The folk at the Blue Lion still remember the last time The Yorkshire Post came to eat. My esteemed colleague Elaine Lemm had a particularly bad night here around four years ago and her write-up was something of a big fat slap in the face for a pub that thought it was doing okay. They apparently still bristle whenever anyone says The Yorkshire Post. And then I turned up.
To be fair, I didn’t intend to eat and – quite honestly – I didn’t even know of Elaine’s review, which had slipped under my radar. I was staying in the Dales, saw this good-looking pub on a corner in the picture postcard village of East Witton and decided to stop for a pint and a gander. It was only once I was inside the main bar and saw the amazing fireplace and inviting curved wooden booth seats and the enticing chalk board menus that I suddenly became overpoweringly hungry.
And the food was great; hearty, unpretentious yet skilfully made and inventive dishes that left me grinning with satisfaction. Only after leaving did I check to see if The Yorkshire Post had been before and, on seeing that they’d clearly had something of a mare four years earlier, I thought I’d write in their defence. After all, everyone’s entitled to an off night, surely?
The Blue Lion has been run for over 20 years by Paul and Helen Klein. It’s a former coaching house and hunting lodge that has two bars, two formal dining rooms and actually feels more like a large guest house than a pub. The big bar, though, is a marvellous space and it’s the one you’re most likely to encounter.
Once you’re in, I can recommend the pan fried pigeon breast with honey glazed figs. It’s served with a little pile of toasted hazelnuts and blobs of parsnip puree and makes for a very tasty opener. Alternatively, I’d definitely have the salt beef and soft onion salad again. Strands of shredded salt beef intertwined with leaves and tomatoes with a perfectly poached egg sat on top. The soft little wine-poached silverskin onions hiding in the dish make for gorgeous mini treats.
The simple main of roast chicken breast with mushroom, tarragon, cherry tomato and broad bean fricassee does exactly as you’d expect by showing off the superb chicken without overpowering it. Or, if you’re feeling really hungry, you could have the beef and black sheep ale suet pudding. It came with red onion gravy and mashed potato, the meat was wonderfully soft and the whole was a farmhand’s-sized portion.
Neither of the mains was fancy (although some dishes were a little more elaborate) and this is apparently something that’s changed in the years since the last review. Because of the rooms, the kitchen runs all day, every day and it seems that, in order to ensure consistency, the menu has been simplified a little. This is no bad thing. I’d rather eat a simple dish done well than an ill-delivered attempt at intricacy any day.
More simplicity and a new sensation came with pudding. The delicious steamed treacle pudding with vanilla custard needs no explanation but carries a warning that it probably shouldn’t be attempted after a suet pudding. You may explode. A dish I’d never have thought that I’d gladly eat every day till I pop was the iced liquorice terrine with roast fig. Two thick triangles of extraordinarily liquorice-y sorbet-esque iced stuff with a fig resting on top. This was liquorice overload of the finest sort. It was sweet and rich and so refreshing. I loved it and I want to have its babies.
All this, I have to say, comes at a price. The pub attracts the better-heeled folk of the Dales and they clearly don’t mind paying. With starters at £5.50 to £12, mains at £13.50 to £24 and puds coming in at around the £7-8 mark, you’re going to be looking at the thick end of £100 for two once you’ve added your drinks and a side dish or two. Some may find that top heavy for simple grub but I think the service, surroundings and atmosphere mitigate greatly.
At the end of her review, Elaine said the Blue Lion was clearly a very popular place to eat and maybe they had just had a bad night. I think that’s almost certainly the case. They all clearly know what they’re doing and the stream of happy punters I saw come and go all looked very happy and satisfied. I hope this write-up has redressed the balance a bit and the good people at the Blue Lion finally stop using The Yorkshire Post only to line the cat tray.
The Blue Lion, East Wilton, Leyburn, North Yorkshire DL8 4SN. Tel: 01969 624273, www.thebluelion.co.uk. Open seven days, 12-11pm.