Restaurant Review: Alfie’s Place, Harrogate

There’s a great big blow-up of Alfie in the dining room. It’s captioned: “All the dishes in this restaurant have been tested by our executive chef.” He’s dressed in chef’s whites and has one of those little scarves round his neck that chefs affect. His face is smothered in food and I’d guess he’s about one year old. Cute. If you like that sort of thing.

Anyway, Alfie is the young son of Luci and Alex Matthews, who opened here in November on the ground floor of a modern Harrogate office block on Victoria Avenue, an easy step from the main shopping thoroughfares. It’s themed in black, red and white.

Black damask wallpaper covers one wall. The others are blood-red, one of them is filled with black and white photos of Yorkshire landmarks: York Minster, Lendal Bridge, Betty’s. Tables have been given crisp white cloths and red napkins. Chairs are regulation high backed leather.

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A wall of windows gives a view of the passing pedestrians and on a sunny lunchtime our window alcove is very agreeable. A little terrace is equipped for outdoor eating and drinking.

The place must have quite a buzz when it’s full. Today there are just three couples, including us, for lunch so the website instruction that we should book was unnecessary. So was the loop of 70s pop classics blasting out at near disco level given that four of the six of us were pensioners. Perhaps it was meant to be nostalgic. Our cheerful waiter turns down the volume on request.

Alfie’s Place is open all day from breakfast through to supper with lots of bargain deals. A pub grub lunch at £9.95, a fixed price menu at £14.95 and a menu for people brandishing internet voucher deals.

Today it looks like everyone is up for the three course Pub Grub menu: soup of the day, chicken liver pate or prawn cocktail followed by steak pie, fish and chips, sausage and mash or burger and chips. Just a bit predictable but you can’t argue with the value.

We go à la carte: sticky belly pork, clam chowder then posh fish and chips and haunch of venison. We might have gone for starters of scallops with chorizo, deep fried goat’s cheese; mushrooms “contrived with Yorkshire Blue and a cosy breaded coat”, if you please. Or mains of glazed belly pork; mushroom risotto; scallops, Scarborough Woof and Yorkshire chorizo. Prices here seem reasonable, too, with £5-£9 starters; £11-£17 mains.

So, despite this being a glossy, cosmopolitan creation, the menu reads if not like a gastropub then certainly a pub that likes its food. Could this be because the Matthews’ former life was at Ye Olde Punch Bowl at Marton cum Grafton?

And if that name rings a bell, it might be because the Punch Bowl was at the centre of the TV series Risky Business on Channel 4 where Neil Morrissey and Richard Fox reckoned on turning a Yorkshire village pub into a gastropub and micro brewery. Having bussed in celebrities for the opening and alienated the locals, it closed 18 months later leaving an unhappy village and a bad taste all round.

Luci and Alex Matthews took it over after the Morrissey/Fox farrago. I never got to it under their watch, but it can’t have been easy. Once your locals have decamped elsewhere, it’s hard to get them back. Our waiter put it more prosaically “The locals didn’t appreciate Alex’s style of cooking.” Would Harrogate, we wondered? Would we?

Yes and no. No to the clam chowder which was drowning in so much cream even the kitchen cat would have said enough. Among the drowned were potatoes, sweet peppers, clams and prawns – replacing the advertised Scarborough Woof, though we weren’t told about the substitution. By contrast the 12-hour roasted belly pork was a resounding yes. A lovely, sticky, yielding pile of shredded pork infused with sweet hoisin sauce.

It was yes, too, for my haunch of venison, cooked in a water bath “inspired by Heston” according to the menu. Matthew did it justice. Here were three or four slices, perfectly timed, nicely rare, nicely tender placed on sliced, creamy, garlicky potatoes and ruby chard. A well constructed little pan of vegetables came with red cabbage, white cabbage and mange tout.

Posh fish and chips came on a posh rectangular plate. Left to right were sweet potato chips, battered haddock, king prawn, baked salmon and a tasty smoked salmon fishcake on a good own-made tartar sauce. Fair value at £13.25 and nothing wrong with the cooking but not an entirely coherent plate; the parts were greater than the whole. Less is more?

To finish, Ouseburn treacle tart, presumably a back reference to the village close to their last posting. Sticky and sweet with good pastry and good ice cream, it made for a happy ending to a satisfactory lunch. Given the town’s plethora of chain eateries, independent Alfie is a welcome addition to the family.

Alfie’s Place, Clarendon House, Victoria Avenue, Harrogate HG1 1JO. T: 01423 567272;E: [email protected]; W: www.alfies-place.co.uk;

Open: Mon-Thurs 5pm-9pm Fri & Sat 12-9.30pm Sun12-4pm Price: Dinner for two including a bottle of wine, coffee and service about £75.