The Fauconberg Arms has everything going for it, but sadly, says Elaine Lemm, it needs to do much better in the kitchen. Picture by Gary Longbottom.
My connection with the Fauconberg Arms goes back a long way, regardless of their fluctuating fortunes. I have seen them as award winners and forcibly closed down. The country inn has gone from shining community beacon to standing empty and unloved. Why the changing fortunes has always been a mystery to me; this place has everything going for it, particularly the enviable location in the strikingly pretty village of Coxwold.
Currently, they are rocking. The marketing-speak on the website announces they are “a historical country inn... with theatrical flair”. The inn is doubling up as a theatre-music venue, and there is a lot going on looking at the noticeboards in the bar. Good on them for maximising their revenue stream; however, I am more interested in the food and drink offering.
Regardless of the new venture, mercifully, the interior remains charming and just the way a much-loved inn should be. The brasses are highly polished; the stone flag floors shine; the two bars and restaurant are snug and warm. I am slightly worried that in one bar, the tables are peppered with cutlery, leaving little room for drinkers, but we managed to perch on one of the few remaining tables for a drink before dinner.
The menu at the Fauconberg is compact. There are no flashes of originality (save a strange sounding dish called toetaptom – more of that later) but that is OK in what is ostensibly a country inn. Sharing platters feature large, ranging from £14 to a hefty £28, though in fairness that is for two. I resist the temptation to tell them that their promise of Spain meets Yorkshire with a frittata is geographically incorrect. Choices made and a lacklustre glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand, we headed for the dining room with a creeping flicker of unease.
We had struggled to make a reservation for dinner with no free tables all evening, though they did eventually find an early table for us. Normally, I take this as a good sign of success. I was a little alarmed though when taken through to the restaurant that it was empty. Remarking on this, I was told not to worry, other diners would be joining us. They did in dribs and drabs. When we left the restaurant over an hour later, bizarrely, only four tables were occupied. Perhaps they eat late in these parts?
Once in the dining room, sadly, all went downhill. There was no faulting the staff. The two girls taking care of us followed the carefully crafted script to the letter with their repeated questioning if everything is OK – which always amuses me as so few rarely bother to answer this honestly.
The menu offers a prawn cocktail as Fauconberg’s version of the original. Good, so no ice-cold soggy prawns, iceberg and pink gloop passing itself off as a Marie-Rose sauce then. Wrong. It was all of that and worse. Had my nine-year-old niece served me this dish, I would have appreciatively accepted half-frozen, cotton-textured mush; everyone has to start somewhere. Here they are charging me £6.50. Seriously, how hard is it to make a prawn cocktail?
The trying-too-hard dish of toetaptom reveals itself as a plate with three slices of baguette with a slathering of tapenade topped with Tomorrosso – marinated tiny tomatoes. Squirted across the plate is balsamic glaze, a wonderful condiment when used sparingly, in the wrong hands, lethal. Sadly, here it was the latter.
A special of guinea fowl for main was reasonable. The meat was tender; the sauce is a little too powdery and gloopy; the mash a little stale tasting. But otherwise not the worst dish.
On the other hand, the vegetarian pie, oh dear.
I shall not go into too much detail but simply say the pastry was uncooked, grey and soggy. The filling an indescribable mixture of what once was vegetables but now slowly drowning in an overdose of dried herbs. Half-cooked tomato sauce on the side did it no favours either. When asked by the aforementioned waitress if the food was OK, I was not embarrassed to say it wasn’t. Her blushes upset me, but it was after all not her fault. Did the chef come out to make amends or the owners apologise? No. They simply asked if I wanted something else. I did not, so they removed the charge for the dish from the bill and we left. How sad. Mistakes happen without a doubt, but there are ways to rectify it.
All through dinner on the windowsill, a plate declaring the Fauconberg as highly commended in Pub of the Year for Yorkshire 2013 grinned down at me. The Fauconberg website shows awards, plaudits and there are avid recommendations on TripAdvisor. It must just be me, but all of that puzzles me after my experience. I think I may finally give up on the Fauconberg.
• The Fauconberg Arms, Coxwold, North Yorkshire, YO61 4AD Tel: 01347 868214. Open 10am till late, seven days a week.