There was a revolving door at the Alice Hawthorn Inn, but with experienced restaurateurs now at the helm the future looks bright says Elaine Lemm.
Much has been written and said about the Alice Hawthorn Inn over the years. The beautiful 18th-century pub is tucked neatly in the gorgeous village of Nun Monkton near York and that its history is chequered is an understatement; opening, closing and the quality of service, food and drink fluctuating from dizzying heights of greatness to downright terrible. The disarray seemed to have dwindled with new determined owners in 2013 and, with a substantial and lovely renovation, all was well, but sadly not for long.
I am not interested in what occurred, only in what is now going on, and this time the rumours were true. Enter hospitality royalty with John and Claire Topham. This couple are the tour de force behind the much-garlanded General Tarleton at Ferrensby near Knaresborough and a more professional and talented couple it is hard to find. John works his magic in the kitchen with Claire out front. The GT as it is fondly known is as popular as ever, and there is a good team in place there, so the pair are now pouring their energy into the Alice. And it shows.
New to me was the recently renovated barn for private dining and events. The night I was there the worst snow blizzard of the year was raging outside, but the barn was shimmering in candlelight all set and ready for the 30 guests due to arrive; the perfect setting for a winter’s night and a gathering of friends. The Inn itself did not disappoint either. Much remains of the recent renovation and makes for a stylish yet still cosy and relaxing air throughout, complete with not one but three real fires. Despite the horrendous weather, the place was bustling; what a testament to the Alice that even on a filthy night they still came.
Currently, John is full time in the kitchen working with another Yorkshire talent, Mike Taylor, with Claire splitting her time between the two inns.
The menu comfortably reflects their approach by leading with local and seasonal, comfort and hearty to counter the weather and sprinklings of fashion and fad to keep it buzzing; it is one of those hard to choose ones which I love, and it took a while to decide.
Suffice to say all are catered for and I defy anyone to not find something they would like.
Pressed terrine of Yorkshire ham and goose liver from the kitchen here I knew would be excellent and classical cooking at its best. I was not wrong, it was faultless as was a rhubarb pickle served with it.
Popcorn tiger shrimp with Cajun mayo seemed playful and fun after the seriousness of the terrine and, though a light dish, managed to pack some flavour and once again showed expertise in the cooking as if the timing on this one is even seconds out it can be dire.
A considerable chunk of cod dressed with lobster, shrimp, spinach, a significant serving of mash and a buttery sauce, scored massively in the deliciousness stakes, and though a tad under-seasoned this was easy enough to remedy.
Unlike my main course, which was a busy, going nowhere affair of lovely ingredients fighting for attention. I had been persuaded by the description of a warm salad of roast parsley root with celeriac, Nashi pear, grilled Halloumi, rocket, smoky apple compote and pistachio. The dish should have worked, but for me, it didn’t, and I hold my hands up to say part of the fault was my error in choosing it given the storm outside. No hard feelings and it did not alter my delight in the Alice at all, especially with a delicious classic custard tart for pudding.
The Alice Hawthorn offers all that you could ever want from a classy, top-notch inn. The food is excellent, consummate service, sublime wine list and let’s not forget those cosy bars and roaring fires. I do look forward to returning in warmer weather when the beer garden will be open, and the locally-run ferry across the River Ouse to Beningborough will once again be running on the weekends. I have everything crossed that this time all is in place for much success here. Maybe Alice has finally grown up.
The Alice Hawthorn Inn, The Green, Nun Monkton, YO26 8EW. 0423 330303, thealicehawthorn.com. Open: Wednesday to Saturday, noon-11pm. Sunday, noon-8pm.