices of grapefruit and dribbles of lime representing the prairie. It was very good, I’ll be bavaroising again.
My lunch meal was accompanied by a couple of bottles of ale from the local Yorkshire Dales Brewing Co but I transferred to wine when I returned the next night for my evening session. Thirteen keeps an excellent cellar to accompany the more complex a la carte options.
I tried the pan roasted duck livers, which was brave of me as I really don’t like liver but I wanted to see how on earth they would work with the proffered Yorkshire parkin, rhubarb and toasted oats. I have to say that parkin works surprisingly well with liver. Who would guess that? It didn’t do enough to convert me to being a liver fan but it was about the closest I’ve ever got. The sweetness of the parkin and texture of the oats rounded off the sharper flavours of the livers and, if you’re an actual liver-liker, you’ll probably rave about the dish.
I really fancied the oven roasted loin of lamb served with peas, beans, artichoke, ewe polenta and wild garlic pesto but the visions of bouncy newborn ruminants returned and forced me porkward again. Also, the pan roasted Yorkshire pork fillet was served Asian style with stem ginger mash, carrot, bok choi and star anise jus, so it sounded very tasty. And it was. I’d have taken a bit more gingery-ness in the mash but the Far Eastern aromatics set off the juicy meat perfectly.
Afters for this visit was a warm pistachio cake with pistachio mousse, candied pistachios and pistachios crisps. Basically loads of pistachio done loads of different ways. It was all grand, but the pistachio mousse squeezed into the pistachio crisps like an ice cream sandwich was my favourite part.
Prices go up of an evening, along with the portion sizes. Starters and puds are £6-£7, mains £15-£19 – still very good value for such great food. Host Sarah is a delight throughout and knows the dishes and ingredients just as well as her unseen hubby in the kitchen. In fact, I can’t think of a single reason why you wouldn’t take a trip to Leyburn to try Thirteen out. As I said, I doubt the McBrides will ever get rich running Thirteen but they’re doing a job they love, serving wonderful food in one of the best places to live in the world. Who needs money when you have all that?
• Thirteen, 13 Railway Street, Leyburn, North Yorkshire, DL8 5BB. 01969 622951, thirteenleyburn.co.uk. Open: Monday, Wednesday & Thursday, 6-8.30pm; Friday & Saturday, 12-2pm; Sunday, 5.30-9pm.
DRINKS SELECTION 4/5