If you wanted to put together the essential elements for the perfect Dales pub you might have on your list a quaint bar with old beams, flagged floors, country furniture, a fire in the grate and real ale on tap. It would be ancient and whitewashed, set close by a river with a bridge leading to a lovely Norman church.
To find such a place, you would have to journey to a quiet corner of Langstrothdale where you will find the very thing. The George Inn at Hubberholme is 400 years old, Grade II listed and is sometimes called the Candle Pub for its tradition of keeping a lighted candle burning whenever the pub is open. This dates back to its time as a vicarage when a lighted candle was put in the window to let parishioners know the vicar was in and open for business.
The George is well known to walkers doing the long distance Dales Way footpath or the classic circular from Cray to Yockenthwaite and back. It was J.B. Priestley’s favourite place too. His ashes are scattered in the churchyard, but in recent years the pub was looking a touch tired until Ed and Jackie Yarrow, a couple from Leeds, in search of a career and a life change, bought it and have spent the last three years breathing new life into it.
They are a good fit. Both are friendly, hospitable and well up on local knowledge, greeting everyone like old friends. Jackie is the businesslike one while Ed does the jokes. Right now he’s talking up their prize-winning pies. It turns out they picked up both silver and bronze, not at some local show as we blithely assumed, but at the British Pie Awards held in the home of the pork pie, Melton Mowbray.
“No it wasn’t for the best pheasant and ham hock pie in Hubberholme (pop. 17),” he scolds. A national pie award then, though looking through the long list of 2016 winners it does look as if nearly everyone brings home a prize. We order one anyway; steak and ale pie with mash and veg. In the meantime Ed tells anyone who is listening that Kate is ‘the best chef in the Dales’. Kate Hart he tells us, trained at the Hofmann School in Barcelona, travelled in Mexico and is now back home on a farm in remote Cam Houses cooking pub classics, chef specials and doing pie night every Monday.
So a quaint pub, decent ale and those award-winning pies, but how good is the food? The menu changes regularly. Tonight it has fish and chips, steak and chips, veggie lasagne, fish pie. So far, so familiar. But there are hints this might be a cut above pub grub with specials of sea bass, venison, lamb chops and roasted bone marrow.
We begin with that pub favourite: garlic mushrooms. Fried mushrooms and garlic, a splash of cream and a good kick of rosemary – all very good, but the finishing touches of crumbled goat’s cheese and toasted walnuts transform the mundane into a really excellent dish.
There is nothing mundane about roasted bone marrow, a dish made famous some 20 years ago by Fergus Henderson of St John’s, Smithfield and much copied since. The bones have been split lengthwise, thus cutting out the requirement to suck and gnaw on them and consequently are far easier to eat, though none of this is good news for George, the landlord’s Jack Russell terrier who returns unrewarded to his basket by the fire.
And if the toasted ciabatta doesn’t quite have the chew of St John’s sourdough it works well enough for loading with marrow. The parsley and caper salad has enough sharpness to cut through the meaty, jellied, fatty richness and while bone marrow is a little too hard core for me, my committed carnivore assured me it was the business.
More quality was delivered with three substantial lamb chops: juicy, well cooked and very good. No wonder. We’d seen countless black faced sheep – Dalesbred and Swaledales – on our walk, feeding on lush, green pastures. Served with nothing more than roast new potatoes subtly flavoured with lemon and mint, and seasonal greens, it was a reminder that prime ingredients require little messing.
And finally the pie. A traditional steak pie: beef, cooked until soft and yielding and given a contrasting good crisp pastry case served with a little jug of extra gravy. It came with mash (or chips) and some mixed green veg, and was as generous, filling and satisfying as any pie could be.
The George under its newish landlords is the real deal. Don’t come looking for drizzles and foams or eight course tasting menus. It reaffirms Hubberholme, as J. B. Priestley famously put it, as ‘the smallest, pleasantest place in the world.’
The George Inn, Hubberholme, Skipton BD23 5JE. 01756 760223, thegeorge-inn.co.uk
Open: Monday & Wednesday to Sunday, 12-2.30pm & 6pm-8pm (Fri/Sat until 8.30pm). Dinner for two inc. bottle wine and service £85.