There wasn’t much culinary advice my nana gave me. She was responsible for my love of piccalilli sandwiches (Saturday afternoons when I was little were spent with cousins, eating piccalilli sarnies and watching wrestling on World of Sport at my nana’s) but, that aside, I don’t recall her being a notable cook.
I do remember her once saying, though, that you should never buy fish and chips from a chippy on a main road. It’s actually surprisingly sage advice which has repeatedly proven to be accurate.
Her logic was that chip shops on main roads don’t need to put much work into their product to attract trade as there was always passing trade. It was the backstreet chippies tucked away in estates or off commuter routes that had to make an effort. If they offered poor product then they would soon lose customers and new ones would be very hard-won. There was other, less astute, advice my nana gave me – “Never trust a lass from East Hull” was a memorable classic – but nothing else concerning food. I mention it now because I think it’s an observation that applies tangentially to the recently refurbished gastropub The Plough in Scalby.
For those unaware, Scalby is a handsome village on the north-east edge of Scarborough; the posh bit of the town, really. The Plough was, until a few months ago, the unloved village pub but then it was bought by an entertainment company that specialises in running theatres throughout the country. They own a couple of other pubs in the area and gave the Plough a serious and impressive refit ahead of reopening late last year. They asked top Yorkshire chef James Mackenzie – of Michelin favourite the Pipe & Glass – to design the menu and he has done what James Mackenzie does best and created a very desirable offering heavy on local produce and imaginative takes on pub classics. So far, so good.
Since opening, the pub has evidently been doing a roaring trade, and I fear it may be this constant running at capacity that has lead to some mis-steps in delivery that sadly marred our Friday night a couple of weeks ago.
Service at the Plough, it has to be said, needs some work. Over delicious nibbles of pork cracklings with apple sauce and spelt and honey bread, we decided on a pint of local ale and a glass of Chardonnay. The wine didn’t arrive. It did eventually, after we’d asked how many times? Four. It wasn’t the only time we were left hanging. A simple glass of water took three requests (despite the bottles being on view about eight feet from our table) and I even had to ask for the bill three times before anyone thought to provide it. Lack of staff is not the issue, waiting staff taking ownership of requests is the fault. Even at the busiest of times – which this certainly was – someone should be in charge of the dining space. I struggled to work out who that was.
Sadly, there also appears to be issues in the kitchen. Of the eight post-nibbles dishes we ordered, only two or three really satisfied and there were basic errors made with many of them. Little things, mainly. We had two “Yorkshire tapas” dishes; the cured meats came with the skin still on the chorizo and curried courgette fritters were greasy and limp and served with a curry dip which had developed a thick skin, probably from being left under a heat lamp.
Of the small plates (starters, by another name), the potted red leg partridge with plum chutney was good but came served with a huge, wet pile of watercress. I’m not sure if it was meant to be dressed or quite so voluminous, but it was an oddly overbearing presence on the plate. The ham hock terrine with piccalilli and pickled quail egg was grand. That one, I can recommend.
You can argue all day about value for money when it comes to lobster, but the £14 we spent on the half grilled North Sea lobster with garlic butter, fries and fennel and kohl rabi slaw felt like a bad deal. The lobster looked more the size of a large langoustine; the flesh prised from the shell amounted to barely enough to fill your palm and was quite dry; and the slaw was taste-free and sat in a puddle of liquid.
I had free range chicken “cordon bleu” with charred gem lettuce, mash and English mustard veloute and it was, quite frankly, poor. I don’t know what cheese the chicken was stuffed with (I’m sure it was probably something posh) but it over-powered the taste of the chicken entirely. The mash was dry and claggy and the lettuce pointless and bland. £16 badly spent.
Puds were a passable sticky toffee pudding and a very nice dark chocolate delice and the bill (when it finally arrived) was a reasonable £81.85. We’d had a lot to eat for that, even if we hadn’t enjoyed all of it.
The Plough should definitely be one of the best eating pubs in the Scarborough area, but when you’re constantly busy it’s easy to overlook some of the basics. It’s my nana’s “chippy on busy roads” theory at play. I hope they sort it out. Or that my nana, for once, is wrong.
• Food served: Monday to Saturday, 12-2.30pm & 6-9pm; Sunday, 12-8pm. 21-23 High Street, Scalby YO13 0PT. 01723 362622, theploughscalby.co.uk
DRINKS SELECTION 3/5