Beyond the borders

Restaurant review: Amanda Wragg at Kitties Restaurant, Hebden Bridge, where ’90s decor lives on. Pictures by Simon Hulme

There’s so much ephemera in this small space (around 20 covers) it’s hard to drag your eyes away. The “collections” as we’ll call them seem to have no meaning; here a samovar, there a cuckoo clock, elsewhere an ornate beaten silver chalice hanging with cups and a set of copper pans on the wall. It’s all too redolent of the Sheffield Corporation Lost Property office my auntie Mary used to work in, and the lighting about as subtle.

Fortunately, the food’s so good it momentarily takes your mind off the chaos. An amuse bouche is half a hard boiled egg on a tiny slick of blood red sweet chilli sauce – way better than it sounds. My salmon tandoori is very good indeed, the marinade perfectly balanced and not shouting down the delicate fish, and accompanied by a cool, chunky home-made riata and a small stack of peppery leaves. Garlic button mushrooms is exactly what it says on the tin. Homemade bread arrives and the wine is properly chilled but doesn’t travel from the bar in a cooler, so gradually warms up.

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There’s time in the gap between courses to further absorb the accidentally retro vibe of the peach wallpaper, floral borders (aagh, I know) and frilly floral curtains with matching tie-backs. It was never a good look, even in the early ’90s when it was first done. It’s hard to imagine why they’ve never updated it. This is a good space in an attractive building on the main street, but maybe this (along with the rain) accounts for there being just the four of us on a Thursday night?

Owner Nick Cornish has been a life-long chef including a stint at the Dorchester and knows a thing or two about classic cooking. My Gressingham duck breast is tender and gamey, the dark, glossy piquant sauce under it unimproveable. Try as I might, I can never achieve this consistency and depth of flavour in sauces – it takes a skilled and experienced chef, and he is just that.

Seared fillet of halibut with an olive oil, lemon and Entre deux Mers dressing is dressed with slivers of smoked salmon and is a triumph of subtle flavours. Both dishes are beautifully presented, nicely judged and without too much cheffyness. Accompanying veg are appropriately seasonal and have bite. The whole shebang is very classy indeed.

Mont Blanc is the signature dessert – “a peak of white chocolate ice cream served with profiteroles filled with fresh cream and a warm, dark, rich chocolate sauce”. But the curried popcorn at the start has done for us, though I was sorely tempted by the Sorbet “Ménage à Trois” just to see if car keys got thrown into the fruit bowl in a Margo and Jerry fashion as a final flourish.

So much of what goes on here is good. Helen your hostess couldn’t be sweeter, and the food is so memorable it’s a crime it’s not full every night of the week. All this and Frank, Nat and Ella on the eight-track. But I couldn’t be distracted from the décor for long enough for it not to be an issue. I can’t help thinking they’d be busier if they take a deep breath, plaster over the artex, light a few candles, rip off the borders and launch themselves into the now.

Kitties Restaurant. 52 Market Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 6AA. 01422 842956 www.kittiesrestaurant.co.uk. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 7pm. Meal for two £63.90 including a bottle of wine at £18.95.