IT’S always nice to find something new to write about, after 20-odd years of writing this column.
I can say with some confidence that in all those years, and in all the pubs we’ve visited, this is the first where we have actually started a small fire.
It’s becoming a bit of a party trick of my wife’s. At least twice in the past she has managed to liven up dinner parties by bringing a paper towel into too close proximity to a candle and sending the whole thing up in flames. This was the first time she’s entertained a large audience with the feat – carelessly draping one of the Stansfield’s lovely starched linen napkins over a tealight, and started a small conflagration which might have easily spread to the acres of wood panelling and the network of oak beams, had we not managed to put it out in the nick of time.
Had she succeeded in burning the place down, Yorkshire would have lost a lovely old pub which dates back to the last years of Henry VIII. In the main dining room, beneath those beams are rough stone walls, broken by tall leaded windows fringed by heavy drapes. It feels very much like a Tudor mansion; a wooden staircase climbs to a further dining space on a balcony where once the minstrels might have entertained.
The Stansfield is one of the cities’ best known dining houses. The plural noun and apostrophe are placed intentionally: the Stansfield is roughly halfway between Leeds and Bradford, and serves a host of other communities – Rawdon, Yeadon, Guiseley, Apperley Bridge – in between. It is the flagship pub of locally-owned Greencliffe Taverns, which also numbers the Chevin Hotel above Otley and the Brownlee Arms at Horsforth among its outlets.
Each has a commitment to real ale. Here, as you walk through the door, the dark panel-fronted bar is dead ahead and topped with a line of three handpulls, from which I choose, predictably, Timothy Taylor Landlord.
But for all its pubby credentials, the Stansfield is very much a dining house, and has been for generations. The last time I was here, about four years ago, I was willing to forgive what I assumed to be an off night of poor service and very average food.
I’m happy to say that the service has massively improved. We were attended to quickly on arrival, our waitress was thoughtful and attentive throughout, and the staff most helpful - even when we attempted a little light arson between courses.
But – and it’s this that’s leaving me rather scratching my head as to why this place is still so damn popular – the food was still distinctively average.
We’d been tempted by the two-courses-for-£12 deal which runs on a Sunday evening, and a couple of quality starters set a good standard. The black pudding salad was a great mixture of texture colour and flavour, chunks of pudding tossed with bacon and salad leaves and a soft poached egg; the chicken liver pate was rich and wonderfully full-flavoured.
But the main courses were a disappointment in comparison – the haddock dry and overcooked and a brittle batter which shattered on impact; the seabass fillets tasty but too small, their size disproportionately outweighed by too much soggy, tasteless leek.
The Stansfield seems more popular than befits this standard of cuisine so perhaps, again, we were unlucky. But I won’t be giving it a third chance to impress.
All Yorkshire’s going slowly Tour De France crazy. Among the first in on the act is the North Bar Social at Otley where they’ve teamed up with cycle club Otley Sportive to host a roller racing day on May 4. Apparently it involves two participants competing on stationary bikes connected to a timing system. They’re also promising “street food, prizes and a really fantastic day.” If the cycling’s not your thing, I can certainly recommend their choice of beers.
Name: The Stansfield Arms
Type: Real ale pub and restaurant
Opening Hours: 11am-midnight Sun-Thurs; 11am-2am Fri-Sat
Beers: Three real ales – currently Timothy Taylor Landlord, Black Sheep and Saltaire Blonde – plus Kronenbourg, Beck’s Vier, Peroni, Stella Artois, Strongbow, Guinness and Boddington’s Smooth
Wines: Quality wine list
Food: Gastropub-style meals served daily with full waitress service.
Disabled: Welcomed, disabled access and disabled toilets
Entertainment: Occasional themed dining events, including live music on Good Friday. Areas for private hire.
Beer garden: South-facing patio
Parking: Large area
Telephone: 0113 250 2659