They would babble at the Bronte connections, the Grade II-listing, its past as a school and then as a museum, and then more lately as a restaurant and hotel. This establishment has led a full and varied life since it was built in 1764.
The fact that it has survived when many buildings of its time were sadly lost to ‘improvements’ is surprising enough. But the business seems to be in pretty good shape when we called in for a family meal. The last time I was here was a decade or so ago. In the year 2007 the food was OK, the service so-so and the building – well, it had certainly seen better days. The great and the good who have visited these premises over the centuries would not have been very impressed.
So a return visit wasn’t my idea. It was my sister who booked the table and, as it turned out, it turned out to be a mistake but a fortuitous one nonetheless. My sister had intended us to visit the Headlands House Hotel a couple of miles up the road but had confused the names. An easy mistake when you are only a visitor to these parts.
So, what is the Healds Hall Hotel? We expected the hotel – or at least its website – to fill us in on the history. Well, we’re still searching.
The people behind Healds Hall are either shy or don’t regard their past as being important, which is a shame. Especially when their past is so rich in detail. Perhaps they think mentioning the Brontes would be bragging? Well, they should brag away.
For the uninitiated, here’s a potted history. Healds Hall was built in 1764 and was a private residence for notable locals. In 1795 the Reverend Hammond Roberson bought the property and he was acquainted with Patrick Bronte, father of the famous writers. Charlotte portrayed him in her novel, Shirley, as Parson Helstone.
The building later became a school and in 1926 it became the headquarters and museum for the Spen Valley Literary and Scientific Society. Only relatively recently did it become a hotel and restaurant.
History lesson over, it’s time to dine. It was a Sunday lunchtime and the menu was refreshingly simple. Two courses £17.95. Three courses £20.95. Sounds good.
And the choices? Six starters, six main courses and six desserts. All very straightforward. We saw no vegetarian options but are assured they can be catered for.
Two of our party went for starters – cream of potato and leek soup (thick, creamy tasty) and sliced galia, cantaloupe and watermelon with fresh fruits and sorbet (very well presented with plenty of sorbet. The others watched on sustained by warm wholemeal bread and proper butter. No complaints here.
For main courses, we varied our choices. Roast rump of Yorkshire beef with Yorkshire pudding, horseradish sauce and roast gravy was probably the highlight. It came – as did all four dishes – with a hefty side dish of potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and green beans, cooked lightly to perfection.
Others had slow roast Yorkshire lamb shoulder (they like their Yorkshire produce here), with smoked bacon and rosemary stuffing (delightful), spring onion and mint relish and roast gravy; roast breast of chicken with English asparagus, crushed Jersey Royals, crispy Serrano ham (more would have been acceptable) and shallot and thyme sauce; and crispy duck leg confit with pancetta and cabbage, roast apple and a roast garlic and parsley sauce. We all cleared our plates, which says it all really.
Three of us saved space for desserts which, oddly, turned out to be the highlight. It’s not often that the last course is the best, but it was here.
Warm apple and damson crumble with custard was excellent and English strawberries (I bet they were Yorkshire), with baked meringue, orange curd and vanilla cream was delightfully simple.
But even better was the selection of cheese and biscuits, together with the finest home-made chutney I’ve ever tasted.
We identified the cheeses as stilton, a cheddar and a third we struggled to name. We were partly wrong. There was a standard cheddar, but the others were a Katherine Goddess and Duke of Wellington which Google tells us is a goat’s cheese and a Yorkshire-French blue cheese respectively. The latter was certainly Stilton-like.
We understand the cheese selections vary from time to time but if these are anything to go by, it’s certainly worth taking a punt.
The service was by a young and enthusiastic crew who couldn’t be faulted, especially as it seemed to be a particularly busy Sunday
The bill for three two-course meals and one three-course meal, plus a variety of wines, cokes and beers, came to £122.05. About £30 each, which was surprisingly good value.
We were seated in the ‘conservatory’ which we feared may have been too hot on a sunny day, but it turned out to be a conventional dining room with French windows with plenty of space and light, and nice and cool, too.
Sunday lunch was good but our next visit may well be to one or two of the themed nights. French ones are planned as are tapas evenings, Italian small plates nights and a Thai evening.
The marketing guys seem to be on the ball. If only they could promote the fascinating local history of the building, they would be on to a real winner. We shouldn’t have to look for it ourselves on Wikipedia.
FACTFILE - HEALS HALL HOTEL, LIVERSEDGE
Address: Leeds Rd, Liversedge WF15 6JA
Opening times: Sunday-Friday midday-2pm & 6pm-9.30pm, Saturday 6pm-9.30pm
Telephone: 01924 409112
Value for Money 4/5