Restaurant review: St Quintin Arms, Harpham

Poached apple, apple cake and sticky toffee sauce.
Poached apple, apple cake and sticky toffee sauce.
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It was a country pub needing an injection of love. It got one thanks to Ian and Zoe Burdass. Dave Lee celebrates the reinvention of the St Quintin Arms.

First things first: the name. The St Quintin family fought alongside William the Conqueror and subsequently settled in the tiny Wolds village of Harpham. The pub, the St Quintin Arms, is named after them. I looked up St Quintin but he doesn’t exist. It’s probably a corruption of the name of St Quentin, who died in France in AD 278.

St Quintin Arms.

St Quintin Arms.

I did this research to find out what St Quintin (or Quentin) was the patron saint of so I could write a witty opening paragraph of my review of the pub but – according to my Ladybird book of saints – he’s the patron saint of chaplains, tailors, porters and bombardiers and is invoked to ward off coughs, sneezes and dropsy. None of which is much use to me. So I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time, however, I’m going to very irreverently gild his beatification with the title Patron Saint of Quality Meats. For that is what the pub named after him should be much more renowned for.

Phew. I think I got away with that one. So, before I’m accused of impiety, let’s quickly move on to more recent backstory: Ian and Zoe Burdass used to farm and sell lamb. Very good lamb. I bought off them a few times at Driffield farmers market and it always proved to be a wise move.

They also supplied the best restaurants in the region. Ian’s family have farmed in Harpham for over 125 years and when the village boozer – which had been quietly dying for a while – became available, the Burdasses reduced their flock, stopped selling lamb to the public and bought the pub. They’ve worked hard, added guest rooms, significantly improved the food offering and now they run the best-kept secret in East Yorkshire.

Ian (tall, gobby, very Yorkshire) runs the bar and sorts the meat. Zoe (smaller, less gobby, also very Yorkshire) cooks. Between them, they oversee a perfectly friendly pub with exactly the sort of hearty, unfussy grub we all deserve plonked in front of us at the end of a long walk. The online menu will give you a rough idea but the multiple specials boards are what you’re most likely to order off.

Pheasant breast with creamed butternut squash and potato croquette.

Pheasant breast with creamed butternut squash and potato croquette.

I recommend you go for something simple, with meat, and with the meat messed with as little as possible. Ian either shoots, slaughters or prepares almost all the meat himself. Only things like sausage and bacon are bought in and only from very good, trusted sources.

On the starters, for instance, there is a breast of pigeon with beetroot salad (£5.50), which is just perfectly juicy meat on fresh beetroot. No faff, just taste. Well presented, value for money, skilfully handled, but simple.

Same as the potted hare (also £5.50). I’m assuming this is based on the classic Victorian recipe with red wine and thyme. Maybe a couple of subtle spices or a grating of nutmeg in there as well, but nothing to mess with the taste of the chunks of meat. Incidentally, how often do you see hare on the menu? Hardly ever. It’s a vanished meat, so get thee to Harpham, lepus lovers.

Lamb, of course, has its own specials board. The Lamb Henry (£13.95) is highly advised. Shoulder, slow cooked till it gets stupidly lovely, served with mash and gravy. If you want to go into meat hyperdrive, though, you’ll plump (as I did) for pigeon, partridge, sausage and bacon with port sauce. £14.95 buys you a plate almost comically-loaded with varying cuts. It’s the sort of thing Desperate Dan would have while his cow pie bakes. And every bite is better than the last. At first you think that you can’t possibly manage that much meat, by the end you’re so flesh-crazed you’re considering eating your own leg.

Potted hare with toast.

Potted hare with toast.

There are, incidentally, non-meat dishes available. I have no idea what they are, though, as my brain is so cholesterol-addled I can’t remember them. I think there may be fish, and some sort of mushroom thing.

Meat does not feature in the deserts, but don’t let that put you off. There is a lemon cream with raspberry sorbet and homemade shortbread that is light and lemony and something of a welcome comedown. I’m a fan of the poached apple with apple cake and sticky toffee sauce. It’s got a bit of everything (including ice cream) in exactly the right ratio and technically counts as one of your five a day. All puds are £4.95 and change as often as the specials.

You can tell I like the St Quintin Arms. Of course I do. It’s everything you want from a Yorkshire boozer with none of the over-embellishments that sometimes tip them into the realm of caricature. You’re not being sold the concept of a Yorkshire pub, you’re just in a real one. It’s a small but crucial distinction. It’s to Ian and Zoe’s credit that they recognise and understand this distinction and they’re also savvy enough to know they’re on to a good thing and that their hard work is paying off handsomely. I’m sure that, if they were still around, St Quintin, St Quentin and even William the Conqueror would approve.

St Quintin Arms, Main Street, Harpham, YO25 4QY. 01262 490329, stquintinarms.com