How often do you consider Driffield? Not often, I’ll warrant. This sleepy little market town may be “Capital of the Wolds” but I struggle to think of any reason to visit. There’s nothing wrong with the place. I like many of the houses and buildings off the main drag but they only keep your attention for a while. Certainly gastronomically, (aside from the excellent monthly farmers market on the showground) there is nothing of interest – only a few unexceptional Indians and Italians to choose from for your first date or family do.
I was therefore surprised to hear whispers of an interesting new restaurant. The Dining Room, I was hearing, is daring to deliver delicate, delicious dishes to Driffield. I hear things alliteratively, it seems. So to Driffield I departed.
The Dining Room was opened by chef Martyn Shaw around 18 months ago. He has had a modest culinary background – chef at a couple of hotels, a stint at the Ivy, overseeing new ventures in and around Lincoln – but there is nothing of real note on his CV. He certainly has ambition now, though. He took on the high street building in which the Dining Room sits, gave it a basic but cosy refit and set about trying to find 20 guests per night who enjoy modern English food made with care, wit and local ingredients. The restaurant doesn’t have a gas supply, so he prepares everything on an electric stove – very unusual, but it doesn’t stop him making some surprisingly interesting food. We ordered the eight-course taster menu (£47.50 each) and enjoyed a two-hour parade of relatively traditional-sounding dishes prepared in an encouragingly experimental way.
A delicious carrot and coriander soup was followed by simple but slick slow cooked beetroot, Yorkshire fettle and orange. So far, so simple. The chicken liver parfait with orange granola and sourdough, though, presented the first really unusual dish of the night. The parfait was traditional enough but the mixture of the granola and some roasted tomatoes provided a fruity addition. Sat atop was a savoury pistachio praline, adding another taste and texture to what is basically a simple pãté.
Marinated mozzarella with sun blush tomatoes and basil “caviar” demonstrated some technological skill. With the rapeseed oil, peppercorn, garlic and thyme marinade, the cheese took on some beautiful extra flavours and the marvellous little balsamic and basil balls created yet more intense flavours as well as a talking point.
Seared cod loin with roasted veg was one for the traditionalists and the roast duck breast with kale, butternut and pickled girolles was nothing you wouldn’t find on any decent restaurant table, but both were perfectly cooked, finely-balanced and delicious.
Harrogate blue with apple shavings and celery arrived looking like something from a jewellery box. The apple was shaved into perfect cones, like fancy marble earrings, and they proved extremely useful as scoops to pick up the rest of the ingredients. The mix of apple, cheese and celery, you may argue, is nothing new or innovative but the way this dish was presented elevated it above the ordinary.
The evening continued in this fashion – course after course of dishes that don’t sound hugely adventurous, but all of which had a little touch that put them alongside the best restaurants in the region. Considering Martyn works in the kitchen with just one assistant, he does a marvellous job, and his waiting staff (both of them) are also friendly and capable.
Not all was perfect, though. The next course was crème brûlée with strawberries. There was nothing wrong with the taste of the brûlée – which featured a wonderful vanilla overload – or the strawberries, but he served it in little cubes instead of in a ramekin. Criminal. Everyone knows (and, I believe, it’s been proven by scientific examination) that roughly 97 per cent of the enjoyment in eating crème brûlée is derived from whacking the top with the back of a spoon and glorying in the ensuing crack. Once out of the dish and cubed on a slate there is no crack. Crème brûlée silenced.
Luckily the taster menu had a back-up pud in the shape of a chocolate, hazelnut and raspberry thing, which more than made up for the disappointment. I would be more descriptive, but the dish was little more than three perfectly complementary ingredients arranged in a row.
As well as these courses we were offered little cups of soup and sorbets and handmade chocs throughout the evening. We left enjoyably stuffed and extremely satisfied with the night. Anyone who likes White’s in Beverley or the Green Room in Scarborough should away to Driffield with all haste. Like those two restaurants, The Dining Room is a diddy little virtual one-man-band taking the best Yorkshire produce and turning it into great food. Martyn Shaw is one to watch and his restaurant may finally have given the heart of the Wolds a culinary centrepiece.
The Dining Room, 42 Middle Street South, Driffield, East Yorkshire, YO25 6PS. 01377 254444, www.diningroomrestaurant.co.uk. Opening times: Wednesday & Thursday, 6.30-9pm; Friday & Saturday, 6.30-9.30pm; Sunday: 12-3pm.