The village of Arkendale in North Yorkshire must be relieved that the new Blue Bell pub-restaurant is finally open. The inn closed a few years ago, major renovation work started, then mysteriously ceased. In such a lovely location, to say the half-finished building was an eyesore was no exaggeration. Well, it is now done and opened and pretty smart it looks too.
The inside has borne the same renovation as out. Parts are a little too contrived for me, being designed to within an inch of their life, but hopefully a few months under its belt will soften the current show-home look. Someone has worked very hard to create a bright, inviting space and achieved it. The improvements at the new Blue Bell over its predecessor are striking, at least this time I looked forward to dining as, on my last visit, I stayed precisely 30 seconds.
Drinkers are taken care of with a lovely food-free area with the rest given over to two spacious dining rooms. So food apparently is leading the way here. With so much emphasis on detail and ambience, I expected good things from the menu.
There are attempts here to cover all bases with meat, fish, game and a salad thrown in to satisfy the healthy option, but mostly it lacks a little imagination. Even a bigger splash of provenance would have helped it along, but there is barely a whisper.
In the lineup of starters, to my surprise was bread, surely a precursor to dinner, not a starter? It is a tradition in British restaurants to serve ours complimentary despite the disturbing trend to now charge for it. Here, it will cost you the princely sum of £5.95. For handcrafted artisan bread that is perhaps not unreasonable, however, at the Blue Bell for that you will receive nine slices of lightly toasted white and brown baguette. Alongside is butter, a small dish of not great olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a half-baked bulb of garlic. You decide if that is good value.
There is a well-balanced wine list, but I had my doubts about its delivery when served a warm glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The waitress promptly changed it for a cold one, but a shame she had missed something so elementary. Unfortunately, a second glass ordered later came at the same sickly-warm temperature. Oh dear.
That is enough moaning. The rest of the food we ordered was much better. A pigeon breast came on the right side of pink and took no prisoners in the game flavor department. Thai fishcakes weren’t the prettiest I have ever seen but not lacking in taste especially the carrot and Mooli side salad.
By far, the most imaginative (and expensive) dish on the menu was Holme Farm venison loin with cherries, mash, broccoli and chocolate jus. You would have to be a pretty lousy chef to ruin the meat in this dish and chef didn’t. The cherries added a zing, and the chocolate was excellent in being just discernible. Both the potato and broccoli brought nothing to the party and were, for the most part, ignored.
A haddock risotto with poached egg is a risky dish to order, there are several components begging to go wrong. This one pretty much held its own, and if I am to be picky it is only with the egg. A warm, runny yolk adds so much to a creamy risotto, and this one sadly was overcooked.
And now to puddings. I would love to tell you more about them, but we never got to see even a menu, let alone eat one. By this point the restaurant was quiet, so I struggled to understand the staff who failed to notice our empty glasses and even emptier table. Not once did they click that we were waiting for something. There is a limit to how long I will sit waiting and half an hour is the extent of it. So we gave up.
Not surprisingly, the bill came immediately on asking. I mentioned our wait to the waitress brandishing the card machine at me. Her response was staggering. For whatever reason, she felt it incumbent on me to have ensured we received dessert menus. She made her sarcastic remark at precisely the moment she punched £67, the cost of our two-course dinner, into the machine. Incredible. I was supremely disappointed to have been let down in this way. Maybe she had an off-day? It happens to all of us, but you should not take it out on your paying customers.
I am always upset when things like this occur. After years of reviewing restaurants, I am still excited at the chance of discovering somewhere new and exciting, I never want it to go wrong. It is a real joy when great things happen and very disappointing when they don’t.
Despite the rather downhearted ending to the meal, I think the Bluebell has a lot going for it. They just need to look closely at the attitude of staff and add a little more energy to the menu. Oh, and maybe think about the bread. Other than that, I sincerely believe they will do well.
• The Blue Bell, Moor Lane, Arkendale, Harrogate, HG5 0QT. 01423 369242. Two courses and three glasses wine £67. Food served: Wednesday to Saturday, 12-2.30pm & 5-9pm; Sunday, 12-8pm.