The Cleveland Tontine is one such place. From the ’70s it was under the careful stewardship of the McCoys who back in that day were the cutting edge, the wacky and well in front of the curtain celebrities. After three decades they sold up. The new owners managed to spend a bucket load of money on a refurbishment of the treasured 19th century Turnpike, yet two years later have also moved on.
Enter the new owners, Provenance Inns, a business with an ever-growing portfolio of pubs and hotels across North Yorkshire. There is talk of further investment, though they are, it seems, giving considered thought as to what to do despite rumours flying around about new bedrooms and a bit of a makeover in the restaurant. But, for now, all is settled, and the Tontine continues much as it has done.
On a sunny Saturday lunchtime, the bistro was busy, and in the conservatory a party were gathering for Afternoon Tea, so enough diners for a lively atmosphere. Given the number of years since I last set foot in there, I will openly admit I loved the sense of familiarity in the bistro. The old tiled floor and the – albeit faded – ornate ceiling; the dark wood and imposing fireplace so suit the age and stature of the place. There are crisp, white tablecloths, and sparkling glasses yet nothing is trying too hard to impress. This dining room is like a much-loved coat that slips effortlessly around you and feels just right.
The menu is much the same, but do not take familiar to mean complacent in its approach; far from it. Head chef Anthony Banks offers eight starters, six mains and a classic grill menu on the a la carte, and a very well priced Menu de Jour with two courses for £16.95 or £20 for three. Both have wonderful choices where Anthony has melded the classic with carefully considered touches of modernism; a goat’s cheese cannelloni has textures of cauliflower; salmon gravadlax comes dressed with heritage beetroot and an iced horseradish cream.
The salmon dish was my starter and as good as I could ever wish for with clear, clean flavours and the cream a flash of brilliance for the taste buds. Contrastingly, across the table he went down the time-honoured route with his starter of fillet beef carpaccio, truffled egg yolk and a celeriac remoulade (£12). Anthony had taken different routes yet ended in the same place with two great plates of food.
A 10oz, 28 days aged and matured on the bone sirloin (£25.95) was possibly as traditional as this plate could be. As promised on the menu, the quality of the steak and faultless trimmings of Bearnaise sauce, confit tomato and skinny fries resulted in outstanding flavours on the fork and a portion size guaranteed to satisfy the largest of appetites.
Equally well received was a wild sea trout fillet, wilted samphire and brown shrimp & caper butter (£16.50). Perhaps the only downside (of the whole lunch) was an over generous portion of mash that swamped the plate and took away the potential lightness of the dish.
Puddings follow the same style so range from a sticky toffee pudding and brownies to ’70s favourite crepes suzette. We had been over-zealous with the starters and mains so passed this time, but looking around the room we agreed that the puds looked as appealing as the rest of the food; this certainly makes me want to come back.
All in all, this was a more than pleasant lunch with great food, excellent service and good wines (a lovely Pecorino matched right through our menu including the steak). Pricewise they are on the mark with the quality of the produce and cooking.
So what, if anything, needs to change? Outside there are signs of wear here and there; the entrance looks slightly grubby which is off-putting and a whizz round with a broom outside would not go amiss. I for one would not be upset to see the tired looking animal print stair carpet disappear either.
Whatever they do decide to do restaurant-wise though, I hope they approach it with care and don’t change much at all given how loved this place is. In this instance, classic reigns supreme.
• Cleveland Tontine, Staddlebridge, Northallerton, DL6 3JB, tel: 01609 882671; lunch, £30 per person plus wine and service; open for lunch, Mon-Sat, noon-2.30pm, dinner, Mon-Sat, 5.30-9.30pm, Sun, 5.30- 8.30pm.