Where the heck is it? I’m thinking as the road winds onto the moors high above Hepworth. On and up you go, and just when you think you’ve been miscast in the remake of Withnail and I this sprawling road house hefts into view.
I realise I’ve been before, in not one but two of its previous incarnations; it was CragRats brasserie a long time since, and most recently The Hepworth. On that occasion, on a wild night admittedly, I fully expected one of the Adams Family to be meeting and greeting; indeed, Lurch was our maître ‘d. Suffice it to say it wasn’t the most agreeable evening and I remember it for all the wrong reasons.
At the risk of coming over all Eric Morecambe, I’m going to remember it now for all the right reasons. Gone is the dark, brooding décor – instead, a lovely soft palette, all fresh pear greens and creams, lots of light, candles and flowers, tinkling jazz piano and the sweetest hellos.
You’ll know chef/owner Tim Bilton if you ever went to the Butcher’s Arms in Hepworth or watched Great British Menu. He didn’t win but made a pretty good account of himself. He also made a real go of the gastro pub, but despite several approaches Enterprise Inns wouldn’t part with it.
Undaunted, he bought the Spiced Pear in May 2013 and pretty much gutted it – no small task, it was a massive mausoleum of a place – and opened up 10 weeks later. Not front page news, except for the fact that in the middle of all this he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery. But did the wheels come off?
For many of us, they would have, but not for Tim. Perhaps it drove him. Who knows? What I do know is that he’s made a smashing job of it and for the first time it looks like the kind of place you’re happy to get lost trying to find and spend some of your hard-earned.
Wisely, Lurch has gone and there’s a lovely welcome at the door from someone who knows what she’s doing. In the rather glamorous bar/reception area there’s a quiet corner with tall padded booths and more seating on tall stools and tables – it’s glitzy but informal and fun. On a drizzly Saturday lunchtime the booths are full of leggy girls drinking champagne cocktails. Way to go.
The first thing you encounter in the long low dining room is a table buckling under the weight of cheese. All sorts, from all over, under huge glass domes. It looks so inviting part of me wants to skip two courses and dive right in. The kitchen is partly open so you can watch the magic happen.
Tim’s long been a local/seasonal devotee and his loyalty is reflected on a menu which features the likes of Hepworth wild garlic soup with homemade focaccia and pear and onion tart with Yorkshire Blue cheese.
Staal Smokehouse salmon comes both hot and cold in a slick of creamy saffron mayonnaise and a clever egg; that is, chilled on the outside, runny and warm inside. Locally shot pigeon breast is perfectly pink and a crunchy/salty pistachio crumble adds texture. There’s apricot puree too – gamey and sweet together, just great, with borage providing the herby notes.
The trend for six starters and mains continues – nothing wrong with that – on the contrary, sometimes less is more.
Amongst the half dozen mains is Round Green Farm venison with Pontefract liquorice sauce – loving the sound of that - but go for the lamb, cooked several ways as is the fashion – the meat is tender and full of flavour. Before you know it you’ve got something Moroccan going on. Mediterranean cuisine by stealth. Nice.
North Sea seabass with samphire and clams is exemplary, the fish pearly and flaking at the fork, the fine veloute suitably redolent of the ocean .
This is textbook cooking, and a clear sign that Tim’s revisiting his classical French training.
Tim wears his skills lightly; there’s nothing ground-breaking but there’s a lot to like. For which, read “the plates are big but so are the portions”.
He’s recruited someone with no small amount of flair to do desserts and the peanut butter parfait is sensational.
On the next table a family seem to be eating from an entirely different menu. Eggs Benedict and what looks like a Full Yorkshire appear. Oh, says our lovely waitress, they’re having a late breakfast. Blimey.
From the dining room we can hear the clink and chatter of a whole other group of folk having fun and down a couple of steps by the baby grand, a tea room. How civilised is that?
With harlequin tiled floors, pastel panelling, tea drinking ephemera in nooks and crannies, it’s completely charming.
An apprenticeship served with Raymond Blanc at le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons 20-odd years ago fired Tim’s imagination and he’s finally making the dream a reality. Whatever time you choose to go – and go you must – relax. You’re in capable hands.
• The Spiced Pear, Sheffield Road, New Mill, Holmfirth HD9 7TP. 01484 683775, www.thespicedpearhepworth.co.uk. Open daily from 11am.