The Box Tree restaurant and our monarch have more than a little in common, I always think.
Both of them cost a lot – let’s get that out of the way right from the off but both of them present us with a reassuring, seldom-changing face – no matter what high dramas are going on behind the scenes.
All is right with the world while Her Majesty is on the throne, and the Box Tree is doing its thing in Ilkley.
The restaurant is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, having opened its doors as a tearoom in 1962, around the time the Beatles stormed the charts and the Swinging Sixties took hold – though not, of course, in Ilkley.
But if it’s history you want then the restaurant can supply a lot more than that, being housed in a building that dates back to the 1720s when Queen Anne was on the throne.
And since 1962 there has been drama aplenty at the Box Tree. Though all is calm and successful now with a Michelin star in place, there have been stormy times and stars lost and regained in dramatic fashion.
You wouldn’t suspect any of that walking through its door though because it is, for all the world, like stepping into someone’s cottage home – you will need to resist the impulse to knock.
Inside, the illusion that you are popping into a living room continues.
This is the restaurant where Marco Pierre White began his career aged 17, the place he credits with beginning his obsession with food and with being his spiritual home. Indeed, the place in which he is now a business partner with chef Simon Gueller - but it doesn’t look like that kind of a place.
Once inside, there is an immediate impression of cosiness and comfort, of low ceilings, paintings, ornaments and lots of small tables. The decor may have changed in the detail, but essentially this bar area has always looked this way.
We were greeted courteously and efficiently. Due to unforeseen problems we were actually half an hour late, but if that mattered no one let it show. The service at the Box Tree is gold standard.
The format is that diners choose from the menu, which is a modern version of classical French cuisine, while seated in the bar area, and by the time they are led to the table, all the work is done.
As we chose, a little morsel was brought to us to get the evening under way. We ate spelt crispbreads with a nutty satisfying flavour, curried aubergine dip and a cream cheese, chive and truffle dip. The comfort level rose.
The menu choice was simple enough: the tasting menu at £70 per person or the a la carte at £60 per person. We decided to go a la carte and picked from a range of five starters and five mains.
But before our own choices there was the amuse bouche, a spiced parsnip veloute with a tiny parcel of parsnip crisps at its centre. It was a few spoonfuls of mouth-filling flavour served with a choice of either olive or polenta bread.
For the starter I opted for scallops with pig cheek, pumpkin puree and crackling, which was a rich marriage of full flavours and soft textures.
The scallops were plump and juicy and the pig cheek a tiny sausage of minced and richly-flavoured meat. It was topped by the crackling which, by some alchemy, was light, airy and full of crunch.
My dining partner chose lobster with curried mango, coconut and almond and pronounced it to be a joyous combination of texture and flavour.
My main dish was squab pigeon with foie gras, bacon, sprouts and chestnuts.
It sounded rich, warming and full of winter flavours for bleak January – and it was.
The pigeon arrived as two rolls of soft, moist meat completed by a puddle of intensely-flavoured red wine jus but, vegetarians look away now, because the legs, complete with little pigeon feet, were also on the plate. A finger bowl and extra napkin were provided for the clean-up operation afterwards, the sprouts mixture was served in a tiny copper pan at the side.
My partner opted for seabass a la nicoise from the other main choices which also included turbot, venison and beef. It was light enough for the post Christmas guilt but toothsome enough to be a satisfying dish.
Onto desserts. Caramelised apple and blackberry sable mille feuille – a type of biscuit – with lemon thyme ice cream was my choice. The ice cream had a kick of lemony zing, the rest was fine but unexciting, and put into the shade by the dessert opposite me.
My guest chose the blood orange souffle with dark chocolate sauce, a towering wobbling thing of perfection with an orange hit, made beautifully rich but not sweet by the sauce.
Coffee with handmade chocolates was an extra £4.25 each. The chocolates were brought to the table in a casket from which we chose one of each of the four flavours, which included a lovely salted caramel.
With water, and two glasses of wine each – a house white and a Spanish Tempranillo – the bill came to £160, which is probably the most you will spend on a meal for two in this region.
But the Box Tree does what it does beautifully in a relaxed environment. You might find the price a challenge, but the food, the setting and the service will be anything but.
Address: 35-37 Church Street, Ilkley
Opening times: Fri, Sat, Sun lunch 12-2pm;Tues-Sat dinner 7-9.30pm
Tel. 01943 608484
SERVICE .............................. *****