Restaurant Review: Raithwaite Hall, Sandsend

In the days when Yorkshire had shipping lines, Raithwaite Hall, hidden away in the woods behind the Whitby to Sandsend road, was the sort of pile their owners spent their brass on.

At the end of the 19th century, it was built for the Pymans, then the biggest ship owners on the North East coast, and at the end of the 20th century it was the last home of the Whitby shipping magnate William Headlam. He died in 1991 leaving the hall and £7m to his Swiss nurse of 20 years, Trudi Tanner. Rather splendidly, his ex-wife said she didn’t begrudge Trudi a penny.

Cut to late October 2011 when with some fanfare the Skelwith Group, a Yorkshire building developer, opened the self-awarded 5-star “Raithwaite Hall Country Retreat”.’ They’ve apparently thrown £30m at it: 45 bedrooms and suites, a restaurant, lounge bar and luxury spa set in 80 acres of grounds, with gardens, lakes and trees. At the end of a long and winding approach road a Rolls Royce is parked at the front door.

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Interior design is credited to the people who did up Dubai’s Burj Al Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. You can see the thinking: gold-lined drum lampshades, grouped like NASA rocket boosters, burr walnut tables, expensively framed photographs of Whitby harbour, ostentatious flower arrangements, trophy cabinets of champagne bottles.

Whatever your taste, no one could fail to be impressed by the lavishness of the enterprise, the promised creation of 100 jobs and the boost for the local economy. It’s the biggest thing to hit Sandsend since the Maharajah Duleep Singh arrived with his elephants in 1858 to take up residence in nearby Mulgrave Castle.

Of course, having shelled out all those millions, they’re looking for a return. The menu though short, local and largely uncomplicated is expensive. Vegetarian starters are the cheapest: roast butternut squash soup at £5; roast beetroot, goats’ cheese, walnut and pomegranate salad at £7. Blink harder at £13 for a Whitby crab cocktail. Must be the transport costs.

The cheapest main course is hake at £19. Fillet steak is £29, Dover Sole £30, a smoked veal chop £40 and Chateaubriand for two romps home at £65. The wine list, mercifully not a 50-page bible, begins at £19 for Sauvignon Blanc vin de pays and rises swiftly through the twenties up to £290 for a Chateau Margaux 2006.

Iced tap water (free) and bread (free) arrive promptly, so do our starters: the beetroot, goats’ cheese and walnut salad and that crab cocktail. Except the crab cocktail in a miniature kilner jar with a lemon salad is pork belly in a kilner jar with apple purée. Our delightfully smiley waitress checks the menu and assures us that apple is lemon, and pork is crab. We suggest otherwise; we’ve tasted it. She takes it away and returns with apologies and crab. It’s sweet and delicious, accompanied by crisp little croutons and a diced cucumber salad.

Next is a kerfuffle over the wine. We get what we’re told are two small glasses when we’ve ordered one large, one small. No big deal but it takes ages to resolve when you want to be sharing your £8 glass with your £13 starter. Our waitress finally returns with a large white, more apologies, and says: “It’s free.” When she asks if everything is all right, we say it’s lovely, and she is visibly relieved. I haven’t the heart to ask her where the walnuts are in my beetroot, goats’ cheese and walnut salad.

For mains, we go for the halibut and oxtail ragout with fondant potatoes (£20) and Mulgrave Estate venison loin, smoked bacon and black cabbage, chestnut and liquorice sauce (£28).

Portions are generous. The fish and oxtail go well together. The marginally overcooked halibut is eased by moist, tender oxtail. With fondant potatoes and a portion of nicely buttered vegetables, there’s enough for two. The venison loin is large, too, and cooked to rare perfection. Peppered on the outside and paired with smoked bacon and red cabbage, a delicate liquorice sauce and sweet chestnuts, it’s the star of our show.

Desserts are remarkably homely given the set-up. No complaints there. Tea infused creme brulée; apple crumble and custard; chocolate fondant. We share a tasty plate of warm Yorkshire parkin with spiced squash purée and cinder toffee ice cream, except there is no squash purée.

Call it teething troubles if you like, but to avoid full-blown toothache then both plating-up and service need attention. Don’t shoot the waitresses; the fault lies higher up the chain if they haven’t been trained to recognise the food they’re serving. What was lacking was an authority figure on hand to smooth out the wrinkles. Unless he was the bloke at reception who having relieved us of our £85 sent us back to the dining room to ask for our coats rather than whistling them up himself.

Raithwaite Hall, Sandsend Road, Whitby, North Yorkshire YO21 3ST. Tel 01947 661661 Email [email protected] Web www.raithwaitehallwhitby.co.uk

Price: Average dinner for two including a bottle of wine, service and coffee £120.