I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with the Square and Compass over the years.
Always mindful of its great reputation as a village inn and dining destination, I’ve been significantly underwhelmed by both the service and the fare on my visits in the past. The time they refused to switch on the central heating because there weren’t sufficient customers to justify the expense was a memorable low point.
I’m delighted to report that those cold dark days are now receding into history.
A new regime swept into North Rigton three years ago – and on the evidence of an enjoyable visit on Sunday, this fine old pub has improved in all departments.
It’s evident from the moment you pull into the village and see the big square umbrellas on the pub’s broad flagged terrace: “One of the first things we did was put in bi-fold doors,” says duty manager Donald Lewis. These doors, which now allow drinkers to step from the main bar onto the patio, are right where I was sitting that night when the heating was switched off. It’s quite a change of direction.
The owners are based in Bristol, but take a hands-on approach: “We see at least one of them every week,” adds Donald. “They’ve spent a fortune on the place. Only this week we spent thousands on a new oven. But it’s an on-going project.”
Next up, an extension to the kitchen will help to meet the growing demand. “Sunday’s our busiest day. There’s a continual turnround of customers and we can do 500 covers in the day,” says Donald.
It’s an impressive figure, and yet to the staff’s credit, it never feels as though they’re working to full stretch. Often in these circumstances, diners can tell that the waiting staff are being run off their feet. It can transmit a fractious atmosphere and quality inevitably suffers. Not here. The service is friendly, patient, effortless, the food and drink indicative of a confident pub right at the top of its game.
Stepping inside, we are greeted at the bar and shown through to a table in the room to the right. Polished cutlery, white napkins and gleaming glasses denote this as a dining area; the tables closer to the bar are chiefly for the drinkers.
The design neatly segues the stylish with the traditional. Though essentially open-plan, the pub’s separate areas are designed to different themes – cafe-bar here, country rustic there. Huge oak beams, exposed stone, a giant fireplace and a Tudor-style stone archway each speak of this pub’s distant past.
The Sunday menu is mostly about the roasts, of course, and my wife and daughter are soon facing down plates generously loaded up with pinkish slices of roast beef (£13.95) and roast lamb (£14.75) along with roast potatoes, gravy, oversized Yorkshire puddings and a dish of crunchy vegetables. I go for something different, a wedge of juicy haddock, crusted with herbs and served atop a mound of cruished new potatoes, with green vegetables and a creamy cheese sauce (£12.95). The quality and friendly service don’t do anything to suggest we’re among 500 people being fed here today.
Which is to say nothing of the beer. There are six handpulls on the bar, with regular selections including Leeds Pale, Theakston’s Best and Washburn Bitter from Wharfe Bank Brewery. The remainder rotate, but are predominantly from Yorkshire and I make my first encounter with Ilkley’s crisp and refreshing The Invader (4% ABV) which proves an ideal foil for the fish.
Lovely Brooklyn lager and dangerously-strong Belgian La Chouffe head up a list of bottled beers from around the world.
“The business has grown and grown,” says Donald. On this showing, I’m not surprised.
Address: North Rigton, Harrogate LS17 0DJ
Telephone: 01423 733031
Type: Village inn and dining destination
Host: General Manager Paul Stephenson
Opening Hours: 9am-11pm Mon-Wed, 9am-midnight Thur-Sat, 9am-10pm Sun
Beers: Leeds Pale (£3.30), Theakston’s Best (£3.30) and Washburn Bitter (£3.15) plus three other real ales. Peroni (£4.60), San Miguel(£4.15), Carlsberg (£3.30), Aspall Cider (£3.90). (£3.30)
Wine: Great choice from £4.30-glass and £15.95-bottle
Food: High-quality pub dining served from daily from noon, until 10pm Mon-Sat and 9pm Sun
Children: Welcomed. Smaller portions available.
Disabled: Ramp access and disabled toilets
Entertainment: Quiz second Monday of the month, jazz band last Friday of the month plus occasional live music
Functions:Private dining area available for hire
Beer Garden: Attractive terrace area to the front
Parking: Large area to the side (£3.30)