The Clarendon in Hebden is now a father and son affair – and the result is irresistible, writes Elaine Lemm.
Devastating as it was to the village of Hebden when the Clarendon Hotel closed its doors, this was soon overshadowed by the disquiet of the villagers when talk spread that it was to open again, and run by a swanky French chef from Harrogate to boot. Mutterings of fancy fare, posh nosh and incomers with their lavish ways spoiling the village were rumoured to have spread through the dale like wildfire; people were not happy.
That was back in 2015 and a far cry from the picture of bonhomie and entente cordiale now found at the hotel. Alsace-born award-winning chef Lionel Strub tiptoed into the mire, made cautious and considered renovations which initially involved little more than new carpets, paintwork and updating of the kitchen but since then there has been much more work done. The food and drink offer too was prudent to reflect the location of the Clarendon and importantly, the clientele. Lionel’s attention was firmly engaged on those who called it their local and wanted to keep it so.
Now, these locals crowd around the bar; tables are full inside, and outside cyclists and walkers pore over maps planning routes while tucking into plates of hearty carb-laden food and supping well-earned drinks; this is how a rural pub-hotel should be.
But this is not an all locally shot game, or everything with chips kind of a place. Lionel cleverly offers food for the whole gamut of diners who rock up. He still gets to be cheffy and even more so as he now shares the stove with his talented son Jonathan. Hats off to Lionel who is listening to him in embracing new ideas and accepting (though I hear there was a little reluctance initially) that this young pup does know his stuff. Seriously, the Clarendon is all the better for it.
The menu boasts British pub classics, there are flashes of traditional French, and delightfully, bursts of modern creativity with all of this held tightly together by local produce. Nowhere better is this shown than in a smart starter of a Journey Through Yorkshire. There’s a chunky piece of Whitby lobster, a miniature Yorkshire pudding with onion gravy, a croquette of Yorkshire Blue cheese, a terrine of Hebden partridge and, for the contemporary flash, an espuma of Black Sheep beer.
I tested the modernity further with a plate playing homage to Yellison Farm goat’s cheese and beetroot, both favourites of mine. The dish is again multi-faceted, so the beetroot dresses up as a perfect panna cotta and the Yellinson speaks for itself. Only the second appearance of the espuma lets the dish down; this time made with horseradish which does not hold up on the plate for long.
We moved on to two classic mains, one, an onglet (hanger) steak which also happens to be one of my favourite cuts when in the right hands. This one was. The steak was a perfect shade of pink, beautifully rested to allow the meat to soften and the flavour to reveal itself. The meltingly soft Dauphinoise alongside was textbook cooking. But, all that said, slow braised pig cheeks stole the evening. This dish will remain long in the memory with its sticky, rich deliciousness, a bed of punchy mustard and caramelised onion mash and an artfully and technically staggering achievement of a pig’s trotter bon-bon.
A deconstruction of a Tart au Citron meringue took lemon meringue pie to an entirely new place and, though across the table he was initially disappointed it was all bits and bobs, it didn’t stop him eating it with relish. And the final great surprise of the night was the cost. With several glasses of excellent wines, sourdough and beetroot bread and water included, the whole lot rolled in at a touch over £100, which is staggeringly good for the food of this quality.
This was not my first visit to the Clarendon. I have watched it evolve from its cautious state of not wanting to upset anyone to now being happy with its place, confidence which reflects in the food and the service, with manager Liz Weatherby running a tight ship.
What thrills me even more than the food is watching Lionel now living and breathing the Yorkshire Dales as a part of this community and his determination that the Clarendon will remain as it is, a rural hotel.
Oh, and did I mention there are now six new bedrooms and a hearty English breakfast next morning to enjoy for those who, like me, have a bit of a trek to get there.
The Clarendon, Hebden, Skipton, BD23 5DE. Telephone 01756 752446. Food: Monday to Saturday, 12-2.30pm and 6-9pm, Sunday 12-7pm, with quiz night at 9pm.