It’s where Michelin star chef Tommy Banks likes to go on a rare night off. No wonder, says Jill Turton, Lockwoods of Ripon is the real deal.
The people who buy and use the venerable Good Food Guide are pretty serious about dining out. It’s a brick of a book, 600 pages long, and at the back it painstakingly lists by name some 2,200 readers who have troubled to contribute to the book by sending in their comments, both complimentary and caustic. They can be a hard lot to please.
So it was no small accolade when last year Lockwoods of Ripon won the North East region award as the readers’ restaurant of the year. Of course readers’ awards can be dodgy, tilted by a well-orchestrated campaign, but any doubt about the loyalty that Lockwoods inspires was dispelled by a recent visit. While the centre of Ripon was gently snoozing at 7.30pm on a Thursday, Lockwoods was full. And, as any restaurateur will tell you, packing out Saturday night is not the problem, it’s the midweek tables that are hard to fill.
Lockwoods certainly works hard at filling the place. They open for brunch and lunch six days a week. There’s a midweek three-course early bird menu at £16.95. They serve proper food for kids. The a la carte is keenly set at around £7 for starters and £16 for mains. Blackboards chalk up Gin Balloons and Lipseed non-alcoholic botanical spirits. There are various special events throughout the year; the last time I went was for a guest chef dinner run by Tommy Banks of the Black Swan up the road at Oldstead, one of Britain’s most brilliant young chefs and not just because he won TV’s Great British Menu.
Banks was there as a payback for Lockwoods regularly hosting the Black Swan’s Christmas party. Well, any restaurant that’s good enough for the kitchen brigade at the Black Swan is good enough for my party of four, and while not everything was perfect, which we’ll come to, there was plenty to relish. If every town in Yorkshire the size of Ripon had a Lockwoods then the world would be a better place. A few chefs struggling to fill their midweek tables could learn a thing or two here.
So, in the spirit of the Good Food Guide and readers’ comments, the rare grilled hanger steak from the day’s specials was marked excellent. High fives all round for the delicate hands involved in producing a perfect runny Scotch egg. If you’ve ever tried wrapping sausage meat or in this case black pudding around a soft boiled egg you will know to your cost that a lot of eggs get wasted in the process.
The Scotch egg eaters regarded my worthy-looking salad of fennel, apple and kohlrabi with pity. No need. Not only was it crisp and fresh but beneath the shards of five-a-day was a layer of soft goat’s cheese and a handful of toasted walnuts completing a balanced salad.
The bone-in chicken breast was à point, served with haricot beans, pancetta and celeriac that was slow baked in a salt crust and gently caramelised, turning the humble root veg into a thing of sweet tenderness. More high marks for the roast cod and mash: a decent piece of skin-on flaking cod atop mash and samphire then given a deep, dark, bisquey, shellfish sauce. Big, bold flavours worthy of a harbour-side cafe in Marseilles.
Puddings were reliable, too. Affogato, the deceptively simple marriage of cold, cold vanilla ice cream, was nicely “drowned” in a shot of hot espresso. Iced whiskey parfait was approved. Spiced pineapple and banana cake was big on banana cake, less so on a meagre half slice of pineapple.
Then there was Lockwoods’ self-proclaimed “Famous” chocolate pot. I think they mean quite well known in Ripon. OK, we’ll have one then and tell us all about it. The news is that it’s a chocolate pot served with raspberry fool in a mini Kilner jar with homemade shortbread biscuit and apparently so popular that it’s never been off the menu throughout Lockwoods’ 12 years of existence. It was fine but no more.
The letdowns were a dour fritto misto of prawn, squid and bream that was too heavily battered and then a flop with the garlic tiger prawns. The plate looked terrific, worth a photo, but they were soft going on mushy with not enough garlic kick to get away with a cover-up.
But the more important point is that Lockwoods should be famous not for its chocolate pot but for staying fresh and vital for its 12 years, for creating a warm atmosphere in its unusual but agreeable terraced dining room, and for consistently delivering a solid package of generous, well-priced dishes. That’s how to earn loyalty.
Lockwoods Restaurant, 83 North Street, Ripon HG4 1DP. 01765 607555, lockwoodsrestaurant.co.uk. Open: Tuesday to Friday, 10.30am-2.30pm & 5-9.30pm; Saturday, 10am-2.30pm & 5-9.30pm; Sunday, 10am-3pm. Price: Dinner for two inc. wine and service approx. £85.