It’s a funny thing about Hebden Bridge: it’s a vibrant, multi-cultured spot with any number of groovy cafes, top-quality food shops and a great weekly market, selling artisan bread, cheese and organic veg. The music scene’s brilliant, we’ve got our own theatre and cinema (with mugs of tea and flapjacks for the matinee on Thursdays) and cool clothes shops.
What we haven’t had (I know this is risky, given the number of pubs in the middle of town) is a warm, welcoming pub selling good beer and food. Well, we do now.
The White Lion has stood solidly by the river since 1657 and it doubtless fed and watered coach drivers and their horses ably. It functioned well subsequently – you could always get a decent pint and sandwich, but it was nothing to write home about.
Hospitality industry veteran Michael Grimes and his partner Rebekah had their eye on the Lion for a while. When it appeared on the market last year they raised the cash and took the plunge, diving straight into a major refurb which kept many of the good bits (flagged floors, stone fireplaces, wood panelling) but gussied up some of the dreary bits. Result: a smart as paint, comfortable and somewhat stylish interior. The beautiful big old open fire at the far end of the bar hasn’t been tampered with.
Hebden is awash with poets, writers and artists and they’re still occupying the same corners but even they seem to have had a spruce-up. You’ve always been able to nurse a pint of Tim Taylor, Copper Dragon or Black Sheep and read the paper all day but now you can do it in a more agreeable space.
On a chilly spring Thursday night there’s a good mix of drinkers and diners, the bar is warm as toast and Mr Sinatra is serenading us. You can eat anywhere – the sleekly carpeted dining room, the pleasant stone-floored room just off the bar or in front of the roaring fire.
Grimes has retained Simon Marshall, the chef from the old regime, but given him his head with the menu. It consists mainly of pub classics (home-made steak and ale pie, fish and chips, chicken and mash) but with a number of interesting exceptions.
Chorizo and Toulouse sausage cooked in red wine with buffalo mozzarella and rocket (£6.95) tempts, but since I’ve never eaten fish lasagna it’s an easy choice. A subtly seasoned (though huge) dish arrives with layers of smoked salmon, spinach and mozzarella. It’s smooth, luxurious and works a lot better than you might imagine.
Baked stuffed Portobello mushroom filled with Yorkshire blue cheese, roast butternut squash, and smoked tomato sauce is another cracking starter, and a snip at £5.95.
Both dishes are in fact sturdy enough as a main course. With a large glass of house wine you can get away with dinner for a tenner. The hearty-sounding casserole (“Infamous White Lion stew”) is a contender but we go for the lamb and pork; the former pink, tender and teamed with cream and garlic drenched Dauphinoise potatoes, the latter wrapped in herb stuffing and parma ham and oven baked. Served with a cider spiced apple sauce, it’s a good way of tarting up a sometimes bland cut of pork and works well.
A word to the wise: there’s not much here in the way of portion control, so I’d suggest a cracker for breakfast and raisin for lunch if you’re going for three courses.
We had no room for puds which was a shame, given that Simon is a pastry chef by trade. On another occasion I will gladly tuck into one of his Old School jam roly polys or steamed sponge. Less canteeny desserts include a caramelised crème brulee with strawberry daiquiri and a fabulous looking (I watched one come through, with longing) Yorkshire rhubarb and ginger tart with rose petal custard.
Service is sweet too – unflustered, friendly and forthright. Food comes out of the kitchen quite slowly, but not so that you’re drumming your fingers on the table, depending on your threshold.
There’s a children’s menu (“not a chicken nugget in sight”) which is a smaller version of the grown-up one, deli boards (Yorkshire/Rustic and Continental). And here’s a good idea – a short take-out menu finds the likes of shepherd’s pie, hot pot and the aforementioned stew available for four. Take the dish home and avoid the guilt-trip of a microwaved lasagna from the supermarket.
Dinner for two (two courses each) plus a bottle of Santa Serena Sauvignon Blanc @ £14.95: £58.95.
The White Lion, Bridge Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 8EX. www.whitelionhotel.net
01422 842197. food served , 12am-9pm