Restaurant Review: Moss and Moor, Ilkley
Who doesn’t love a garden centre? Me. I don’t have a garden and zero interest in getting one but even I like to potter round – and when there’s a cafe attached I’m even keener. One of my best ever days out was at Skye Gyngell’s Cafe and Teahouse at Petersham Nurseries, where there are plants, antiques and a remarkable menu. A bit closer to home is Bettys tea room at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Harlow Carr gardens. I do like a Fat Rascal by an arboretum.
If you want stylish and cool, head for Daleside Nurseries at Killinghall where ex-Yorke Arms Frances Atkins’ fabulously sleek Airstream sits; as you’d expect from a Michelin-starred chef, the offer is eye-popping, with the likes of rib and loin of pork with jasmine coconut rice or grilled sardines with tomato and basil. It’s a lovely experience; dine in, dine out or take your food home. I worked my way through a Brill, charred vegetables and ginger yoghurt wrap while my green-fingered friend roamed the aisles buying plants which in my house would be dead within the week.
Somewhere between Ilkley and Otley is Moss & Moor, “a garden centre with a difference”. It smacks of Scandi with a lot of blonde wood and floor-to-ceiling windows letting light flood in. I can’t vouch for the plant selection but I can tell you that there’s more than just a cafe attached to this one. Lurking behind a menu that features afternoon tea (“a selection of finger sandwiches, fruit scone with strawberry jam and clotted cream and chocolate mousse with honeycomb: £18”) are a handful of stand-out dishes cunningly secreted amongst the cheese toasties and beef burgers.
Sandwiches and soup I’d expect – perhaps even fish cakes – but steamed kale hearts with toasted hazelnuts? It’s a terrific dish, packed with flavour, pretty as a picture, punchy with Parmesan and a snip at £8.75. An innocent-sounding mushroom and spinach tart (£8.50) has exquisite, crumbly pastry stacked with creamed spinach and shot through with wild mushrooms – it’s simple but sensational and no hint of a soggy bottom.
There’s a “burgers and sandwiches” list involving the likes of a Staal smoked salmon ciabatta with chive cream cheese and hash browns (£11) and a fried fish sandwich with minted mushy peas and chips which we eschew in favour of chickpea and yellow split pea dhal with crispy fried egg – full of colour and cheer – and the aforementioned fish cakes; three little beauties perched on a puddle of buttery spinach.
They’re crunchy on the outside and pillowy within. I get lucky with the dish of the day – beef cheek braised for a fortnight (well, ages) in Ilkley Brewery’s Mary Jane ale with “bashed neeps”. The meltingly tender meat is the darkest, glossiest brown without being black and I could cut it with a spoon. Sitting in gloriously gamey gravy with a neat pile of neeps, it’s a faultless, time-honoured classic – and at £13 unbelievable value.
So who’s in the kitchen? An Ilkley chum had sounded the chef klaxon; a quick search unearthed Kevin Gratton, who has been around the block with the likes of Marco Pierre White at Canteen, was Mark Hix’s right-hand man for ten years at Caprice and executive chef at the Ivy. He became head chef at the Soho House Group, which has Babington House in Somerset in its stable, before escaping to the Cayman Islands in 2017 to cool his heels. Not bad for a lad from Tideswell who learned his trade at Buxton College.
He’s very hands-on, bringing plates out and chatting with customers, and when we discover our mutual Derbyshire heritage (we went to the same school though not at the same time) it’s clear we have to order the Bakewell pudding which has the same light touch with pastry plus a scoop of clotted cream ice cream. St Clements posset is an insanely rich, sweet and sticky affair served in the prettiest cut-glass bowl. Also available, Pavlova with chocolate mousse and blood oranges and an old-school steamed treacle sponge and custard.
I love it when expectations aren’t just exceeded but wildly overtaken. Arrive with a shopping list for potting compost and hyacinth bulbs and go home with a full and happy belly. Service is unflustered and friendly. The dining room is huge and a bit clattery, with not much to soak up the noise – it’s got a posh canteen vibe but don’t let that put you off. On a wet Wednesday in January there’s a contented babble rising from the floor. On a fine day take to the terrace with its view of the moors.
I’ll be back for brunch (Eggs Benedict with Lishman’s bacon) or Sunday lunch (roast sirloin of Waterford Farm beef with all the trimmings) and who knows, maybe even a trowel and some bedding plants. I’ve watched Gardeners’ World. How hard can it be?
Moss & Moor, Coutances Way, Ilkley. LS29 7HQ, 01943 663699, www.mossandmoor.co.uk. Open: Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 9am-4pm.