The drive over Wadsworth moor from Hebden Bridge is always rewarding, regardless of the weather. It feels truly wild, the scarred hills tumbling over each other into the distance. As you round the final sweeping bend, Keighley moor – and if it’s super-clear, the Forest of Trawden – opens up and offers itself to you. It’s quite breathtaking.
It is a super-clear evening, and the view from the newly spruced up Waggon & Horses is jaw-dropping. Built in the 1850s, the pub’s name derives from the horse and cart ferry service it offered across the spine of the Pennines, taking wool to Manchester.
Inside, neutral, natural colours, beams, open fires, nicely re-upholstered seating (a bit of tartan wool goes a long way) some seagrass carpet and more stone flags. A couple of walls have that wallpaper that looks like a library, there are candles on the tables and a genuinely warm welcome from two smartly dressed lads who don’t put a food wrong on the service front all evening.
Sinatra is serenading us as an amuse arrives. It’s a thing of great delicacy and heralds an evening ahead that surprises me for a number of reasons. The amuse is white onion veloute, a standard in fine dining, so not unusual, though it’s a decent test of kitchen skills. With it, a flower-pot shaped, warm, clearly just made brioche bun with a baby quenelle of bacon butter; fabulous.
The menu is in fours and features the likes of home cured duck ham, sautéed duck liver and burned orange puree, and leek soup with smoked haddock, dill oil and caviar. But I’m drawn to the beetroot dish; roast and carpaccio, with vibrant colours but eclipsed by a ball of balsamic chantilly cream which has my eyes rolling into the back of my head.
The scallop starter is chosen mainly for the presence of a Bloody Mary sorbet, and we’re not wrong. It’s a triumph
They resist describing the Yorkshire beef mains course ‘three ways’ which I’m glad of; I don’t know about you but I’ve had it with being told how many ways my food is going to arrive. As it is, the meat is toothsome and tender, and the blobs of vivid green wild garlic brings the dish together beautifully.
‘Sea bream, celeriac, granny smith, hazelnut and truffle pesto’ is how mum’s dish is described, but the economy of the description doesn’t do it justice. The celeriac is a smooth puree, the fish a pearly slab, perfectly judged, and the apple cut into slender batons. But star of the show is the pesto, as deep a flavoured thing as anything I’ve ever eaten.
The people at the other tables are, like us, oo-ing and ahh-ing as their dinner arrives. Perhaps like me they were expecting, at best, gastro-pub grub. Who on earth is in the kitchen? I can’t help asking, and the chef comes out, more than happy to talk about his food.
Sam Wilson is a valley lad who left school at 16, and after a brief spell at Il Mulino in Hebden has been working his way round some of the Michelin Star big hitters; Ramsay (Maze) Aikens (Restaurant Tom Aikens) and Simon Gueller at the Box Tree. Most recently he joined Aiden Byrne’s Manchester House. His mission statement; ‘I like modern food but cook it traditionally; I find seasonal ingredients and the menu writes itself’ is underselling himself.
I find seasonal ingredients too but my dinners don’t look or taste anything like his. A ‘pre-dessert’ arrives – goat’s cheese panna cotta with cider jelly and basil granita, two spoonfuls which do something dangerously decadent to the roof of my mouth. Rhubarb and custard is a witty riff on a school canteen pudding and is Barbie pink – it’s completely contemporary and delightful and makes me smile. Mum’s carrot cake is ‘one of the best I’ve ever had’ and despite doubts about ‘parsnip panna cotta’ she’s instantly won over once she’s tasted it.
There’s acres of skill in the cooking here; everything’s beautifully presented Thirty pounds for three courses is a steal for food like this. Fabulous fine dining in remote country pubs isn’t unusual in Yorkshire but head for the hills.
The Waggon & Horses, Dyke Nook, Oxenhope, BD22 9QE. 01535 643156, waggonandhorsesinn.net. Food served: Wednesday to Saturday, lunch 12-4pm; dinner 6-9pm; Sunday, 12–8pm. Two courses £24.95, three courses £29.95. Meal for two with wine £80.85.
DRINKS SELECTION 5/5