The chef marches from the kitchen with his tray and begins to streak our white plate with purple. He swaps to orange. More streaks of fruit puree sweep across the giant platter at the table centre.
“Can you do a face?” someone asks. He smiles, deftly adding blobs for eyes, nose and mouth. Banksy could learn from this lad. Now he’s placing shapes: three white cylinders of marshmallow which he zaps – pouf, pouf, pouf – with a blowtorch produced from nowhere.
He raises a glass and injects it with foam from a stainless-steel aerosol, worshipped in the trade as an espuma gun.
‘Strawberry caviar’ joins the composition under the guise of pink frog spawn. A Champagne glass of something lemon-coloured and wobbly is placed down; a chocolate-dipped strawberry joins the party.
From his Mary Poppins tray he transfers to the “grazing dessert” plate bite-size chocolate eclairs, a frangipane tart, a blueberry cup-cake, a slice of coffee and walnut cake, a third glass of something wobbly, some heart-shaped chocolates and, glooping graphically from the bottom of a piping bag some chocolate mousse. And this for two of us.
The entertaining theatre piece is over in little more than a minute but not before the chef decorates the fruit-layered panna cotta, blood-orange foam and lemon posset with popping candy.
This wretched exploding dust, beloved of Heston Blumenthal and five-year-olds, was interesting for about 10 seconds when it came out. It should have no place in a serious kitchen.
That said, the kitchen at Neaversons is very serious indeed and the candy was the sole culinary misjudgment in a meal of high quality and outstanding value. Of which, more later.
On the pass on the day of our visit was owner Eimear Alderman-Skehan who worked at the Star at Harome before opening this former china shop five months ago. With her was our industrious chef-artist Kevin Kindland, back in his home town after a stint at Ripley Castle.
He’s clearly going through a phase, though, because not only was the wooden board that brought the starter streaked with purple but the crisps were made from beetroot. Well, it is Lent and the flourishes were justified, for the starter also yielded three fat, beautifully seared scallops with pancetta. Ponder it: sweet scallops, earthy beetroot and savoury bacon, a lovely combination, a little masterpiece.
Perhaps lunch here is regarded as a loss-leader for the costlier dinner, because £16 for three courses (£12.50 for two) that include scallops, fillet of beef and every dessert ever devised, looks too good to be true. If the cooking’s this good, the sneaking concern is that economies may be made on service. Suppress your cynicism, for that’s not the case. The owner, whose smile illuminates the darkish, Corbusier-influenced art deco interior, spent time at the Michelin-starred Yorke Arms at Ramsgill, as did her restaurant manager.
That’s evident in the warmth of the welcome, the attention to detail, the mannerly way with customers and the general tone.
Impressed by the classy starter – my guest’s choice was a soothing composition of wild mushrooms, spinach, poached egg and hollandaise – we speculated on whether the main courses would arrive on glorified bread boards. This was, after all, once the town’s premier source of high-class crockery and, yes, other diners were feasting off china plates.
Perhaps understandably someone had marked us down as rough trencherfolk, for the Fred Flintstone boards returned. But what richness of cargo they bore.
This time the chef’s favourite hue was represented by roasted purple potatoes, visual oddities rich in beneficial anthocyanin. In Slaithwaite they speak of little else. They accompanied as fine a piece of beef fillet as I’d ever met. Nidderdale was the former home of this excellent cut and it in turn was seated on some pressed shin of beef, the two separated by melting leaves of buttered spinach.
This is not a dish for the meek, not that there are many of those in Huddersfield, but it was memorable, not least for its silky carrot puree and punchy thyme jus.
While there’s nothing remotely coarse about the cooking, emphatic flavours run through the main dishes. Consider the roasted hake fillet with Yorkshire chorizo, butter beans, mussels and clams, or a pig-out plate of Gloucester Old Spot that features roast fillet, sous-vide cheek, slow-cooked belly and four variations on apple sauce. This is bright, intelligent, enthusiastic cooking, unafraid of risk and capable of comfort – risotto of cauliflower with Yorkshire blue cheese. Apart from the popping candy, the menu is not too irritatingly on-trend. That said, another modern tic, thrice-cooked chips, has sneaked on to it. If life’s too short to stuff a mushroom, it’s way too short to fry the same damned chip three times.
For those averse to large lunches or dinners, there are lighter things: eggs benedict or florentine, potted shrimps, devilled kidneys, Yorkshire rarebit, wild mushrooms on toast. For teetotalers, a bewildering range of speciality teas await.
And those puddings? Wonderful, every one. A purple patch indeed.
Neaversons Tea House, 4 Byram Street, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, HD1 1BX. 01484 420222, www.neaversons.com. Lunch: Tuesday to Saturday, 12-2.30pm. Dinner, Wednesday to Saturday, 7-9.30pm, bar open until 11pm. There is on-street parking and disabled access.