There are good restaurants and pubs spread throughout Yorkshire but if you draw a line joining Leeds, Harrogate and York, you have what is considered the Golden Triangle of Yorkshire food; an area with an embarrassment of restaurants producing some stonking meals.
That triangle now needs to change though. To be accurate, the line needs to slip a few miles further north to encompass the area between Easingwold, Helmsley and Thirsk – creating more of a square than a triangle. In the past few years, excellent pubs, restaurants hotels and cafes have opened in this region, seemingly, every five minutes.
So, excuse the groan when I heard there was yet another. Seriously, could this district really cope with more I wondered.
The newly reopened Hare at Scawton is a place I have visited more times than I care to think about. I have observed seismic shifts in quality over the years and in recent times I have given it a wide berth after driving all the way there to find it closed, simply on a whim of the then owner. I have renewed confidence, however, with the Hare’s new owners Liz and Paul Jackson. They have an impeccable pedigree from their years at the Crown Inn at Great Ouseburn.
The Crown was another hit-and-miss affair when they took over, yet, apart from some scant PR, they ploughed ahead virtually unnoticed to become Yorkshire Pub of the Year after 18 months. This they achieved by simply working out what their customers wanted and delivering it in bucket loads. A formula I hope they replicate at the Hare.
To say the Hare is a paradigm of the English country pub is an understatement. It is chocolate box pretty, in a mind-bogglingly beautiful location. Arriving on a cold winters’ night, candles in all the windows shine brightly out into the dark; a reassuring gesture that a warm welcome awaits. And it does, even though the log fire could have done with a little more vigour.
Paul heads the kitchen and the menu. At lunch it is a relaxed, approachable affair with sensible prices – bangers and mash, steak sandwiches, moules et al – which will bring in, walkers, tourists and locals for sure. From 6pm to 7pm it cranks up a notch with a very well priced two (£20.50) or three-course (£24.50) dinner.
But, the post 7pm menu has serious foodie ambitions. This makes me just a touch nervous that Paul has strayed a little too much away from the kind of food that will have locals (and those like me, not so local) from just popping in for a bite to eat.
The menu is precise and unsurprisingly is weighted towards local, seasonal game. However, pork makes an appearance, there’s a smattering of seafood, plus, joy of joys, a dedicated vegetarian menu.
Ham hock with foie gras, piccalilli, egg yolk, coriander and pineapple prompted a rather loud gasp around the table; it was a beautiful looking and artfully arranged dish. The tranche of tender ham hock terrine sat alongside a generous slice of lightly pan-fried liver. Surrounding these, a deconstructed piccalilli, panko-coated perfectly cooked egg yolk, and a few pungent drizzles and swizzles rounding them all up brilliantly.
Art in the style of Jackson Pollock continued with the scallop starter. A frenzy of purées, jus, carrot and orange criss-crossed the plate and over the plump scallops and sea bass. It was an exceptionally pleasing dish which left little doubt of the competence in the kitchen.
The pork main course too had much going on. Flavours and textures on the plate included cider, black pudding, tender fondant potato, deep fried sage, tiny crab apples and baby fennel. All were simply delicious – though one sauce was deemed a touch too sweet and cloying – but the star of the dish was the crackling. Lengthy straws of salty pork skin, snapped and crackled to perfection.
Vegetarians more used to offerings of stuffed peppers or a plate of roasted veg should head to the Hare immediately. Paul’s capabilities around meat are transferred in abundance to the meat-free plate. Another visually stunning dish arrived with beetroot, lightly breaded celeriac, girolle mushrooms, tiny gnocchi and blobs of Yellison goats’ cheese. Each component stood confidently on its own but together was magical.
With so much great food choosing pudding proved difficult but far too tempting to pass on. We finally settled for a plate of pear which involved mascarpone, vanilla, toffee, crumble, brambles, cinnamon and black pepper, oh and pear. Like the rest of dinner, it did not disappoint and was another blend of sublime taste, texture and expert cooking.
The bill came in at about £80 for two including wine which for food of this quality was exceptional value. More expensive than your average pub meal, but then this is no ordinary pub; the Hare is both a welcoming country pub and a quality restaurant.
There is no disputing that Liz and Paul are a cracking combination, his expertise in the kitchen is matched only in her capabilities front-of-house. With food and service of this calibre they deserve much success and for sure North Yorkshire would be the poorer without them at the Hare.
Paul’s foodie ambitions are well justified by his cooking and only time will tell if this is what will bring a regular clientele in. I hope it does. But, knowing Paul and Liz I am sure they will respond to the demands of their customers just as they did at the Crown.
They are certainly ones to watch.
The Hare Inn, Scawton, near Helmsley, YO7 2HG. 01845 597769. Open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 2.30pm and 6pm to 9pm; Sunday (winter) noon to 4pm.