On Boxing Day last year the already soaked Calder Valley reached saturation point, and seven solid days of rain precipitated the worst floods in living memory.
Half a year later many people still haven’t been able to return to their homes and skips litter the pavements, full of condemned belongings. Recovery is a slow and painful process.
But there are signs of new life. Hebden Bridge Picture House has recently unveiled its plush new ground-floor seating; the bookshop, with the generous help of the likes of Jon Ronson and Ian Rankin, is back in business; and the Co-op in Mytholmroyd has reopened.
“Only the rain never tires” reads the legend on the wall of the newly-reopened Aux Delices on the main road in Mytholmroyd.
Ted Hughes knew a thing or two about bad weather of course, though even he didn’t witness such biblical conditions.
At its height, the floodwater stood six feet in the dining room. It’s hard to come back from this sort of devastation, but come back they have. With knobs on.
A really cool bar greets you, all flagged floors, inky slate surfaces and just enough jazz.
Fortunately the fabulous old stone lintel fireplace survived and the grate is filled with a riot of twinkling lights.
A blackboard holds a list of cocktails and the gin menu.
A Hendricks and Fentimans tonic arrives pronto with a jingle of ice and a slice of cucumber; nice.
My blood orange Bellini feels like the perfect prelude to what turns out to be a memorable dinner.
The long, narrow dining room is full of happy diners at seven on a Wednesday night. Our table is waiting for us – by that I mean that our wine is chilling, a jug of iced tap water is present, the candles are lit and a bowl of good bread awaits. I like that.
There are more choices on the menu than I’m used to; the fashion is for four or six starters and main courses – here there are 10 of each and it’s tempting to think that they can’t all shine.
But scallops with chorizo and cherries is exemplary and chicken strudel almost as good. The three king scallops are “topped with a toasted crumb of dried cherries” which I can’t detect, but the pine nuts and basil work really well.
The chicken strudel is a simply executed dish, colourful with a kick of cayenne and all got up in a crisp filo roll. Elsewhere you’ll find crab and prawn timbale, goat’s cheese with strawberries and balsamic and my second choice, asparagus with egg and Parma ham with a poached duck egg.
Choosing our main course was quite hard; that thing when you work your way down the list and want it all? There’s a fair amount of fish: halibut with champagne and samphire, salmon with scallop and prawns, and smoked haddock, which has my name on it.
My eating partner invariably has lamb if it’s on a menu and tonight is no exception, despite the fact that he’s often disappointed, but there’s nothing to worry about here.
A splayed rack of spring lamb is roasted with lemon and oregano and it’s a triumph; pink as asked for and tender, and paired with a little puddle of tomatoes, spinach, caramelised onion and olives.
The haddock is very subtle – it’s gently smoked and that’s a good thing given that sometimes it can really smack you round the chops. The spears of sweet asparagus are a perfect plate mate along with tiny quenelles of spinach and mash.
There are a couple of good looking veggie options: mushroom and spinach pithivier, and asparagus and courgette risotto, and a handful of gluten-free dishes.
If these dishes sound rustic, think again. Great attention has been paid to presentation and they’re not shy of big flavours; I was hoping for tasty food but I hadn’t anticipated how sophisticated it would look.
I pinch myself. In short order, here’s a smart urban eaterie to rival anything on Manchester’s King Street or Street Lane in Leeds.
Puddings don’t disappoint; roasted, shimmering pink rhubarb is topped with soft Italian meringue and baked, and the smattering of crushed candied pistachio nuts along with cubes of sharp rhubarb jelly causes much eye rolling and nodding.
But the star of the show is lemon and ginger cheesecake. Wow. It’s served with “proper” lemon curd, lemon sorbet and stem ginger puree and is, to put it mildly, heavenly.
Service is unobtrusive and seamless, while the cooking is touched with “fine dining”, but only furtively.
Aux Delices has returned with dignity, its integrity intact.
Address: 5 Burnley Rd, Hebden Bridge HX7 5LHx
Tel: 01422 885564
Opening times: Wed-Sat 5-11pm