I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about where I might end up in my dotage, although birthdays seem to be coming thick and fast. I’m not sure I’m up for community living (all that ‘joining in’ malarkey brings me out in hives).
Perhaps the Audley retirement village in Ben Rhydding is the answer? It’s every bit a five star hotel, with swimming pool, spa, gym, library and a rather nice restaurant attached. I’d have to do a Hatton Garden heist of course, but I’ve got a couple of rackety chums who might be up for it.
Perched gracefully at the top of a long lane studded with smart houses, the Audley hoves into view, an elegant, stone built Victorian school, surrounded by 23 acres of sweeping lawns with long views over Wharfedale, a balustraded terrace, monumental plane trees and massive skies.
The approach, via the spa (That pool! Lush!) is along deeply carpeted, marble pillared corridors and we’re ushered in to the light, bright, spacious restaurant with stunning views over the rolling landscape. The interior designer has been given a blank cheque; lime green velvet chairs, striped banquette and carpets, huge drop linen lights and ‘statement’ artworks on Farrow & Balled walls. It’s a masterclass in tasteful coordination and I’m glad I combed my hair and put some decent clothes on. It’s easy to imagine that a place as mannered as this might be a bit snooty, but none of it. Service is charming with exactly the right amount of chat. I can forgive pretty much anything when the welcome’s as warm as this.
The short menu reads well. It is of course leather-bound and printed on parchment – no laminations here. Expect the likes of baked sea trout, curry, pickled cauliflower, crispy squid, mussels and the rather fine sounding crispy cod cheek, fennel, granny smith with spring onion dressing. We start with Romanov salmon (steeped in beetroot and dill), pretty as a picture with its dots of sharp, lemon mayo, smoked trout mousse and rolled discs of pickled kohlrabi cutting through the sweetness nicely. My chum’s Yellison Farm goat’s cheese is whipped, rolled in herbs with a quince terrine and is a bit over-fussily presented, but the flavours are good enough, and the homemade oat cake a neat idea.
Next up, an immensely handsome dish of baked sea trout with pickled Romanesco cauliflower, mussels and squid in a subtle creamy curry sauce – the squid not as ‘crispy’ as advertised but it doesn’t detract from the dish. Jane’s free range chicken breast is slightly dry and the tender stem broccoli has been a minute too long in the steamer, but the wedge of dauphinoise potato is unctuous and the lip-smacking sauce is fabulously deep, bringing the whole thing together. A plate of food so dark that it threatens to suck light out of the room arrives at the next table – I had to ask - marinated venison loin, spiced venison sausage, baby roots, sweet potato and cranberry. The recipient looked very happy.
If it’s just a sandwich you’re after, there’s a decent selection, or if fish & chips tickles your fancy, the fish is beer-battered, the chips triple cooked and the tartar sauce homemade. Diners at lunch time are mainly residents so we’re the youngest people in the room, which is a rare occurrence for me, but a family with young kids and a couple of glossy suited and booted business types fetch up and we’re back to the usual demographic.
I was on the point of dodging dessert but spotted deep fried apple pie. Come on, who wouldn’t order that? It’s been a lifetime since I burnt my mouth biting into the McDonald’s nuclear-hot version (we’ve all been there, right?) The Clevedon’s take on it is less dangerous and an undiluted delight. Crunchy coating, sweet, spiced interior, a couple of sugared grapes and a slick of something chocolaty – it’s my new guilty pleasure. When the time’s right and I move in, I will eat it every day. It won’t matter by then, will it? My arteries will have furred up to the point of ossification.
The young chef Declan Diggin (most recently at Armethwaite Hall in the Lake District) has been in place year or two and seems very much at home, moving round the tables, chatting to folk. He’s not short of ideas and is well-versed in matching textures and tastes – this is fine dining but he just about holds back from serving tweezered doll’s house food.
There’s something perfectly poised about this place; it’s refined and sophisticated and while I’m slightly out of my comfort zone, I’ll happily return for the dainty afternoon tea and the fabulous-looking Sunday lunch.
Just as we’re leaving we sit for a moment and chat to the elegant woman who’d been at the table next to ours. She’s in a wheelchair but tells us she can’t wait for her broken leg to mend so she can get back into the spa. What’s it like living here I ask. Marvellous, she says. I usually swim a mile in the morning then come here for lunch. She winks at me; you had the apple pie, didn’t you? Put me down for an apartment. Where better for an old food obsessive to end up?
The Clevedon Restaurant, Audley Village, Ben Ryhdding, Ilkley. LS29 8AQ; 01943 968 398; www.audleyvillages.co.uk;
Open Monday to Thursday, 10am – 6:30pm; Friday and Saturday ,10am – 8pm; Sunday, 10am – 4pm. Starters around £7, mains around £15