Given the diversity and quality of options available in Leeds (despite what Giles Coren may claim), you might think a 45-minute journey out into the Dales would be unnecessary for those in search of evening meal.
But what the city - and indeed most of Yorkshire - lacks is a restaurant with food whose innovation and flair are worthy of a mighty four AA rosettes. Only 36 nationwide boast as many, and as of last month the Burlington, at the Devonshire Arms near Skipton, was one of them.
Rising star head chef Adam Smith has a decade-long stint at The Ritz in London under his belt and has been credited with helping the restaurant up its game.
It may not have a Michelin star, but the accolade is a clear sign this restaurant on the northern edge of the Duke of Devonshire’s Bolton Abbey estate is one of the jewels in Yorkshire’s culinary crown.
After driving through the West Yorkshire countryside it’s initially tricky to find your way there in the dark, but once inside, the roaring fire and quick, efficient taking of our coats quickly made us forget about the cold weather.
Arriving at 6.30pm when we are shown to a sitting room, those already seated appear to be hotel patrons sat in silence reading the paper rather than those getting ready for a fancy meal out. Decorating the walls are oil paintings of local scenes, including nearby Bolton Abbey, and to complete the rustic Yorkshire ambience there’s a copy of The Dalesman at the side.
Atmosphere-wise, it’s formal verging on the intimidating, the type of surroundings that add an element of nervous anticipation to uninitiated new arrivals and make you sit up just a little bit taller in your chair.
Service is expert and exemplary throughout. When Oliver asks for the best wine to accompany a rhubarb dish, the waiter/sommelier, a notably tall gentleman who has to stoop to get in and out of the dining room, has no hesitation in suggesting a sweet chardonnay. Not as syrupy and intense as some dessert wines, it complements the tartness of the Yorkshire-grown fruit.
There’s a superb wine list the size of a phone book, with plenty of options by the glass for diners like myself whose partner is driving and don’t want a whole bottle. Canapes, a tapioca crisp served with eel, beetroot macaroons and miniature duck burgers, are served in the sitting room and set the tone for what is to come once we are shown through to the dining room.
Across the table, my partner’s starter is a contrast of textures and flavours. Marinated scallop, beautifully fresh and subtle, is served with avocado, radish and pig’s head croquettes in an artful straight line across the plate.
My starter is mackerel, full of flavour and dark of flesh with the skin on, giving it a satisfying bite, accompanied by delicate Whitby crab stuffed inside a battered courgette flower.
In the sauces on the plate, which merge together in a slightly less precise fashion than other courses, the flavour of grapefruit comes out strongly, and there’s a meaty taste in there as well, which I assume must be dashi.
The stand-out element from the main course, aside from the ever-so-flavoursome slices of beef rib itself, is the mushroom puree whose intensity makes it more than a match for the meat. Crumbed balls of braised beef cheek look nice and add another dimension, but don’t live so long in the memory.
The tender roe deer is cooked expertly to bring out its subtle flavour. Combined with the chestnut and pear, it felt perfect for the time of year.
A pre-dessert amouse-bouche of blood orange, basil and fennel is superb and fresh-tasting, with the basil sorbet packing a surprising punch.
My dessert of Tomlinson’s Rhubarb (from closer to home in Pudsey), white chocolate, yoghurt and lime parfait, has a colour palette of pinks, whites and lights browns, with a sprinkling of green from the herb garnish, all pleasingly arranged in a U-shape.
One of Smith’s signatures, with bite-sized pieces of poached rhubarb, alongside spots of pureed fruit, it’s available during the Yorkshire forced rhubarb season from Christmas to Easter and is almost as enjoyable to behold as it is to eat.
Equally as triumphant, if the satisfied noises emanating from my dining partner were anything to go by, was the ball of Amedei chocolate ganache, served with hazelnut, banana and praline ice cream.
With the food scene in Leeds increasingly gearing itself towards less formal, less fussy fare, the care and innovation that goes into the dining experience at the Burlington feels like being transported into another world.
Each plate is constructed with the lavish care and attention that demands you spend a few seconds admiring it before applying your fork and spoon. The atmosphere in the dining room, almost library-like in its air of quiet contemplation, only adds to this.
With little in the way of background noise and only muted conversation in the background, as waiters swoop elegantly from table to table, it feels only right to eat in a slow and deliberate fashion, savouring every bite.
It’s an entirely different type of dining to your average meal out, and with a price-tag to match. Including service (and with one of us not drinking) our bill comes to £177, based on A La Carte menus of three courses, amouse-bouches and canapes, for £65 a head.
Expensive, sure enough, but when you consider only a handful of restaurants in all of Yorkshire, let alone Leeds, can offer fine dining of this calibre, most foodies would be unlikely to quibble.
Address: The Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey, Skipton, BD23 6AJ
Tel: 01756 710 441
Opening times: Dinner Tues-Sun 7pm to 9.30pm