AFTER a period of some decline, things are looking up at the Hopper Lane Hotel.
Under the ownership of Intrepid Inns and the management of Chris Mallows, plans are afoot to return this famous old roadside inn to its rightful place as a serious drinking and dining pub – and as a great place to stay.
It is too big, too impressive a property to lie around unloved and unfrequented. With a warren of drinking areas, dining rooms, five bedrooms and a 200-seat conference venue upstairs it's considerably bigger on the inside than it first looks when you pull up at the car park, alongside the A58 at Fewston reservoir, between Harrogate and Pateley Bridge.
Stepping inside, you are greeted by the heartening sight of Yorkshire ales on the bar, from which I initially choose the refreshing, easy drinking Timothy Taylor Golden Best, which has many of the soft, slightly malty characteristics you might actually expect of a mild. I'm not sure if Taylors are having a particular "push" on this beer at the moment, though I'm coming across it increasingly frequently on my travels, at least as regularly as their world-famous Landlord. My partner goes for the soft, slightly banana-toffeeish Black Sheep.
We take our beers to a table in one of the pub's numerous nooks and crannies, one of which has a glass-topped table offering floodlit views down the pub's ancient stone well. There is a smattering of customers around the place, but for the Hopper Lane really to have any atmosphere it needs more of them. Here it feels a little like we're rattling around in an empty shell, waiting for something to happen. It's been allowed to get a little cold too; the open fire lies sadly unused, so we naturally gravitate to a spot beside one of the radiators and pray that our dinner would be both hot and prompt.
Beside the table, a huge old century map of neighbouring villages proves an interesting distraction, not least because it seems to predate the construction of the string of reservoirs in the Washburn Valley, which have now made the area around here such an attractive spot for walkers. Such folk will certainly find a warm welcome at the Hopper Lane – the part wooden, part stone-flagged floor is ideal for heavy walking boots, the well-kept bitter the perfect end to a long day's ramble.
Good food too. Ours soon arrives, a chunky pork loin (11.25) for me, served with a mound of red cabbage and fluffy mashed potato, and a powerful mustard and peppercorn sauce.
My partner is on the steak again – it's her way of reminding me that our oven's grill still isn't working, despite me having promised to fix it. There's a part on the way, honest. Anyhow, she's chosen the rump steak (15.35) which is a really sizeable slab of beef with tomatoes, fried onions, mushrooms, slightly overdone potato wedges, and, for no particular good reason, salad. She polishes off the meat of course, but some of the accoutrements remain unfinished, despite my help.
Over coffees, Chris wanders across for a chat. After taking redundancy from Hallmark Cards, he has been in here just six weeks, though has considerable experience of running pubs earlier in his career, notably the Station at Otley.
His mission is to re-establish the Hopper Lane's reputation as a place to drive out to, the kind of destination to appeal to drinkers and diners from miles around. At the same time, he wants to re-connect with the pub's locals, who are spread around the villages and farming communities nearby "What we are trying to do is offer good English pub food and real value for money," he says. "The locals are starting to drift back in. We're serving breakfasts from 8am and hoping that will bring in the passing trade, people on their way to work."
A function room upstairs can seat up to 200 people and with its own private bar lends itself well to all manner of conferences, events and receptions. Special events are planned for Burns Night, this Tuesday, and Valentine's Day, next month. "We've got a darts team as well," he adds. "It's really all about fostering a strong community spirit."
Host: Chris Mallows
Type: Roadside inn, restaurant and hotel Opening Times: 8am-11.30pm daily
Beers: Copper Dragon Golden Pippin (3), Timothy Taylor Golden Best (3), Black Sheep (3), John Smith's Smooth (2.80); Foster's (3.10), Kronenbourg (3.40), Amstel (3.40); Strongbow (3.10), Guinness (3.40),
Wine: Good choice from 3.75-glass
Food: Food available to 8.30pm daily from breakfast menu through to lunch and dinner menus
Accommodation: Five letting rooms, prices from 45 for double room
Functions: Upstairs conference suite available for hire for special events
Entertainment: TV, darts, occasional themed events
Disabled: Straightforward access, disabled toilet facilities Beer Garden: Attractive area to rear
Parking: To side and rear
Telephone: 01943 880191
BEER OF THE WEEK
Hardknott Brewery's mascot is a Sooty glove puppet. I know this because I once shared a taxi ride with two of the brewery's senior team, who introduced me to Sooty en route. Hardknott Sooty even has his own Twitter account. Oh yes.
But I digress. The Cumbrian brewery has gained an enviable reputation for the quality of both their bottle-conditioned and cask-conditioned ales, and I found a bottle of the curiously named Dark Energy lurking on the shelves at Beer Ritz in Far Headingley. Seeing as how Headingley is very much student central, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that a beer so named would be snapped up as an alternative to Pro-Plus or Red Bull by those who are cramming for their finals.
Which might be something of a retrograde step, given that a couple of bottles of Hardknott Dark Energy are more likely to send them to sleep than set them up for an all-night revision session.
It's a rich ale, "darker than a black galactic mongoose in a coal shed" according to the rather off-the-wall label, and packed with coffee-ish, stout-ish, treacley flavours and an enticingly, more-ishly mellow quality to it, and punches a little harder than its moderate 4.9 per cent ABV strength.
It had a seriously soporific effect on me, so goodness only knows what it does to Sooty.