I’d heard that the Malthouse in Rishworth was in new hands so we set off for a straight up and down, pub grub pie and chips perhaps or ham and eggs.
The last time I fetched up was so long ago it’s lost in the mists of time. Actually (checks notes) it was November 2016 and I recall a vast, chilly room with just another couple of diners and forgettable food. I took mum and we clung to a radiator all night. It’s got to have improved, right?
That thing when they seat you at the small table next to the swing door to the kitchen and your heart sinks and the Motown soundtrack is so loud you want to turn on your heel? So it’s with a degree of grumpiness that I approach my dinner – never a good start. But the welcome is so genuinely warm that I feel my mood lifting.
One of Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner’s pet hates is waiters who take food orders without a pad. “It will never end well,” he says. It’s in the front of my mind when our waiter does just this. But it turns out just fine as it happens, especially after the music’s turned down without a quibble.
The menu is not too long and it reveals a degree of imagination several notches up from the offer I was expecting. Sure, there’s fish and chips, and a decent-sounding chicken pie and the inevitable burger but there’s also mussel and smoked bacon chowder with sea salt and rosemary focaccia and black treacle cured bacon chop with crispy egg, pineapple and fat chips.
Gin and tonic cured salmon “with textures of beetroot” is a subtle start and a better looking dish than it might easily have been. Chorizo Scotch egg is obviously homemade (I mean that in a good way) and packed with flavour. Tempura king prawns with charred corn is a cracker; the batter shatters at the fork and the mildly curried Katsu ketchup adds a touch of class.
Any dish promising lamb fat fondant potatoes generally gets my attention (this one with roast rump of lamb) and it’s tempting on a chilly night, but tandoori monkfish with lentil dahl wins and is a superbly seasoned dish with exactly the right amount of heat and spice, and a real looker. A side of charred tenderstem broccoli with textbook Hollandaise works well.
Elsewhere on the à la carte is smoked garlic chicken kiev with dauphinoise potatoes, and 12-hour braised short rib of beef with champ potatoes and a bourguignon sauce for £15.
Owner Lee Roberts is an entrepreneur who has form. He owns Sailbrand, selling seafood to both restaurants and the home market; no wonder the fish dishes are so good.
Catch restaurant in West Vale was part of his group, as was the multi-award-winning Fleece at Barkisland – they’re no longer part of his stable but he’s added the Alma at Cottonstones. He’s a crowd-pleaser and been long enough in the game to know how to make the most out of a place like the Malthouse, which has always had huge potential; it’s a handsome old stone road house in a leafy location bang next door to Rishworth School, handy for hungry, well-heeled parents visiting their offspring.
He’s had the sense to bring in an experienced team: chef James Thatcher has worked with Paul Heathcote and was the executive chef for Bolton Wanderers until he was scouted by Roberts for an undisclosed transfer fee.
Manager Andy Nulty has a long career in hospitality, and ran the Florentine Hotel in Sheffield; he’s also no stranger to memorising orders.
Toffee apple creme brulee is inspired – why isn’t this on more menus? A glance at the lunch offer reveals homemade fish finger butties with home-pickled gherkin. With a bowl of triple cooked chips and a pint of the perfectly kept Vocation Bread & Butter, it would absolutely do the trick.
By now the room has filled up – pretty good for a wet Wednesday in October – and I’m won over by the interesting, well-executed menu, ungrasping prices and sweet, clued-up service. I love it when you set off in anticipation of humble pie and end up with something far greater than the sum of its parts.
The Malthouse, 270 Oldham Road, Rishworth, Sowerby Bridge, HX6 4QB; tel, 01422 822382; malthouserishworth.co.uk. Open: Monday to Saturday, 9am-11pm, Sunday, 10am-10pm.