It's tough out there in business for everyone right now but restaurants, it seems, are taking more than their fair share of the bashing.
Not only are customers dining out less and the average spend per head reduced, but the severe weather this winter is adding to the misery with many cancelling in droves. So blink and the restaurant you like has gone but some seem to manage to keep plodding on despite all the setbacks.
One restaurant that has kept on going for the past 11 years is the Dining Room in Boroughbridge. The smart grade II listed eatery sits unassumingly opposite the Market Square and with little noise or fanfare has quietly been scooping up awards and plaudits through a turbulent decade.
On the evening of my visit, though not full, the restaurant was buzzing quite nicely and at a level many restaurateurs would envy.
I must admit to not having been in the Dining Room for years and my faded memory recalls when it opened it was a little haphazard and struggled for a clear identity both in the food and the dcor. All that has changed. The bar area, once a fairly anonymous first floor waiting room with sofas, is tastefully dressed in luxuriant and lavish velvets, glass, gold and glitter. There is an amply stocked bar and an array of staff eager to please, making it an altogether pleasant room.
The glitz and glamour of the bar is toned down to a quiet elegance in the dining room with crisp white tablecloths, pristine glasses and cutlery, careful lighting and jazz playing softly in the background. There is a whisper of formality in the service here which, if played any louder could be deemed unfashionable, but for now they seem to have managed a balance of ceremony without being too prim and proper.
Along with light formality however comes those special touches seldom seen in more "modern" places; canaps served with pre-dinner drinks, wine tasting and pouring and always welcome, a basket of warm breads and butter, included in the price – take note those who charge for bread.
There is like restraint in the menu which is refreshingly small and uncomplicated but cleverly will suit all palettes and appetites. Prices are set for each course; starters 6.95, mains 17.90 and puds 6.95 or save a few bob and opt for three-courses at 28.75. Any limitations on choice are wildly unleashed in the wine list which does an ample job of keeping me entertained as I travel through styles, continents, half-bottles and a good selection by the glass finally descending on two good all-rounder's, Chablis and a Ctes du Rhne.
A lobster bisque special came surprisingly, not as the timid, lightly strained crustacean broth I had expected but as a bowl of robustly flavoured soup containing the fattest prawns I had seen in a long time. The portion size was also generous making this exceptionally good value for food of this quality.
Prawns did a double act for starters and came also as Cajun-spiced with cucumber and mint. Where the bisque was strong and assertive this dish wobbled a little. There was simply nothing wrong with the prawns, neither the "raita' style accompaniment but as the two originate from different continents this fusion didn't quite hit the mark.
A fillet of Yorkshire beef with flat mushrooms and red wine however scored a bull's-eye. Spot-on beef with a delicious caramelisation on the outside, tender and melting inside. Staff could have mentioned that the dish came with mash which would have saved 2.95 on the extra portion of homemade chipped potatoes we ordered. A small point but important as we felt just a touch cheated especially as our other main also came with potatoes.
All was redeemed with a sea bass and butter chive sauce which was a textbook piece of classical cooking. Exact fillets of fish, sitting atop new potatoes all bathed in a light, buttery sauce. Excellent.
There was a sweep of classicism in the dessert menu too with chocolate tarts, jellies, brles and our choice of poached pears with vanilla ice cream. Again pretty faultless stuff technique-wise but the pears were on the wrong side of cold for flavour, even slightly warm would have brought more out and then what seemed to be an overly sweet sauce would have been tempered.
A handsome plate of British cheeses, crackers, celery and all was the winner of the two desserts on this occasion. The cheeses were served at a good temperature and all were fresh and tasty.
Chef-owner Christopher Astley and his wife Lisa seem to have created a great combination at the Dining Room. Despite a few small niggles, the food is excellent, the atmosphere is warm
and welcoming, polished off with staff who are professional without being stuffy.
Talking to Lisa Astley she agrees with me that it is not easy for them or anyone in the restaurant business at the moment.
All I can say to them is, keep doing what you are doing because for me, it is working.
The Dining Room Restaurant, 20 St. James Square, Boroughbridge, York, YO51 9AR. Tel: 01423 326426. Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday: 7.00pm (last orders 9.15pm), Sunday: noon (last orders 2pm).
YP MAG 8/1/11