Tucked among the antiques and quirky interiors shops that make up a swish little corner of lower Harrogate known as the Montpellier Quarter, Timberlake’s Bistro seems a world away from the fuss and rush of nearby town centre shoppers, even on a Saturday lunchtime.
It’s a small restaurant, seating up to 30 diners including outside, yet it manages to combine this intimacy with a feeling of space and privacy, as none of the sturdy wooden tables seem too close, and relaxed music helps to fill any of the silences that inevitably accompany a thorough study of the menu.
Timberlake’s is run by husband-and-wife team Christian and Aleksandra Timberlake, who have clearly put a great deal of care, thought and flair into their dining room.
The grained wooden floorboards are washed serenely white, cushions brighten a window seat and the walls are filled with vibrant, intriguing paintings, which are for sale and well worth a visit in themselves (we particularly liked the ones of people sitting in a bar, looking wistfully into the mid-distance).
Much thought has gone into the menu too - mainly traditional British with genuine, carefully-made twists. The menu tells diners that all dishes are made from scratch using Yorkshire products where possible and most are gluten-friendly.
Mains start at about £9, plus there are lighter dishes and a specials board.
House wines begin at a very reasonable £14.75 a bottle, although you can, if you wish, buy the Meursault ‘Les Clous’ Verget 2010 (France) for £39 or Laurent Perrier Brut NV for £49.
Selected wines are also available by the glass, plus there are specialist beers and suggestions of which foods they best suit.
For starters I chose the bouillabaisse (£7.45), which was a miniature work of art in itself, piled into a bowl, with large scallop, mussels, prawns and white fish in an intense sauce coloured a pleasing shade of saffron brown, bread and croutons on the side, a pot of rouille and a little jug of extra bouillabaisse sauce.
It was delicious and a perfect starter size. My only criticism would be the croutons, which I found too oily.
My fellow diner tried the chicken liver parfait with pickled pear, cornichons and toast (£6.45).
The pate was again beautifully presented in a jar, and he said he couldn’t fault any aspect of the dish - it was excellent.
For my main, I was torn between two ducks - the slow roast Gressingham duck leg with ratatouille and spinach (£13.95) and the cold smoked duck salad (£8.95), one of the specials. I went for the lighter salad option, thin slivers of sliced, delicately smoked duck with many green leaves. It would have been a healthy choice, but then I opted for a side of hand cut chips, which were satisfying huge, crisp and fluffy.
My fellow diner went for the chicken sauteed with dry-cure bacon (£12.95), which came with button mushrooms and puy lentils. The chicken was freshly cooked and juicy-moist, exactly how he likes it, and again this was a well-presented, faultlessly delicious dish.
We could have gone for beef casserole (£13.95), described as a “blade of local beef braised for at least four hours” or the butternut squash, tomato, courgette and basil risotto (£11.95).
But next time, I’ll try a steak, supplied by Hutchinson’s of Ripley - the 8oz ribeye is £18.95 and the fillet is £24.95. There is also a roast every Sunday, for £10.95.
If there is one aspect of the menu that could be improved on, it’s the desserts. There are just three to choose from, each costing just £4.25.
We could have had sticky toffee pudding but instead chose the creme brulee and the chocolate mousse, both chilled.
The creme brulee was too rich and thick for me and there wasn’t enough crispy burnt topping (maybe a good thing).
My fellow diner liked the chocolate mousse well enough, but we were both full and lighter options would have been welcome.
This is a small criticism overall and I suspect most of the regulars much prefer to see Timberlake’s carefully planned, beautifully cooked and wonderfully presented ranges of starters and mains, far more than they want their desserts (and there is a cheese plate for £7.95).
The service was friendly and efficient, and it was a bonus to see the chef and his young assistant at work through the hatch.
There are cheffy touches in the presentation but these are thoughtful, interesting, certainly not pretentious. Timberlake’s Bistro offers impressive and excellent food and wine, at sensible prices, in a stylish but welcoming and comfortable environment. It’s a real find - and a rare one at that.
The meal cost £64.80 including toasted hazelnuts, two glasses of wine, a large bottle of sparkling water and a coffee.