“We still get people coming here expecting to find him,” says manager Daniel Rushton.
Almost five years on from his sad departure, the Neil Morrissey Effect is still bringing the occasional customer to the Punchbowl, perhaps hoping for a brush with celebrity and the glimpse of someone behaving badly.
It thrived briefly under his ownership, customers drawn by this potent combination, and by the very laudable intentions of Morrissey and partner Richard Fox of breathing new life into a lovely village inn. Unltimately, and for reasons in no need of further rehearsal, it crashed and burned – as well I might, were I ever to consider my skills as a beer writer sufficient to take on the leading role in a prime time sitcom.
Now, under the loving, expert ownership of a proper pub company, it’s the real deal. Daniel and his team are making it work and reaping the benefits.
It’s Mad Friday when we call in; for many that last liberating workday before the Christmas break. Headingley is hedonism central, Boar Lane a bacchanalian orgy of delights.
So we head north. Now merged by rural sprawl, Marton and Grafton were once separate villages a half mile apart, and roughly equidistant from Ripon, York and Harrogate. Surrounded by attractive stone cottages and well-kept gardens, the pub dominates a sweeping bend as you drive into the village.
The exposed beams and gnarled wooden columns are familiar from previous visits, but you sense its transformational change as you cross the threshold.
There are customers for a start. The Punchbowl is bursting with a noisy crowd, elbowing for space in the hubbub at the bar, and we are soon led through to the sanctity of a comfortable snug to the left of the front door with logs crackling on a roaring fire and three small tables set for dining. A pint of zesty, earthy, pale amber and quintessentially Yorkshire, Timothy Taylor Landlord soon arrives, and is soon followed by a half of the crisply bitter Rudgate Viking – locally brewed and emblematic of this pub’s commitment to Yorkshire beer.
The menu offers some enticing choices and I don’t have to be in work for 16 days. I can’t help smiling.
The food lives up to that promise – for my wife a generously-proportioned early Christmas turkey and trimmings, for me a nicely bloody rump steak with a bowl of skinny fries and a tangy peppercorn sauce.
Main courses start at around £11, but their Magnificent Seven menu, served up to 7pm on weekday evenings, offers seven choices for just £7 each, which makes for great value.
The quality of the food should come as no surprise. The Punchbowl is now in the very capable hands of Provenance Inns, a business which sits across that difficult intersection of pub, hotel and restaurant trade – yet seems to have the happy knack of observing each of these three quite distinct disciplines without detriment to the others. It’s a lucrative field, which plenty of other companies are keen to exploit.
At Marton-cum-Grafton, many of the ingredients for success were already in place before Provenance walked in.
The pub has long had a great reputation, back to the days when it was run by the avuncular motoring enthusiast Eddie Shine, whose creation of the first themed pub earned the Punch Bowl a spot on Pathe News.
Rally and racing drivers were regular visitors; car memorabilia predominated. You can find the footage at bit.ly/yepsj which is worth visiting just for the splendidly uppercrust commentary and lines like: “The distinctive roar of powerful engines has become as easily identifiable to the country folk of these parts as the sound of their own farm animals.”
Whatever temporary damage to the Punchbowl’s reputation might have been done by the Morrissey-Fox years, it is now right at the top of its game.
“It’s back to how we wanted it to be,” says Daniel.
“These last couple of years have been about restoring people’s faith in the pub and making it the absolute centre of village life.”
That done, the inevitable Provenance move towards high-quality hotelification is perhaps just a matter of time. The only way, it seems, is up.
Name: Ye Olde Punch Bowl
Host: Daniel Rushton
Type: Village inn and restaurant
Opening hours: Noon-3pm and 5-11pm Mon-Thurs; noon-11pm Fri-Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Timothy Taylor Landlord (£3.40), Black Sheep (£3.10), plus guest ales. Fosters (£3.20), Amstel (£3.50), Guinness (£3.50)
Wine: Good wine list, choices start at £2.95-glass
Food: Quality restaurant meals served lunchtimes and evenings daily
Beer garden: Attractive area to the rear
Disabled: Straightforward access from rear
Entertainment: Themed dining evenings
Functions: Private dining area upstairs seats up to 14
Parking: Large area to the rear
Tel: 01423 322519
Email: enquiries@thepunchbowlmarton cumgrafton.com
Website: www.thepunchbowl martoncumgrafton.com