It’s the simple things.
Before me sits a salad. Its leaves are slick with a honeyed dressing and, within, lurk generous nuggets of iron-rich black pudding and fingers of rust-hued chorizo to be plucked at with pieces of torn of bread.
I know, it’s only a salad, but that one-two of sound sourcing (the meaty stuff’s supplied by butcher extraordinaire Lishman’s of Ilkley) and technical know-how (my finger has not dredged its way through a finer dressing) is enough to tell me that the Brasserie at the Devonshire Arms does things right. (£7.50)
Take a couple of salmon fishcakes (£8.50). Usually lumpy, frumpy afterthoughts of a dish but here elevated into elegant bronze disks and topped with a pert poached egg that prompts the requisite “ooph” when pierced, followed by “gah” when the piercer realises she’s been splattered in yolk. A price worth paying though, I reckon.
This is the Devonshire Arms’ more informal, elbows-on-table sibling to the grandiose Burlington Restaurant down the corridor. There, tasting menus speak of Cured Chalk Stream Trout and Veal Sweetbreads. Here there’s pie, pints of local beer and Pulp coming through the speakers. Pastoral artwork and splashes of what the website calls ‘rich jewel colours’ ensure the attractive whitewashed walls don’t make the place cold or bare. Similarly, service is unobtrusive but warm and welcoming.
Pie purists may denounce Exhibit A for its absence of pastry sides and base – does it really matter? – but the creamy chicken and leek filling and a pastry lid that’s crisp and soggy in all the right places should win them round (£16).
If you’re a spud-lover I suggest you hunt down the buttery, nutty ratte potatoes it comes with. We all know there’s no greater potato than the chip but these run it close.
And there’s more tasty tuber in a wedge of stand-out dauphinoise; the stack of sliced spud glossy within and golden on top. This is, in essence, a supersized chip and I could neck a bowlful.
The blushing chunks of venison it accompanies have the offal fug only obtainable from well-sourced and well-hung flesh. Or offal. This is the good stuff, cooked with a knowing hand on the pan and properly rested. Charred plums – a novel touch – strike sweetly through the richness. (£28)
House wine can be at best forgettable or at worse a waste of grape, but the house white that we stick to – a citrussy Cotes du Gascogne at 18 quid – is a fine drop that keeps us amply refreshed throughout.
We do desserts because we want to hang around. It’s a handsome and comfortable spot, this, with bucolic views over the estate, and we have time to kill before our helicopter arrives to whisk us back to the B&B.
A vivid passion fruit cheesecake with a mound of mango sorbet is the edible equivalent of an invigorating facial spritz, but, at £8 cheaper and more satisfying.
It’s a light and breezy thing in stark contrast to the apple crumble we’d feel daft not to order. (We might be enjoying the first real day of Spring but we’re still in the Dales and the weather could, after all, turn at any moment. One should warm one’s cockles in advance around here.)
Here’s a tip-top rendition of the classic given a little gussying-up through the addition of toothsome hazelnuts to the crumb. Crunch-to-fruit ratio is on the money and the custard, like the majority of what we scoff at the Brasserie at the Devonshire Arms, has been made by someone who knows.
Yes, there’s a fancy hotel attached and helipads in the garden, but the Brasserie at the Devonshire Arms is firing out superlative examples of homely dishes.
The bottom line: hotel brasserie with character, and a kitchen pepping up pub grub to top-notch standards.
Brasserie at the Devonshire Arms website.
More of this stuff here: @eatingthenorth