My reasons for this belief are multitudinous and well defined, but can mainly be justified in three ways. Firstly, there is the setting. The Gait is in Millington, a hidden hamlet of about 50 houses at the end of Millington Pasture, which is one of the most understatedly beautiful and bizarrely unfrequented stretches of land in the country. The pub is a wonderfully unspoiled 15th century farmhouse that slowly evolved into a pub. The walls are warped, the ceilings bow and the decor has that marvellously worn look that feels like it’s been that way forever.
But it’s not like the tourist-packed pubs of North Yorkshire, where every horse brass and flagstone has been strategically placed to make Americans coo like Pavlov’s pigeons. The Gait seems to have been decorated at a glacial pace, with a lick of paint or a re-covered bar stool every couple of decades or so.
Secondly, there is the content. The pub is filled with Yorkshire food and Yorkshire drink. Proper no nonsense food. Great fresh, local ingredients in hearty classic dishes. A glance at the menu will reveal the usual options for steaks and burgers and whatnot, but there are a handful of dishes that I would commend as the finest example of their kind you can find anywhere in the county.
The Yorkshire pudding starter is superb (three huge, perfect samples of the art replete with deep, dark, beefy, onion gravy); of the mains, the fish and chips overflow the plate, the lasagna is lasagna only more so and the Sunday dinner just stares at you saying “I am Sunday, what are you going to do about it?”
Best of all, though, the absolute pinnacle of culinary achievement, the Muhammad Ali of pub food, is the steak pie. I’ve eaten a lot of pies, you’ve eaten a lot of pies, we’ve all eaten a lot of pies. This, though, I promise you, is the best pie you will ever eat. The beef’s from nearby Givendale and is melty, chewy perfection. It’s so good that I like getting bits stuck between my teeth so I can prise them out during the rest of the day and remind myself what I’ve eaten. The crust has real suet in it. I’ll say that again but in caps – REAL SUET.
Add to it ace chips, fresh peas and more of that deep, dark gravy and you have pie nirvana. Pie so wonderfully, excessively good it should be kept under the counter and only offered to those who can prove they can handle it. I promise you, pie has a spiritual home and it’s in Millington.
There are also superb homemade desserts with oodles of cream or ice cream or custard but, quite honestly, I’d forgo those in favour of a second pie.
Third and finally, there is the welcome (or, more accurately, the lack of it). The first time I encountered the Gait, it was a wet January lunchtime and as soon as I stepped through the door I fell in love. It was like the Slaughtered Lamb in An American Werewolf in London but without the pentagrams and secretive locals. I genuinely expected to see Brian Glover playing dominoes. The fire filled the room with warmth and aroma and an enveloping, atmospheric smog.
The bar seemed to be built around the imposing frame of landlord Stuart Stephenson, dishing out the perfectly-kept real ales with practised unfussiness. And the food was made and served by his wife Helen, who still does all the cooking and should be knighted for services to gravy. No-one makes a fuss of you and they don’t want a fuss made of them. Just the way it should be. Yorkshireness so deeply ingrained it can’t be disguised by any amount of phony bonhomie.
I sat in a corner and read my paper. I had a couple of pints and a pie and realised that I couldn’t think of a better place on earth to be on a wet January afternoon.
That was around a dozen years ago and I now find myself getting withdrawal symptoms if I don’t go to the Gait every few weeks or so. It’s perpetually busy because the Stephensons keep the quality high but I’m constantly amazed by the amount of people who have never heard of the place.
I’ve long debated whether I should write about the Gait because I worry that, once the secret is out, the place will be mobbed and I want to be able to get a seat next time I visit. But I also want to shout from the rooftops about a pub that is as close to perfection as I can imagine. Inevitably, some of you will visit and say that I’ve overstated the greatness of the Gait, and that’s absolutely fine. More pie left for me.
The Gait Inn, Millington, York YO42 1TX. Tel: 01759 302 045, www.gait-inn-millington.co.uk. Food served: Tuesday to Sunday, 6.30-9pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 12-2pm.
Drink selection 4/5