There's a time and a place for a gastropub and for me, Sunday lunch is not the time, and the Yorkshire Dales is not the place.
Maybe I’m too old for a mish-mash of wooden bashed-up dining chairs and chalkboards featuring the menu written, quite obviously, using a stencil. I’m over being served a scotch egg on half of a wooden chopping board and chunky chips in a miniature chip fryer basket. My kitchen-diner is constructed from bare brick, more so because there is less likelihood of my two-year-old causing any long-term damage with a felt tip pen or a bottle of my nail varnish. But it means I no longer get excited about an industrial drinking hole with wine bottles made into light fittings and cheap gold picture frames. And I certainly do not get excited over a cocktail served in a tin teapot, which once was the case.
When we pulled up outside the Clarendon Hotel in the tiny village of Hebden just a couple of miles outside Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales, I knew instantly I was not going to be served up a cocktail in a tin teapot. Not least because the chef patron, Lionel Strub, is French and the French have more panache.
The Clarendon Hotel is a large, imposing Victorian building constructed out of dark grey Yorkshire stone. The drama of the place is amplified by the oversized chimney pots, the large gold lettering that spells out the hotel’s name to the front and the ivy that climbs the facade. Surrounded by the rolling green hills of the Yorkshire Dales, on a clear blue day it’s all so very oil painting-like. Throw in the obligatory John Smith’s sign, a scattering of parasols and a couple of dog bowls full of water and The Clary, as it’s fondly known, is straight out of All Creatures Great and Small. I half expected James Herriot to come pounding out the entrance, shirt sleeves rolled up, sporting a tweed flat cap, wellies and waistcoat, covered in sheep shit and smelling of locally brewed ale.
So it’s rather bonkers that a French chef would want to purchase somewhere so quintessentially Yorkshire, and even more strange that he has no plans to turn what is currently a wonderfully British village pub with rooms into some French fine dining affair. Reading some of the reviews of The Clarendon Hotel online, it seems that some believe this to be a tragedy, but in my opinion, quite the contrary. An award-winning French chef owning and running the kitchen of a characteristically British pub in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales is pretty much a marriage made in heaven – a little like Yorkshire and the Tour de France.
There’s nothing fancy about the interior. The walls feature rather tired looking cream woodchip wallpaper, and you know my thoughts of woodchip. The floor is covered in carpet but I’m hoping that under those fraying chequered threads there is a beautiful stone floor; and sometime soon, the management will rip it up to reveal more of this beautiful building’s Victorian history. And there is the odd rather dodgy synthetic flower arrangement here and there, but I’m hopeful they’ll soon be binned. A handful of easily fixed criticisms aside, the Clarendon is a delightfully unassuming down-to-earth pub. brought to life by its location and the menu. It attracts a mix of North Face-clad, walking pole-bearing hikers, and old money flat-cap bearing locals … and both mix perfectly together. The surrounding marry well with the clientele, and no one looks out of place, not least the French owner who is pulling pints of Timothy Taylor behind the bar and chatting away to the locals. The featured wine on the chalkboard over the bar is even English! Yorkshire wine! Who knew that Yorkshire had vineyards?
There are a few chalkboards littered around the place, but they certainly do not feature the contrived, over-thought curly-wurly stencilled writing you’ll find in some places. The none-too-careful, slightly illegible scribbles are not an attempt at trying to be cool, they are a means to putting the (very) locally sourced daily specials in front of their customers. So local that the lady behind the bar was telling me that just two hours prior to the lunchtime rush, a local had delivered a fully intact deer to the kitchen.
I deliberated for some time over the specials; cider-poached Hebden pheasant, oven-roasted, Hebden-caught partridge, Hebden trout fillet, and a little less closer to home, seabass with Whitby lobster and samphire, and monkfish, smoked bacon, pea broth and brown shrimp. Eventually, I opted for the pheasant served with apple and rhubarb. Hubby, yet again, opted for a pie (there’s an extensive a la carte menu also with all the usual pub grub and Sunday lunch favourites on it for anyone such as my husband who doesn’t like to step out of their culinary comfort zone of pie and chips or beef and Yorkshire pud).
I’ll warn you, it does get busy on a Sunday, especially on a nice day for walking and it was a nice day for walking, so there as a bit of a wait. The kids did get a little fractious but that’s nothing new so I dragged them outside and they were able to amuse themselves by chatting to the pub’s resident chickens housed on a grass verge at the other side of the road.
The food eventually arrived and it was well worth the wait. An enjoyable juxtaposition of sophisticated French cuisine and 1980s English kitsch grub. My pheasant was presented beautifully on a plain white plate (none of those tasteless, tacky horrid square plates here that seem to be all the rage in so many pubs at the moment) alongside a whole cored perfectly cooked apple featuring a stick of rhubarb and swimming in a generous pool of delicious cider gravy. I was overjoyed to find not one, but two, bits of shot in the bird, the thought of it screams authentic doesn’t it? Iain’s pie was presented in a ramekin with a decent pile of very tasty, home cooked chips (no baskets), as were the vegetables. A well-cooked retro collection of peas, broccoli and carrots. No fuss, no fancy chopping, no hidden extras. It was very fine fair and perfectly fitting for a Sunday.
Unfortunately we skipped dessert as Ferne, our daughter, was climbing over the couple sat next to us and their patience was quite rightly running a bit thin and however much I wanted to delve into the chocolate sponge, treacle tart or bread-and-butter pudding, it was unfair to expect the well-to-do couple, dining out with their teen daughter to allow my portly, snotty two-year-old to throw beer mats at them for any longer.
I am however returning to the Clarendon in a few weeks time, this time child-free (hurrah!) and on a Saturday evening with friends. I’m also staying over in one of their six newly refurbished rooms, so I’ll report back to you all on how it compared to a very enjoyable Sunday afternoon in a wonderfully rural Yorkshire pub in the Yorkshire Dales.
Did I mention it had just won ‘Best Rural Pub of the Year’ at the prestigious Oliver awards too? Well done Clary, you deserve it.
Where is the Clarendon?
Visit the Clarendon’s website here
Give them a call and book a table on 01756 752446