Restaurant Review: The George at Wath

What you need at the end of a dull journey on the endlessly under-construction A1 (particularly when the satnavs misread the new turn off to Ripon and you can’t get off it before Leeming Bar. Grrr... ) is a warm welcome and a good lunch in a country pub. Well what do you know? The George at Wath hoves into view.

It’s a handsome brick built, slate roofed, double fronted 18th century building – smart as paint now, but it wasn’t always thus. Its past is, at best, chequered.

For 10 years it was a Thai restaurant before Enterprise Inns bought it; it ran as a pub for a while then the crafty landlord sub-let the kitchen and it became an Indian restaurant. The tenants did a flit on New Year’s Eve, and when the current owners finally got their hands on the keys nine months later, there were still dirty dishes in the sink and rotten food in the fridge, not to mention black paint on the ceilings and hot and cold running water – coming down the multi-coloured walls.

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Amanda and Richard Bennington are the brave local B&B owners who found the cash, rolled their sleeves up, hired skips and started the massive renovation, finally opening the doors in September 2009. They’ve done a great job; the beamed bar has an old oak floor at one end, stone flags at the other, a wood stove throwing out tons of comfort and a mixture of tall stools and settles covered with checked wool.

The cosy dining room is down a couple of stairs, with smartly upholstered chairs, white linen and gleaming glassware. And in the tradition of a proper village pub, a games room, complete with full size pool table (two local teams play weekly) and dart board. Beers include a couple of Theakstons and guest ales from the award-winning Rudgate Brewery in Tockwith.

Front of House is managed by another Amanda (this is three now, including oneself. Weird) who is the epitome of charm, friendliness and fun; it goes without saying that you’ll be well looked-after.

But the principle reason to endure the vagaries of the A1 is the food. To say I was quietly surprised is an understatement. How many re-furbed pubs have any of us been to lately where the menu is a carbon copy of the last? But there are several scintillating things on this menu that made my eyebrows stand to attention and taste buds wake up.

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Crispy hens egg, wild mushrooms, truffle, tender stem broccoli is as pretty as a picture with good balance of flavours, the free range yolk spilling silkily over the rest. Broccoli and egg. Who knew? Other starters include quail with roast chicken broth and Jerusalem artichoke ravioli, and local game terrine with candy beetroot and spiced quince. You get the drift.

Slow roast belly pork, scallops, crushed peas with Madeira glaze is another good-looking plate, creatively arranged, the fat scallops perfectly seared and a winning accompaniment to the tender cubes of pork complete with crisp crackling. But it’s not all top show. I watched two perfect plates of fish and chips (or should I say Rudgate George Blonde Beer battered east coast haddock fillet) arrive at the table of two immaculate lunching ladies who wolfed the lot down with a bottle of Prosecco. Now that’s what I call style. Luckily for the Benningtons, Chef Gavin Swift has landed at the George via the Wyvill Arms and Hendersons in Aysgarth and brought his skills with him. He’s absurdly young and driven, with endless enthusiasm and a fine eye for detail. I had every intention of skipping dessert but could you have resisted poached pear and toffee cake with a cherry shake? I’m routinely grateful that my will power is so weedy, and today is no exception. It’s a ravishing combination of tastes and textures; a spoonful of grainy, soft pear with sticky warm cake washed down with an intense shot of shake is the perfect antidote to the rigours of road repairs. When asked if the pudding could be improved on, the answer was simple; more cake. This is accomplished, exuberant, intelligent cooking from a largely self-taught chef. It’s only a matter of time before he’s got a couple of gongs under his belt. You heard it here first.

The George at Wath, Main Street, Wath, Ripon HG4 5EN 01765 641324

Lunch for one (three courses) was £20.85 (no wine)

Opening hours: Closed Monday & Tuesday lunchtime, open Monday evening 5.30-9. Wednesday-Saturday 12-2.30, 5.30-9. Sunday 12-3.

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