Friday, 2nd August 2019 – The Clarendon, Hebden
I’m not sure how long Lionel Strub has been up in Hebden without us getting there to try the food, but it’s definitely too long (and research suggests he’s been there 5 years!). In fact the last time I ate food prepared by him, it was at our friend W’s retirement party when, for reasons I never quite figured, I ended up in charge of the final stages of getting it to the table in a village hall in North Yorkshire because Lionel couldn’t make it to the party and the woman who was supposed to be doing the cooking had been taken ill. I think it ended up being me that took over on the grounds that I know my way round a kitchen and could be relied on to not muck it up! Anyway, having finally sorted out a weekend when we could make it back up to Yorkshire to eat at The Hovingham Inn, we figured it would be good to have an extra night and get up to The Clarendon as well. It’s about an hour from our friends’ E and W’s home, and we were booked in quite early, so at 6 we set off in the general direction of Hebden, in Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, a area of stunning natural beauty, as proven by the view from the car window on the way up there.
We were soon settled in, in a somewhat oddly placed table, near to the bottom of the stairs that lead to the guest rooms. It was to be hoped no one wanted to go up or down them, because if they did we were all going to have to shuffle round to let them in or out. I had the feeling that the place was short-staffed because it took quite a long time to order drinks, and even longer to get them, but when we did they were very good. Anyway, we ordered our starters, while Lynne, A and I set about a glass or three of local wine (yes, in Yorkshire, it’s not new). The Leventhorpe Madeleine Angevine 2014 was very pleasant, a hint of apricot or peach, a freshness that really worked well as an aperitif. In fact we liked it so much that we ordered a whole bottle to have with our starters. Sadly, it didn’t arrive until we’d almost finished said starters. There’s a staff shortage, which is increasingly a theme, and Lionel was on holiday, so I think things slipped just a little. They hadn’t slipped in the kitchen though, at least not with the new season Whitby crab, with white and dark crab meat, a portion of one of my favourite things, crispy soft shell crab, some chunks of avocado (which I gave to people who like them – there aren’t many things I don’t eat, but avocado is the food of the devil), cucumber ribbons and awasabi mayonnaise that was just the right side of unctuous and definitely the right side of sinus clearing. We were off to a good start, though I would have liked more soft shelled crab – however, I would always like more soft shelled crab, so that’s not actually a criticism, just me being greedy.
Also, I had to share it! Lynne had gone for the breast of locally shot wood pigeon, with figs, chestnut ravioli and a lovely salty, crunchy bacon crisp. These were both excellent, very tasty, and I was happy to share. The pigeon had that perfect iron hint to it and was cooked just as I would have done it myself. Also, we were busy falling in love with the plates. Everyone else (there were 8 of us) was happy with their starters too, and everything seemed to be firing on all cylinders.
We drank our wine and waited for the mains, which further reinforced the feeling that they were short of staff. The mains took a very long time to arrive. When they did arrive they were all excellent bar one. I’d ordered the rabbit chasseur and was expecting some lovely, tender rabbit with plenty of sauce. The rabbit was very tough indeed, and dry and I really didn’t enjoy it. The liver that was also on the plate was seriously overcooked and grey, and I suspect that if Lionel hadn’t been away it would never have made it out of the kitchen. The potato was fine, and the shallots, but the meat was close to inedible. I know wild rabbit, and in fact rabbit as a whole, can be tricky, with farmed rabbit being horribly dull and needing all sorts of seasoning to make it taste of anything (but is always tender), while wild rabbit is tough but tasty and needs serious marinating and a long time in a good sauce.
Fortunately, Lynne’s Yorkshire Dales venison was gorgeous! There was pan-fried loin, and braised leg, with endives, orange marmalade, a smoked carrot puree and glazed carrots, and at least I got to eat half of it, which made up in spectacular style for my disappointment over the rabbit! The meat was perfect, the braised leg in particular, and the carrots were fresh, sweet and still had a tiny bit of crunch to them. We drank a Norton Finca la Colonia Malbec which was very good, as I would expect from Norton.
Things got really interesting at the dessert stage. I wasn’t going to have one, but then I read the description: “Forest Floor (cep dessert, hay ice cream)” and decided that I really, really had to try it. I’m an adventurous eater at the best of times, and it just sounded so intriguing. The “mushrooms” were made out of chocolate, and a jelly that may well have been the ceps, with a lovely, sweet crunchy “floor” to stand on, and the hay ice cream was really good, just mildly sweet and slightly nutty. Also, it looked brilliant! The only downside was that it was quite a hot night so the heads od the mushrooms tended to slide off the stalks before the plates could reach the table. It didn’t detract from how good and clever the dish was though.
We also drank a very nice dessert wine with it, before stopping to talk to Lionel, who had just arrived back in the few minutes while we were paying the bill. I’ll be happy to go again, but I’ll be steering clear of the rabbit another time. I also hope they can find some more staff soon, and I know they are working on trying to provide staff accommodation, which would certainly help out there in the wilds.