What’s happening to garden centres? They used to be the place for a bag of comp0st and your spring bulbs, then they expanded to gift shops with driftwood mirrors and “Live Laugh Love” plaques and just possibly a cafe for tea and a scone.
That’s so last century. We reviewed Moss and Moor near Ilkley last month and found Kevin Gratton in the kitchen, a proper chef cooking proper food to critical acclaim. We also visited Daleside Nurseries, where Michelin-starred Frances Atkins exchanged the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill to cook out of an Airstream caravan, and recently returned to its own purpose-built cafe in the grounds (reports later). Now it’s the turn of Crimple Garden Centre, just south of Harrogate town centre.
Of course, it makes perfect sense. Garden centres invariably have a loyal customer base and ample parking. Crimple has taken advantage of this to the tune of £4m. Owners Graham and Tori Watson have bolted onto their regular garden centre 20,000 square feet of food hall, bistro and event space.
You can’t miss the vast “saw-tooth” frontage clad in larch with a big C logo clamped to the exterior. Indoors, the functional look continues. The food hall feels like a spacious barn, the metal shelves piled high with upmarket teas, coffees, biscuits, jams, honey, flour and a lavish fruit and veg stall. There’s a deli section, a cheese counter, juices, beers and wines, a bakery and 12 metres of butchery. It’s impressive, though whether Harrogate can sustain yet another fancy food hall, following the likes of Weeton’s and Fodder, remains to be seen.
The bistro next door is equally barn-like. It has rafters, steel beams, exposed ducts, conduits and pipework, but what hits you first is the noise. The chatter, the clatter, the clink of glasses, crockery and cutlery of 160 covers, all bouncing off those hard surfaces create quite a racket. But once at our table, in the far corner with views across the Crimple Valley, much of the noise is muffled by the booth-style seating.
The service is prompt and the menu crowd-pleasing. For breakfast/brunch, there is porridge, granola, pastries and eggs every way you like, along with bacon butties and a full English.
We are here for lunch and the all-day menu. I’m dithering over the chicken liver pâté, the prawn cocktail or the smoked mackerel pâté on toast with pickled shallots and an apple and fennel salad. Or should it be the deli sandwich packed with salami, pastrami, chorizo and dill pickle or simply a fish butty of battered haddock and tartare sauce? The sandwiches are served with a little cup of soup and warm ciabatta, which reasonably justifies the £10-£12 price tag.
Ever had a poké bowl? It’s a salad bowl with layers of rice, vegetables and protein, finished with some kind of dressing. It originated in Hawaii, migrated to the US, then London and now it’s made it to Crimple, layering roast cauliflower, spinach, toasted almonds, crispy kale, grated apple and a maple and ginger dressing. I’m always tempted by bowl food, but decide in the end to sample two courses, a goat’s cheese and beetroot salad followed by fishcake.
It’s an elegant salad. A small crottin set upon a gently spiced beetroot puree, then given poached pears, pea shoots and a scattering of walnuts. The fishcake is good too, fat and generously filled with salmon and smoked haddock, well crumbed with panko and served with a fabulous tomato compôte.
Friends had buttermilk chicken – a tender chicken breast, marinated in buttermilk and then deep-fried in breadcrumbs. How could that not be delicious when it’s been accurately cooked and served with the best thick cut chips, coleslaw and onion rings?
Ditto butternut and sage tortellini. Little buttons of pasta filled with silky squash and sage, finished with blue cheese and toasted walnuts, then drizzled with sage butter and a scattering of pea shoots. A perfectly soothing dish.
Dessert is a big slab of white chocolate and raspberry cake with pouring cream. After a year of pushing tiny morsels around large plates, this is generous and indulgent and it’s a blessed relief that no one needs to describe it or pour the cream in a puddle around the base.
Five agreeable dishes. Proper portions, simply cooked, nicely presented. Crimple may not win any gastro prizes but sometimes, easy, satisfying bistro food that doesn’t need explaining is just what’s needed.
Crimple Bar & Kitchen, Leeds Road, Pannal, Harrogate HG3 1EW, 01423 870800, www.crimple.co.uk. Open: Monday to Saturday, 8-11.30am and 12-4.30pm; Sunday, 9am-noon and 12.30-3.30pm. Cost: meal for two including bottle of wine and service approximately £80.