Apparently you should never buy fresh fish or eat out on a Monday. I get the first – everyone needs at least one day off a week including fishermen – but not eat out? This premise presupposes that on a Monday there’s a good chance the head chef will be having his day off; the kitchen will be using up food leftover from the weekend, and apparently, no-one eats out on a Monday unless they really have to.
I had to, which is why the other half and I sat alone in an empty dining room at the White Hart Brasserie in Harrogate. Remarking on the absence of other diners, our waiter’s quip that we could pretend we had booked private dining did raise a smile but not our spirits.
The White Hart is a smart Harrogate hotel and besides the Brasserie is also home to the very popular Fat Badger pub, which, even on a Monday, was packed. Food is also served in the pub so we were sorely tempted to shift our booking. However, we opted to stay put as food-wise it would have made little difference – the Badger and the Brasserie share the same menu.
So, we sit in a pleasingly, pretty, high-ceilinged room; so pretty it belies the name brasserie. Artfully distressed objects gently clutter the room, and are so casually sited, it is clear a lot of thought has been put into their placement. Everything from tableware to floors and walls is clean, polished and cared for; this is a restaurant where attention to detail is obviously very important.
The menu is also neatly arranged. There are three sections: signature dishes are the posh, imaginative dishes boasting two AA rosettes: classics are comfortable pub food stalwarts, and lurking at the end, a few pastas, risottos, steaks and specials.
Duck liver terrine with Madeira jelly and piccalilli is certainly a courageous dish as this is a tricky combination. However, Chef sent out an exemplary, classical terrine and the deconstructed piccalilli was pleasing. But together? No. It didn’t work for me. The pickle was way too sharp and point-blank killed the subtler flavours of the liver and in turn, rendered the jelly tasteless.
Another intriguing dish offered white Yorkshire crab with frozen avocado, wasabi and black olive. Again, the individual components showed flair and promise though I was disappointed that the clumsily presented crab tasted more brown than white meat. The “frozen” avocado was a quenelle of smooth sorbet with an exacting kick from the wasabi and would make a clever stand-alone dish.
A breast of guinea fowl wellington with slow-cooked thigh, celery root and artichoke showed great promise and almost delivered. The tasty meat nudged towards overcooked but had been rescued just in time. On the other hand, the pastry would have benefited from a few minutes more. Otherwise, this, as it turned out was the star of dinner and a more than acceptable dish.
Which is more than can be said of a smoked haddock risotto, poached egg and pea foam.
An oversized plate-cum bowl arrived sans-foam but with a lugubrious risotto into which an egg had been cracked and half-cooked. A prod with a fork revealed a gelatinous mess surrounding a leathery-skinned yolk, this had been sitting under a hot light for quite some time. I politely sent it back with a message to chef that it was not cooked. Chef then sent it back to me informing me it was in fact cooked.
Not a smart move. Not because I was there reviewing the restaurant, but simply because this is not the way to deal with a paying customer. The risotto was once more returned to the kitchen and I asked not to see it or any other dish again.
I felt most sorry for the waiter, who really was trying his best.
We had tried to make the best of the situation at the Brasserie, chatting to our waiter, smiling welcomingly when two more diners arrived at another table. But, the debacle of the risotto rather knocked our morale. It was also about this time the hammering started. When I asked about the noise I was informed that some of the bedrooms were being renovated and a quiet night in the restaurant was a good time to do it.
With a final attempt to rescue the evening we ordered dessert and a selection of three artisan cheeses. Only two arrived and I was suspicious that neither had seen an artisan’s hand.
Husband thought the apple sorbet on his apple plate dessert sublime but the miniature crumble the worst ever, and following a quick taste I was in agreement.
For the pleasure of this evening, the food and four glasses of wine, I was charged £90 at which point I started to feel annoyed. If your door is open and you are inviting customers in to spend their hard-earned money they deserve the same attention whether it is Monday night or Saturday. If you want to carry out repairs then do it when there is no-one there.
I have eaten at the Brasserie before and this series of mistakes was, in my experience, out of character. But sadly it happened, wasn’t handled well and cost dearly in many ways, not least my disappointment.
The White Hart Brasserie, Cold Bath Road, Harrogate, HG2 0NF Tel: 01423 505681. Open Monday to Saturday, 11.30am-3.30pm & 6-10pm, Sunday, 12-9pm.