I usually leave restaurants alone on a Monday; it is a notoriously difficult day to either find chefs in the kitchen or staff not knocked out with post-weekend fatigue. But, on an unseasonably warm evening I threw caution to the wind. I mean seriously, could it be that difficult to get a decent meal?
On arriving at the Square and Compass in North Rigton, a few miles from Harrogate, it seemed I was not the only one who fancied a bit of a drive and dinner somewhere lovely. With the bi-fold doors flung open to make the most of the evening breeze, both out on the rather swish terrace and in the bar, it was packed.
I have had an on-and-off relationship with this place over the years as it once soared to great heights and then, sadly, plummeted to near obscurity. In 2011, the small bespoke Malvern Inns bought and threw a serious amount of money at it and a damn good job they have done. The spec is high and the quality of the refurbishment lovely. There are several distinctly different areas with, as mentioned a large bar and several linked dining rooms, which move seamlessly from bright and contemporary to comfy and cosy.
I was pleased we managed to secure a table despite not having booked, though quickly I wondered if we had made a mistake; the Monday curse I feared was at play. Firstly, the music. I am all for a bit of tinkling in the background but this cacophony was clearly for the benefit of the young staff, certainly not for the customers. I decided to ignore it (as best I could) as they had apparently been caught on the hop by a lovely evening and seemed a touch frazzled with so many unexpected diners. Despite manically whizzing around handling everything, they did manage smiles and politeness in abundance.
Prominent in the menu are sharing platters, which I find to be an excellent way to try different foods. There are three small menus with differing styles of foods – From the Garden (vegetarian), Best of British (spam, whitebait and so on) and Around the World (an eclectic mix). Three of these plates cost £14. We choose ours from the World bit, but when we ordered, apparently, we have to choose one from each menu. What a confusing way to go at it. All was finally settled with us paying an extra pound penalty (it seemed) to have our first choice until told one was not available. Back to the beginning we went.
It may have taken some getting to, but tempura prawns came lightly battered with a punchy wasabi mayo. Crispy calamari was just that while the burrata was fresh and creamy with a little extra flavour from plum tomato and a red onion pesto.
My first choice of butternut squash massaman curry also fell foul of the “sorry we don’t have that tonight” as did my chosen wine. On both counts what I eventually did have was, as it turned out, better than expected. I’d settled for a spiced aubergine, chickpea, apricot, chopped nut and red coulis flatbread (£12.75) that was seriously good. A thin crusty base came weighted down with lovely veg and fruit packed with a myriad of flavours and textures. I couldn’t eat it all but (and a rarity for me) I asked if I could take it home. If I had any qualms it was the topping was cold. This apparently is how they serve it but that approach is perhaps more appropriate on the shores of the Med.
Happy days across the table with a prettily presented BBQ pulled pork burger packed with meltingly tender shredded pork and plenty of it, home smoked cheese and smoked bacon mayo in a brioche bun with chips on the side (£13.50). I had one reservation and that was two smoked elements in one dish. I need not have worried; the smokiness was subtle and only added to the enjoyment.
Eight desserts did not need much pondering, with a banana split pancake and toffee ice cream (£6.25) too tempting.
When the bill arrived they had made amends for the lack of availability across the menu. Their apologies had been profuse but this showed a serious concern to please.
I will admit to having been sufficiently caught out here that I wonder if my “Don’t eat out on a Monday” rule is in question. No, I have too many memories of past disasters to let go of it just yet. But thanks to the excellent service and food at the Square and Compass I am wavering. There is, however, still the music to sort out.
The Square and Compass, North Rigton, Leeds LS17 0DJ; telephone 01423 733031; open Mon -Wed 9am-11pm, until midnight Thurs -Sat and 10pm on Sunday.