Sometimes the old ones really are the best. Dave Lee finally gets round to booking a table at The Millhouse.
I love a good windmill, me. Sadly, you rarely see a decent one these days. Not a proper one, with wooden sails and all that. Luckily, the only working windmill in East Yorkshire (and one of only two in the whole of the county) is just down the road from me at Skidby.
I get to see it all the time and enjoy watching its handsome sails turning slowly in the breeze. It also has a rural museum inside so I often take the kids to see how life was when the East Riding was known as the “bread-basket of Yorkshire”. We usually leave with a bag or two of the flour that the mill produces, which makes excellent oven-bottom cakes.
Strange, then, that I’ve completely ignored The Millhouse restaurant which has been housed at the foot of the windmill for the past two-and-a-half decades. I’m not sure why, except that I vaguely remember eating there about 20 years ago and not being particularly fussed. Fortunately, the owners (Italian Franco Ciuffetelli and his descendants) didn’t sit around awaiting my return; they just got on with building their thriving business.
I have to say that, after several people recommended I try the restaurant out, I had a look at the website and it confirmed some of my worries about the place. In the rather full-on promotional materials it comes across as the sort of place that’s good for parties or weddings and the like. Nothing wrong with this at all – such events are big money spinners – but it does tend to mask how good The Millhouse actually is. Drill down a bit on the website, however, and you’ll find the à la carte menu. It’s here that you can see something else at play, intriguing dishes made with many local ingredients.
Take, for instance, duck leg confit with beetroot choucroute and mustard aioli, which we had as a starter along with pork belly fritters with spiced pineapple chutney and chermula dressing. Already there are interesting and unusual combinations going on. I’ll save you the job of looking up choucroute (as I had to) and tell you that it’s a fancy name for sauerkraut and that this and the punchy aioli went superbly well with the fall-apart duck. The pork dish was probably very nearly as good but, to be honest, I can’t remember much about it as I was obsessed with the sweet potato wedges with chorizo that I’d ordered as a side.
Bearing in mind we’d already sampled the baked-onsite rustic bread selection – cheese bread, Wold Top beer bread and soda bread served with roast beef and anchovy butter and made with flour from the mill – and you’ll start to see that we’d enjoyed a rich and varied array of flavours before we even arrived at the mains.
My main of roast partridge, heritage carrots, parsnip mash and pancetta with juniper sloe gin gravy was as good as it sounds. Go on, read that sentence again without drooling. I can’t. Across the way the roast fillet of halibut with a fricassee of broad beans and peas, braised fennel and lemon butter was another drool-inducer. Less inventive than the starters they may have been, but they were solidly delicious.
And now some background detail before dessert. The Millhouse is a large, comfortable, multi-room restaurant. There is a bar to accommodate non-eaters and a meandering dining area with parts that can be curtained off to create more intimate spaces. It’s moderately pricey – starters are £6-£10, mains £14-£23, plus you need a couple of sides to pad the meal out – and it seems to do very well; we visited on a Monday night and it was 70 per cent full. They are opening a swanky accompanying bistro/function rooms called the Glasshouse before Xmas. OK, back to the plot…
Puds proved a real high point of the evening. Partly because we both failed to spot that our choices were meant to be shared (accidental double portions, never a bad thing) but mainly because they made us chortle with delight when they arrived. Assiette of “The Mills” desserts was a selection of some of the other sweets on the menu presented on a single plate. But as good as the lemon posset, chocolate tart and what-not were (and they were) they could not hold a candle to the masterwork that is “Hull Fair in miniature”. Why no-one has thought of mustering mini versions of all the food on offer at Europe’s biggest travelling funfair on one cake stand before, I cannot fathom. It’s a masterstroke.
Some of you may not be that enamoured of little tufts of candy floss, a chestnut cream-stuffed brandy snap, a glass-thin sugar apple skin filled with toffee ice cream, home-made nougat, a donut or a dinky marzipan (hook-a) duck for dessert following a filling meal. As someone who has been enjoying the heady delights of Hull Fair for over four decades, however, I adored it. All it lacked to be a perfect gastronomic tribute to ’Ull over-indulgence was a little bag of Bob Carver’s chips
I’m a Millhouse convert now. Some family-run restaurants that have been around for a long time fall into the trap of playing safe and catering to a faithful but slowly diminishing clientele. This is something The Millhouse avoids; it hovers just above that crowd by offering something to keep the oldies happy with enough invention to draw in the younger crowd. As I said, I love a good windmill, me. But now I also love a good millhouse.
• The Millhouse Restaurant & Bar, Beverley Road, Skidby, East Yorkshire, HU16 5TF. 01482 845610, www.millhouserestaurant.co.uk. Open daily, 10am till late.