There’s something of a food renaissance going on in Malton. In May the Malton Food Festival saw enough local produce stalls to persuade you it was the Dordogne. In October Antonio Carluccio bounced in to promote a local farmers’ Adopt a Pig scheme in which customers choose a piglet and six months later can eat the whole hog. In November Selina Scott opened the town’s first Food Lovers Market in the Milton Rooms.
Much of the impetus for all this has come from Tom Naylor-Leyland, heir to the mighty Fitzwilliam Estate which, inter much alia, is Malton’s biggest landowner. When Tom relocated to Malton from London two years ago, the local joke was that his parents had given him Malton for Christmas.
If so, he seems to be making good use of it with the declared aim of making Malton a foodie destination like Ludlow. He’s backed free parking in the town centre, he’s upgrading historic hotels and he’s the ultimate landlord of the enterprising New Malton which opened in August. This Grade II listed building in a prominent corner of the Market Place began life in the 18th century as the Whip Inn.
More recent locals will remember it as a tearoom, then as the estimable Ambiente tapas bar, and now, majorly refurbed again, it’s a dining pub in the hands of Anthony Gillham and Gemma Williams.
Their ramble of rooms with split levels, wooden floorboards and grey flagstones is instantly appealing, as is the mix of saleroom tables and chairs. There’s a fire in the main bar with a stash of newspapers. The welcome is friendly. On the debit side was one of those instant pseudo-libraries with books by the yard including such hot items as Reed’s Nautical Almanack of 1966. There are big areas of cream wall which could do with more colour and larger pictures and where the locally-relevant items like show bills and jockeys sit better than maps of Australia and Frank Meadow Sutcliffe prints. But it’s fair to say we’d dropped in for a quiet, late Saturday lunch and I imagine that by night time, with soft lighting and candles, it would have felt a whole lot more warm and convivial.
There was nothing frigid about Anthony Gillham’s cooking. A starter of fried pigeon breast and an apple, sage and pickled walnut salad was excellent: tender pigeon, very finely sliced apple and just a hint of sage and pickled walnut amongst the salad leaves, an overall package full of gusto. I chose courgette and chilli gnocchi with pepper dressing and garlic chives a) because it was vegetarian and since most chefs cook for vegetarians with bad grace it’s a good test and b) because it sounded the oddest thing on the menu. It was odd, too, three little croquettes topped with a few salad leaves, soft and a bit gluey inside with a hint of paprika. I couldn’t really discern the courgette but by the time I’d eaten three, I rather liked the tender little morsels. We were kept in good company with a pleasing Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Vigne Nuove (£2.75/£16.20) from a list of 40 odd wines and a pint of Backendish from Hull’s Great Newsome Brewery. Armed with the colour supplements, we were settling in nicely.
A long list of mains brought out plenty of old pub friends: steak burger and chips, wild mushroom risotto cake, braised lamb shoulder, sea bass, sausage and mash, ploughman’s. Fifteen dishes in all plus a sandwich menu. It’s a big carte and on top of that they offer “lighter things”: six dishes that included garlic mushrooms on toast with a poached egg, steak sandwich and one made famous by Jamie Oliver in his early days, the fish finger sandwich.
We went with linguine with pork and chorizo meatballs and a dish of slow-cooked mutton and pearl barley stew. The meatball/linguine combo confirmed the gutsiness underlying the cooking but the dryness of the meat made it a dish of diminishing returns. Better by far was my slow-cooked mutton stew, a contender for my dish of the year. For someone who actually prefers the gravy to the meat, this was perfect. A rich, oozy, comforting gravy wrapped up the just chewy barley. Tender flecks of mutton peeped through. Three little mint scones topped it off. For £8.50 it was a knock-out dish.
In fact it stopped me in my tracks with no room after that rib sticker for creme brulee, plum crumble, chocolate brownie and ice cream, sticky toffee pudding, cheese with fruit cake or Ryeburn’s ice creams and sorbets. Solid bets, no doubt.
Fortified for the darkening gloom of a late November afternoon, we did a circuit of Malton’s Market Place. We went past the Milton Rooms where the Food Lovers Market returns next March, past the pumpkins and pears and the last fresh figs in Paley’s, past Malton Relish, the Chancery wine bar and the Market Place bistro, past the market stalls and up past the dressed partridges and rabbits and pheasants in full feather hanging outside Derek Fox’s butchers. Ludlow? Not by the measure of Michelin stars and posh delis but very reassuring all the same, a market town with renewed respect for good food. And the New Malton fits in just fine.
The New Malton, 2-4 Market Place, Malton, YO17 7LX T: 01653 693998 E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: www.thenewmalton.co.uk
Price: Three-course dinner for two including bottle of wine, coffee and service. Approx: £72.