The interior is Soviet chic, the furniture quirky, but if you’ve got your specs, the Black Hat’s menu is less of a challenge, writes Amanda Wragg.
What sort of reviewer fails to check if a place is open on a Monday night? A slack one. Imagine my shame as my two plus ones are standing outside a firmly locked door, the place in total darkness.
It doesn’t help that my dining chums are uber-professional women who would never make such a gaff. Actually they were sweet and assured me that they’d screwed up many a time in their own way. Phew.
So, where to go? We’re in Ilkley so there’s plenty of choice. We’re walking towards the Vietnamese restaurant Bistro Saigon, which I’ve heard very good things about, but en route spot the Black Hat, all lit up on this dingy night and it draws us in. “Ahh,” coos Ruth, my chum who lives in town. “I’ve been looking forward to trying this place so I’m quite glad the other spot was shut.”
Rather oddly, in the yard by the back entrance we pass “vintage”, pastel-painted, heated beach huts, doors flung wide and open for business. I was unaware that Ilkley was tidal.
In a previous life the Black Hat was, by all accounts, a nicotine-drenched old boozer/nightclub where you had to wipe your feet on the way out. It closed its doors six months ago, a quarter of a million was thrown at it and here we are today.
There’s certainly a lot to look at. Someone’s been to the Quirky Pub Interior Warehouse so expect several styles. There’s “signature” wallpaper, odd pictures in odder frames and wacky lights (there must be six different types; is that a Kilner jar chandelier?) It’s not a soft look.
There are scrubbed wooden floors and – horror of horrors – tall tables and benches, like outsize props from Alice Through the Looking Glass. How in tarnation are we going to climb up there? But there are padded booths too which are much more forgiving.
We slither into one and peer at the menu. It’s at this point that we realise it’s a place meant for young people. The clues are the tall tables and the tiny print on the brown paper menu. No matter how long our arms are we couldn’t focus terribly well. Between us, with a pair of bifocals, some supermarket readers and manoeuvering under a Kilner jar, we managed.
It offers the likes of burgers and sliders, BBQ pulled pork, dripping chips and another, “snazzy” variety with something called bacon dust sprinkled on them. Part of me is slightly disappointed that they haven’t got “dirty burgers” on; maybe such urban nonsense hasn’t reached genteel Ilkley yet?
The kitchen starts early (10am) with the likes of eggs Benedict, smoked haddock, poached egg and creamed spinach or Bondgate of Otley muesli loaf with honey. The Bellini catches my eye. I think it’s non-alcoholic, but I’m not putting money on it.
“Leaf or Loaf” is served as a salad or sandwich; I like the sound of salmon, prawn, new potato and pink gin sauce. You can see a pattern emerging, can’t you? There’s something called “Small and Sharing” which I guess can be either starters or plates for tiny eaters. We’re obviously not the latter.
Smoked haddock potato cake arrives and it turns out I’m wrong. At seven quid it would do nicely as a main course. It’s full of flavour, and more importantly, fish. Gwyn and I share the antipasti which is on a plate the size of a tyre, in the middle of which is a cluster of delightful bites: baby balls of mozzarella, sweet onions, seared peppers and a pile of huge olives. A doorstop of rustic bread mops up the balsamic puddle.
Next up the Black Hat burger (“6oz prime rib, tomato tapenade, basic aioli and chips”) which does exactly what it says on the tin. Sometimes only a meaty burger will do and this is one of those times.
My slider is three cute buns on a long plate, one filled with moist, tender brisket, one with pulled pork and the last with panko chicken, which has clearly been crumbed only minutes ago and is nothing like its gruesome Colonel Saunders cousin.
The beef dripping chips are exemplary; fat golden fingers, wonderfully crispy but soft as pillows inside. You might think it should be simple to deliver this sort of food and wonder where the skill is, but we’ve all had cardboard burgers and limp chips; it can ruin your day. The offering here is none of those things.
I’m pleased to see the likes of ham, egg and chips and pie and mash on a menu, however hipster it thinks it is. Vegetarians get a look-in too, with the likes of sautéed mushrooms with polenta and a rather good looking halloumi, squash and bulgur wheat salad.
Home-made puds include the inevitable STP which is suitably dense, the butterscotch sauce artery-shrinking rich. Ruth’s coconut panacotta has perfect wibble – again, a simple enough dish but hard to pull off; witness recent Masterchef: The Professionals disasters. My apple and almond tart with blackberry parfait is the weakest plate of the three, being almost tasteless.
There’s an impressive row of craft beer on the bar and the cocktail list is appealing. Whilst the atmosphere is serene at seven in the evening, my guess is that by midnight the place will be rocking.
We’ll be tucked up in our beds by then but we’ve had a good time. Ruth reckons it’s going to be good for the town. Ilkley can be a bit po-faced, she says, and this place is a breath of fresh air.
The Black Hat might be geared to younger people than us, but that includes quite a lot of people. Forget the Soviet chic interior and the challenging furniture, it’s a fun place.
Service is lovely – chummy without being too intrusive, the food is a good couple of notches above what you might expect and even the beach huts have charm. I’m looking forward to sitting in one and dipping my toes in the briny, come summer.
• The Black Hat, 11 Church Street, Ilkley, LS29 9DR. 01943 607214, www.blackhatlkley.co.uk. Open Monday to Thursday, 10am to 12am; Friday and Saturday 10am to 1am; Sunday 10am to 11pm.