Here we go again, was my thought standing outside the Carlton Inn at Carlton Husthwaite near Thirsk; another pretty North Yorkshire village, another smart, gastro-with-gusto pub.
As it turned out everything was just as I expected in a country inn such as this – wooden floors, muted colours, bric-á-brac and locals propping up the bar.
There was nothing to disappoint (well maybe just a little having seen this style more times than I care to think about) with no surprises, just a faint predictability about it all.
Recently, the inn has been known as the Carlton Bore, that is until the Christmas before last when puzzlingly, the doors closed one night and remained firmly shut.
Customers and staff were, understandably, very upset, and a little surprised. Until that night, business was seemingly brisk despite the menu being a little on the fancy side for a village inn.
All of that is now history because at a time when many would shy away from buying a failed business, new owners Anne-Marie and Jason Sargent have dusted the inn down, opened those creaky doors and set about restoring faith in the place.
The couple have stayed well away from the former fanciness, so before me was a menu which is unfussy and not one dish boasts a foam, a gel or anything of the hackneyed “modern with a twist” ilk. It makes no great shakes about locality or provenance and is actually quite appealing in its directness.
Without the need for second guessing what chef (in this case Anne Marie and her all-female kitchen brigade) is putting on the plate, choosing is straightforward. There was no hesitation around a black pudding and bacon salad.
The pudding came from Boroughbridge our well informed and dazzlingly pretty young waitress told me.
Despite being just a tad on the dry side, there was a decent balance of fruit and spice, a perfectly cooked poached egg on top and enough bacon in the salad to know it was there.
Our other starter was ample-sized prawns expertly coated in a light, crunchy batter. Asking if they come in frozen, the pretty one tells me “we do them ourselves”.
I found her obvious pride in what she is serving slightly uplifting.
Other starters they “do themselves” is a comforting list of choices including Anne-Marie’s chicken liver paté, soup, prawn cocktail, whitebait and individual Yorkshire puds plus a few specials.
The mains have much the same semi-retro feel and I am beginning to wonder if all of this is not just a touch ironic.
The ubiquitous rib eye steak came piled up with roasted tomatoes, button mushrooms, cartwheel-sized beer battered onion rings and some frighteningly good chunky chips.
The steak was tender and exceptionally flavorsome and despite the other components having a close alliance with the deep-fat fryer, were without any trace of grease.
Then came the test for the kitchen, a steak and ale pie.
The first box was firmly ticked as it was made with shortcrust pastry – a personal preference I know, but puff pastry doesn’t do it for me.
Second challenge, was it a real pie or simply a pre-baked disc plonked onto a bowl of stew?
Big tick for this one when presented with a completely enclosed pie standing proudly on the plate which, when opened, revealed a thick, meaty filling. An excellent dish all round.
The pudding menu came to the table on a little blackboard and again flitted around the decades with brownies, brûlées, crumbles, cheesecakes, and gracious, even ice cream in a brandy snap basket – you don’t see those very often any more. Bakewell tart and the brûlée were chosen, eaten and both declared delicious. For £65.00 we enjoyed three courses plus three glasses of wine from a small but competent wine list. Good value for the quality of food.
The menu at the Carlton may not hit the heights of fashion or fad, but what it is, is great cooking and clearly done with a great deal of thought and attention. I adore modern cooking and the inventiveness of chefs, but at a time when our confidence in food is wobbly, to say the least, the straightforwardness of the Carlton is refreshing. Long may the foams and twists stay away.
The Carlton Inn, Carlton Husthwaite, YO7 2BW, tel. 01845 501265. Food served: Tuesday to Saurday, 12–2pm & 6-9pm; Sunday, 12–2pm & 6-8pm.