Food. Heaps of it, bundled from steaming bowls of potatoes and cabbage, cauliflower and carrots onto sturdy slices of beef and pork and giant Yorkshire puddings, then bathed in a ceremonial gloop of gravy.
By the time we arrive for Sunday lunch at Whixley, the car-park is already overflowing, they’re stacked three deep at the bar, and the queue for the carvery is snaking uneasily through two rooms.
The Anchor isn’t the prettiest village inn. Low, whitewashed, and extended beneath a jumble of pitched roofs, it squats beside a junction on the southern edge of Whixley.
It isn’t quite ‘all you can eat’ here; it’s merely all you can pile on your plate and carry unashamedly back to your table, though for most diners these amount to the same thing.
The Anchor fires up the carvery every day, and the whole operation runs like an appropriately well-oiled conveyor belt, driven by staff smartly dressed in black – who by heaving steaming bowls of produce from the kitchen, taking names, clearing tables and serving drinks, move a relentless stream of humanity through the process. At £8.95 a throw it represents great value for money.
Customers start at the central bar, all bare brick and low criss-crossing beams, where they pay for their food in advance, and take their choice from four real ales. This freehouse pays welcome patronage to local brewers: Black Sheep, Copper Dragon, Daleside and York are represented on this occasion; pictures on the web show Rooster’s, Rudgate and John Smith’s lined up too. Strengths and prices are chalked up on a blackboard and the choice changes daily. The local buying policy extends to the food too.
It’s been a while since I’ve had anything from the Harrogate brewer, so I’m soon nursing a pint of their pale, golden, refreshing Daleside Blonde, and admiring the old enamelled advertising signs – Players Navy Cut, Wills Gold Flake, Sam Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter among them – displayed around the walls.
From the beams hang brasses, copper kettles and all manner of unfathomable agricultural tackle. Around a fireplace, bric-a-brac is shuffled into crowded little displays. Each of the rooms which radiate from the bar has its own theme – in one a collection of blue-painted farmhouse porcelain, in another an array of horse racing prints.
As we wait beside the bar for a table, an endless stream of plates waft past our eyes, each straining under an unfeasible mound of meat and vegetables. Diners avoid eye contact lest they be judged by portion size.
Just when we’re starting to wonder how long it will take for us to actually try some of this food, as opposed to smelling it from close quarters, we are shown to a space in the light and airy room at the front of the pub.
Here we dump our drinks and head to the queue where be-aproned owner Nyk Snook is slaving over a hot-plate with the daily calorific output of a small power station.
We stand in line and watch fellow diners who clearly know the drill. Most go for the straight carvery option – two slices of beef, two slices of pork, crackling and Yorkshires – before filling any available vacancy on their plate with veg. My wife and daughter go down this well-trod route, but Nyk’s carvery offers plenty more –vegetarian lasagne, duck, salmon – so I opt for the steak pie, heaps of lean meat bursting from beneath a thick shortcrust pastry.
I add Yorkshire Pudding (like, obviously) and then – because not to do so might seem perverse – more greens than I have eaten since Christmas.
And gravy. And some of the meanest, snarkiest, cheek-suckingly dangerous horseradish ever made.
I scurry past the drinkers at the bar, chancing that they are distracted by conversation or the ancient splendour of the brickwork.
Most of the pub is dimly lit, disguising my shame; finally I reach our sunlit table, my gluttony exposed to the light.
I eat quickly, lessening the disgrace of my greed with each sturdy mouthful. After a while, small areas of gravy-stained crockery become visible through the mire of food; in time the whole plate is cleared, its mighty load now grumbling uneasily in my stomach.
Thankfully the conciliatory, emollient nature of the Daleside Blonde - light, refreshing, slightly effervescent and with an enchanting suggestion of raspberry – provides the perfect counterpoint.
The footfall is endless. When we walk in, people are already leaving; when we stand up to go, more are arriving to take our place.
And as I stagger back to the car, I feel the earth shift slightly on its axis.
Name: The Anchor
Host: Nyk and Victoria Snook
Type: Popular village inn and carvery
Opening Hours: Noon-2.30pm and 5.30-11pm Mon-Sat, noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Changing choice of real ales from £2.70-a-pint plus John Smith Smooth, Foster’s, San Miguel, Kronenbourg, Strongbow and Guinness
Wine: Good choice of house wines all £3.30-glass
Food: Served noon-2pm and 6-9pm Mon-Sat, noon-8pm Sun
Children: Welcomed – kids’ portions and high chairs available, baby changing area, outdoor play area.
Disabled: Ramp access and disabled toilets
Entertainment: Live music every second Tuesday in the month; darts and doms evenings
Accommodation: Five chalet-style rooms to rear, £50 per night inc breakfast
Functions: Areas available for private hire for receptions and parties
Accommodation: Seven themed bedrooms
Beer Garden: Outdoor tables to front
Parking: Large car park to rear
Telephone: 01423 330432