Restaurant review: Forge at Middleton Lodge, Richmond

Yorkshire Venison with red cabbage puree and compressed pear. PIC: James Hardisty
Yorkshire Venison with red cabbage puree and compressed pear. PIC: James Hardisty
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The Forge is Middleton Lodge’s new restaurant and Elaine Lemm is impressed with its approach to ingredients.

The prevailing trend for more “conscious” food has crept so slowly onto our plates; it’s no wonder we didn’t notice or question its place. I believe it started with those slivers of crisp fish or chicken skin posing as a canapé. These arrived around the same time that beetroot and Brussels sprout tops shoved cabbage and carrots off the plate.

I am not against this zero-waste approach of upcycling our kitchen scraps; it is commendable, food waste is abhorrent. I hope this is not a fad though, like the once flinging of pesto over everything or just a way to save money on ingredients.

We are way up on the borders of Yorkshire at Middleton Lodge, in Middleton Tyas, and at its new restaurant, Forge, which opened late last year. The award-winning Coach House, also here, has been pulling diners in for a good few years, and a lovely place it is too. The whole of the Middleton Lodge estate is splendid and the newly restored Forge Barn stunning. We arrive on a black night, but every road and pathway on the estate is beautifully lit, and there’s a fire pit blazing away in the courtyard.

In the bar, sitting room and on the tables of the barn more candles flicker and these more than make up for the fact that we are the only diners this Thursday night. A daunting prospect both for staff and for us but they make every effort to assuage our slight guilt at keeping them from their homes.

Head chef Gareth Rayner has moved over from the Coach House to take on the challenge of the new approach of the Forge. Here it is more intimate, with fewer covers and uses food foraged on the estate or from the two-acre kitchen garden designed by acclaimed landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith. Gareth and his brigade cook on open fires and so I was not surprised at the frequent mentions of torched, charred, grilled and roast on the menu.

The wine list has the same level of precision and specialness found throughout Middleton Lodge with carefully chosen wines to create an in-depth and detailed list to sit alongside the two menus. This distinctive list does come at a price though; by the glass, wines are 125ml in size and start at £8.50.

There are two Tasting menus, one vegetarian and one regular (£75); likewise, there are two a la carte (£55). For the meat and fish lover, there is beef, pork, scallops, venison; for the vegetarian, a vast array of vegetables, herbs, mushrooms and I did notice an egg yolk. I have to question the comparative costs for these two. I felt uncomfortable that an otherwise fantastic vegetarian menu warranted the same price as the meats and fish. I would love to hear the reasoning, and as I was a chef and restaurateur, I hope it’s a good one.

That gripe, which had me lean towards protein over veg, out of the way, the food was strikingly good. A couple of pre-dinner bits and bobs of beetroot macarons, cod roe, kelp and cucumber and cups of potato mousse soup were excellent. Torched mackerel with kohlrabi velouté and translucent slivers of radish showed mastery of flavours on the plate from this kitchen. Unlike my charred broccoli, Jerusalem artichoke and the hefty cloud of aged Parmesan which took over everything. It was in this dish I discovered the carefully prepared crispy Jerusalem artichoke skin kicking around on its own; this was, surprisingly, my favourite bit of the dish.

For mains, I abandoned the veg for Skrei Cod, hand-dived scallop, cauliflower leaves and vin jaune. Now is the time for the seasonal Skrei and the kitchen honoured this hard-working fish in cooking it to perfection. And from now on, my cauliflower leaves will no longer be heading to the compost bin. The meticulousness shone once more with the Yorkshire venison, an intense, moreish red cabbage puree, tiny pieces of compressed pear and squeaky Hispi cabbage. Only one thing let these two dishes down; they were barely warm.

Puddings of chocolate, hazelnut, whipped ganache and espresso ice, plus a Yorkshire rhubarb, vanilla cream and crispy puff pastry were faultless and perfectly rounded off a lovely meal.

There’s a lot to love in this gorgeous place. Hard as it is to comment on the staff as they had only the two of us to deal with, they showed such professionalism I can imagine they would be as good playing to a full house, which is the norm on weekend nights. The approach to the food here is exemplary, and I am behind what they are doing using up all the bits and bobs. We do it now with animals, so vegetables deserve no less. You still have me with those menu prices though, but it won’t stop me going back.

Forge at Middleton Lodge, Kneeton Lane, Middleton Tyas, Richmond DL10 6NJ.

Tel: 01325 377977.

Open, Wednesday to Saturday, 7-9pm.

Ratings:

Welcome 5/5

Food 4/5

Atmosphere 4/5

Prices 3/5