THERE must be a lucrative market for pubs which open close to major out-of-town shopping centres.
These greenfield retail sites often score over their city centre rivals in so many ways – easy access, ample parking, and with everything under one roof. Yet, try and find a pint of real ale and you'll really struggle.
Say what you like about shopping in rain and windswept Briggate and Land's Lane; you can always cheer yourself with a pint at Whitelocks.
No such pleasure awaits you at the White Rose Centre, though I'm told you can get wicked milkshakes in the food court.
I only mention all this because the Black Bull at Escrick must surely serve as the perfect antidote to the McArthur Glen shopping complex which is a couple of miles up the road. Close enough in fact, for the beer drinker in the family to drop his retail-hungry relatives at the centre, and nip down the road for an hour for a pint while they lose themselves in the delights of Jaeger and Jeff Banks and Giorgio Armani.
Given that I do most of my clothes shopping at Tesco, on this occasion I was happy to sweep confidently past the shopping centre and straight down to Escrick, where this famous old pub is on the village's main street, set back a little to the east side of the main A19, between York and Selby.
Returning here brings back memories of something very very bad which I did during my mis-spent youth, something which I am going to share with you now, confident that the statute of limitations has long expired.
Anyway, I was eating here with a girl once, Sunday lunch I think, during my major courting days. We'd had roast beef and a pint or two and were just going out of the front door when she turned to me with a quizzical look in her eye: "Have we paid?"
It suddenly dawned on me that we actually hadn't paid anything at all, but, well, we're out of the door now, and, actually now we're right at the car, we're in the car, and, oh wow, we're leaving Escrick, perhaps a little more quickly than is strictly necessary.
On this return visit, I should not only hasten to add that I paid in full, though I didn't do the really good thing and settle up my outstanding account from the 1980s. The pub is not at all how I remembered it, and has at some point been given the kind of internal facelift that expunges any genuine village in character which it might have once had, saved for two big open fireplaces. Now it's bright and airy and open-plan, and perfectly welcoming and friendly enough, but just a little lacking in soul. The dining area to one side of the main bar is cheerless and formal and smacks of a pub trying to take itself just a little bit too seriously as a destination restaurant.
We were just snacking really, but enjoyed the sharing slates, which you can essentially assemble yourselves from a choice of meats, fish, pickles and cheeses. Some chicken liver pate, pickled herrings, lovely soft blue cheese, chutney and crusty bread kept the hunger pangs at bay for a while.
The wine list is seriously hilarious, featuring the kind of descriptions which bring drinks writing into disrepute. Examples include: "There's plenty that's furious about this fruity Zinfandel", a rose is "lashings of summer fruits with a dollop of cream" the prosecco is "an extremely fine vivacious mousse." And apparently if you try one of the Australian white wines, then "citrus, melon and a slice of apricot rush out of the glass before collapsing in a satisfying heap on your tongue."
Suitably discouraged, I checked out the real ales and found three Yorkshire classics on the bar – John Smith's, Black Sheep and Timothy Taylor Landlord. A fourth handpump for Timothy Taylor Golden Best was out of use on this occasion. The zesty, slightly earthy, palate cleansing characteristics of the Landlord was a fine counterpoint to the big tastes of the cheese, pate and fish.
The Black Bull is owned by the national Enterprise Inns chain, and the lease is held by Anthony Hunter, who runs the pub with just a little help from his mum and dad. It has ten guest bedrooms, with prices starting at 50 for a double room for bed and breakfast. The breakfast, of course, is a traditional Full English, though the prices are likely to increase a little once a refurbishment of the guest rooms is completed next month.
Host: Anthony Hunter
Type: Village inn, restaurant and hotel
Opening times: Noon-11am Mon-Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Timothy Taylor Landlord (2.70), Timothy Taylor Golden Best (2.85), John Smith's Bitter (2.70), Black Sheep (2.70); Carling (2.90), Becks (2.95), Stella Artois (3.10); Strongbow (3), Guinness (3.10),
Wine: Good choice from 2.95-glass and 11.25-bottle
Food: Restaurant menu and specials board served noon-2.30pm and 6-9pm Mon Sat; noon-8pm Sun
Accommodation: 10 letting rooms, prices from 50 for double room, bed and breakfast
Disabled: Straightforward access
Beer Garden: Some outdoor tables
Parking: On street parking and small dedicated area to rear
Telephone: 01904 728245
BEER OF THE WEEK
One of the drop dead gorgeous things about being the Beer Writer of the Year is that breweries who would once have never given me the time of day are now falling over themselves to send me free stuff.
I've always had a decent relationship with Hall and Woodhouse though, and I was delighted when their PR people bunged a few bottles of their produce in the post.
As well as their flagship Badger Best Bitter, the Dorset brewery is well known for ales like Fursty Ferret and Tanglefoot, but their warming, slightly sweet, Pickled Partridge has long been one of my favourites.
It's named after a traditional farmhouse recipe for a partridge braised in beer – no doubt a fine reward after a long hard day in the fields – and pours an attractive nutbrown colour with a firm ivory-coloured head and an enticing aroma of hops and stewed fruit.
These continue into the taste which is rich and full-bodied, generously loaded with fruity, malt-loafy flavours balanced by a good dash of hoppy bitterness.
The finish is soft and soporific, leaving you happy and tired, just like that hungry farmer, full of ale and stewed game.