Sowerby Bridge, often thought of as Hebden’s plain sister is chock full of interesting places to eat and drink. The Works, a lofty, stylishly converted warehouse is a Mecca for beer monsters with around a dozen on tap and an incredibly cheap grazing menu to soak it up; the bling-fest that is The Blind Pig dispenses afternoon tea, cocktails and “European fusion” food in unexpectedly glitzy surroundings and of course there’s glorious Gimbals, a shining beacon of how a friendly neighbourhood restaurant should be.
Dandelion & Burdock is tucked away in an unglamorous corner down some steps, next to a printers and under a television repair shop. Blink and you miss it. Once inside though, it opens out into a long, airy, light-filled room, Tardis-like. The floors are scrubbed wood, there’s a bank of tables and chairs down one side and original artwork on plain walls – at the moment by local artist Chris Czainski.
The far end of the room looks over the confluence of the rivers Calder and Ryburn and on a sunny evening the reflection of the water casts ripples on the walls, creating an almost continental quality to the light.
Originally from Cheshire, chef/owner David Wilson trained in Manchester before de-camping to the USA where he worked for 15 years, mainly in California. During that time he became a dad, and discovered that his son Leif had various food intolerances. It became clear that no animal products, including dairy was the way to go. So yes, Dandelion & Burdock is a vegan restaurant, but park your preconceptions right there. This is food that will appeal to the most veggie-resistant eater.
In his latest book, American food activist Michael Pollan has come up with some rules for 21st-century scoffing (with the family, not on your knees in front of the television or through the window of your car) and most pertinently “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It’s a maxim most of us (including me) could take note of and perhaps even act on.
Wilson saw the sense of this – he might even pre-date Pollan – and his short but appealing menu is separated into “small” and “large plates” which suggests a tapas sensibility, and indeed that’s what we do. And it really is hard to choose; bruschetta with cherry tomatoes, basil pesto and balsamic syrup appeals as does mango slaw with pumpkin seeds and lime and chilli dressing; in the end we go for corn fritters, which are deep fried in a spicy batter and light, non-greasy with bags of flavour. The pile of red cabbage slaw has a hint of ginger alongside the garlic and balsamic – ingenious! The sliver of mango on top is a lovely counterpoint to the crunch of the fritter, as is the spiky dip – and the colours! Every plate that arrives is a riot of red, ochre and purple, orange, gold and fifty shades of green.
Asparagus caesar is creamy, cheesy and luxurious – there are three or four different leaves in there and the asparagus spears are perfectly cooked. Vegan cheese is usually made from soya protein and vegetable oil; I defy anyone to detect the difference between the deliciously nutty hard cheese in this dish and a good Italian pecorino.
Three fist-sized pasta shells are stuffed with cream cheese, olives, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes and sitting on a nicely dressed baby leaf salad shot through with live sprouting beans –pleasingly crunchy and with clean hedgerow notes.
My “large plate” is essentially jersey potatoes with tender stem broccoli, red onion, asparagus, avocado and spinach – simplicity itself, but flawlessly cooked with bite where there should be and none where it shouldn’t and with a well-judged dash of balsamic syrup. It’s summer on a plate.
A dish called Mandarin tofu arrives and is the colour (as fate would have it) of Farrow & Ball’s Eating Room Red and the depth of flavour matches the hue. David makes this the day before, and it consists of soy sauce, oranges, garlic and ginger. Bell peppers give it bite and shitake mushrooms its velvety consistency. A neat tumbler of plain white rice is all that’s needed to soak up the lip-smacking sauce.
Puddings are just as successful; a lemon and blueberry cake is dense and moist with a slick of crème anglais, and my shortbread cookies with poached rhubarb and creamy vanilla ice cream the perfect end to a memorable meal.
Service is unflustered and efficient. David cooks mostly by himself in the tiny space behind the counter in the dining room. It’s accomplished and confident cooking by a chef who clearly has respect for his ingredients but isn’t po-faced about it. This is healthy eating by stealth. It wasn’t until
halfway through dinner that The Boyfriend spotted there was no protein, and he never twigged we were eating vegan. The days of limp lettuce and tasteless tofu are over. In Sowerby Bridge anyway.
Dandelion & Burdock, 16 Town Hall Street, Sowerby Bridge, Halifax HX6 2EA. 01422 316000, www.dandelionandburdockrestaurant.com. Open Wednesday to Saturday 6-9pm, Sunday brunch 11-3pm. Prices; £4.50 for small plates and puddings, £9.50 for large plates.