To get there may be a challenge, but Jill Turton finds Lord Stones Country Park is well worth the hike.
Restaurant magazine once named the Fox and Hounds at Goldsborough, north of Whitby, as the worst located restaurant in Britain. While they serve some of the best food in Yorkshire, nay in the country, you’d never find them unless you knew, tucked away on a clifftop in a tiny hamlet, two miles from the main road.
The newly restored Lord Stones café and restaurant could be next in line for the title. It’s an equally remote and potty location for a restaurant, up a winding road that climbs for two miles from well- heeled Carlton in Cleveland, to Carlton Bank on the western edge of the North York Moors, but when you’re up there, the views are magnificent. You can see Roseberry Topping and 12 miles beyond, with all of Teesside, spectacular in its own way, spread out before you.
This cracking location is no secret to walkers, being at the confluence of three iconic routes: the Lyke Wake Walk, the Cleveland Way and the Coast to Coast. For years, day trippers, cyclists, bikers (of which more later) even hang-gliders have made their way to the Lord Stones, a greasy spoon café built into the hillside which, until the current upgrade, was known as the café in the cave.
Now it’s a smart café and deli by day and from 6pm on Wednesday to Saturday, it’s a restaurant which is how we found ourselves on a wintry night, crunching across the newly laid gravel, fully expecting to be eating in chilly isolation.
We were so wrong. The place was buzzing: families, couples and a table of seven women out for a party. There was a fire in the stove and candles on the chunky light oak tables, and while the room had the slightly clinical feel of a café masquerading as a restaurant, the front-of-house team were cheery and welcoming.
Set up with water and wine sharpish, the staff could locate only one menu. Five minutes of searching provided a second one and a waiter who was so apologetic he offered to deduct a glass of wine from our bill. Really not necessary, we assured him, though the offer was appreciated.
The early evening (6pm-7pm) “market menu” presents an attractive three courses for £14.95 with the likes of Bilsdale pork sausages with curly kale colcannon and onion gravy and lemon posset with raspberries to finish. The à la carte promised more good, solid cooking: steak and ale pie, pork chop, roast chicken, baked red pepper and steak.
Having been here in daytime I knew that the new owner, John Reeve, reared heritage breed Belted Galloway cattle and the steaks were cooked on a Josper, the grill of choice by chefs with £12,000+ to spend on the latest bit of kit. The Hawksmoor, considered London’s best steak house, has one, so does Gordon Ramsay’s Maze Grill and the swanky Crafthouse in the Trinity Leeds shopping centre. Steak then was a no-brainer.
But first we sampled the pigeon, bacon and black pudding salad (the Josper- grilled prawns having sold out) a neat construction of tender pigeon, good bacon lardons and black pudding. A touch more dressing and I’d have rated it 10 out of 10.
Sea bass fillets were crisp skinned, well seasoned and topped with buttery brown shrimps. They came with fried potatoes, grilled fennel and a little pot of kale fried in seasoned butter. The whole thing, well cooked and well balanced.
But it was the rib-eye steak that made the day. The Josper charcoal grill cooks at such a high temperature it sears the meat in seconds but still keeps it moist. And when it’s top quality, well hung beef this is as good as steak gets. Add a knob of Café de Paris butter that our waiter from Middlesbrough disarmingly informed us contained “oh everything, lemon, garlic, cloves”. Cloves? It worked just fine along with mushroom and a bucket of French fries.
Motoring on to pudding we bypassed hot Toblerone chocolate fondant, and the croissant and white chocolate bread and butter pudding in favour of lemon posset with raspberries we’d spied on the Market Menu. A touch sweet (and that’s nitpicking) and topped with raspberries, served with homemade shortbread, it was another hit.
The chef is Michael Chase, whose CV includes the Star at Harome and Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle. The man with the cash is John Reeve, who bought the 160-acre site in 2012 from John Simpson who for years had supplied day trippers, walkers and increasingly bikers with beer and a fry-up.
When the bikers started to descend in their scores Simpson cut his opening hours to cope, and things got nasty. Simpson claimed the bikers were abusive, the bikers claimed Simpson discriminated against them. In the end, Simpson sold up to John Reeve who co-owns the adjoining Urra shooting and farming estate.
Reeve has clearly spent mega bucks digging the building out of the hillside, adding showers and camping pods. Happily, with his son Dominic, they have put as much care into the catering. It might be one of Yorkshire’s more remote locations, but as the Michelin guide famously says, it’s worth the detour.
Lord Stones Country Park, Carlton Bank, Chop Gate, North Yorkshire, TS9 7JH. 01642 778482, www.lordstones.com. Open: Monday to Saturday, 9am-5pm, Sunday, 9am-4pm and Wednesday to Saturday, 6pm-9pm. Price: three- course dinner £30 plus wine and coffee.