On a dull, wet and frankly quite miserable day the thought of spending a leisurely lunchtime in the company of an old friend I’d not seen for a year or two was a welcome prospect.
That we were dining at the acclaimed Crab and Lobster restaurant at Asenby, a little hamlet near Thirsk in North Yorkshire, only added to the appeal.
Not sure how, but this pretty little thatched-cottage hotel and restaurant had escaped my radar so I did what any unenlightened visitor would do – I checked Tripadvisor of course.
The majority of reviews were positive with just the occasional disappointed diner who’d caught the chef out on a bad day and decided to vent their spleen.
On balance though I was looking forward to the experience.
Said friend and I fetched up in the car park for our 12.30pm booking to find it strangely empty – more of that later.
One we’d announced ourselves and waited for our table we had a drink in the bar, sitting in a comfy corner surrounded by the most eclectic collection of ephemera I’ve ever seen.
The owner, it seems, is forever visiting flea markets and antique shops on her travels and likes to come back with something new and interesting.
My heart goes out to the cleaners who must have a devil of a job keeping the place clean and must be forever worried they are going to break something.
As we were shown to our table and wound our way through the main restaurant into a bright and airy conservatory we were met with even more clutter on every available surface, hanging from the pillars and even the ceiling.
I use the word clutter in the nicest possible way though, there are some really interesting things scattered around and I could quite happily have spent the day pottering around, picking things up and not even bothering with the meal.
But, of course, that was the real reason for our visit.
The name of the restaurant is something of a giveaway when it comes to second-guessing the menu.
Although some 45 miles from the sea it’s very heavy on seafood, as you’d expect, although there’s a nod in the direction of carnivores and vegetarians – at least on the set lunch menu we decided to order from.
In the interests of fair reporting we both agreed we’d aim for three courses at a more than respectable £21 rather than the two courses for £18 – we were minded though that care had to be taken with the choice of dishes so as not to fall at the second hurdle.
I failed miserable from the off when a warm basket of mixed bread was placed before us and I couldn’t help but polish off my allocation while I perused the menu.
I’m a sucker for a fishcake and the Thai haddock and codling fishcakes sounded just perfect.
When they arrived they were piping hot, firm and crisp and accompanied by a tasty sweet chilli sauce and basil and pea shoot salad.
My guest went for a goat’s cheese tart – sourced from local goats no less. It was garnished with a rather delicious red onion marmalade and some intriguing-sounding Djon ice cream - a bizarre concept but one which worked.
Both starters were served on unpretentious white crockery and portions were generous – so much so we did express concern that we wouldn’t be able to maintain our intention of seeing off all three courses.
Undaunted we pressed on with the main event: I thought it only fair to maintain the fish theme so ordered sea bass which came seared and served with a risotto of cured fish, spinach, peas and parmesan – a wining combination. The fish was moist and flaky and the fish risotto incredibly tasty.
The crisp leg of Barbary duck caught my companion’s eye. The menu promised roast onion and black pudding and sage gravy.
The duck leg, when it appeared, was enormous with chunks of rich tender meat that fell of the bone. My friend was under no illusions that she would be able to finish off her main meal so surreptitiously wrapped up the remains of her duck leg and squirrelled it away in her voluminous handbag. Whether it was destined for the dog’s dinner or her husband’s tea, I simply couldn’t say.
I am always in agonies of indecision when it comes to choosing a pudding. I know I should go for the healthy option but invariable choose something warm, sticky and calorific.
In this case there was no contest: Aimee’s sticky date and walnut toffee pudding with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream was the obvious choice.
I don’t know who Aimee is but she makes a mean sticky toffee pudding. It was sweet but not sickly, fluffy and not stodgy – absolutely divine.
Lemon and raspberry croissant pudding was my dining companion’s choice. This was even lighter than my pudding and was a lovely way to finish off the meal. I know because I helped her to finish it.
With coffee to finish and the initial drinks at the bar, the total bill for our afternoon’s sojourn was a wallet-pleasing £51.30.
As we were leaving we enquired why the restaurant was inexplicably empty – turns out they have just had a new kitchen fitted and they wanted to ease things in gradually by keeping bookings to a minimum for a day or so.
Address: Asenby, Thirsk, North Yorks.
Opening times: from 11am, lunch noon to 2.30pm daily; dinner 7-9pm (Sun-Fri), saturday 6.30-9.30pm
Tel: 01845 577286.