SPOFFORTH. It sounds a little like the sound you might make while hawking up something unsavoury from your chest.
The village itself is rather more pleasant, the castle at its heart built in the 14th century and passed between families at the whim of successive Kings before being ruined during the Civil War. English Heritage now invites visitors to the site, though the only Castle we had time to investigate was on the other side of the road, where a former one-room pub has been dramatically extended backwards to create a beautiful new dining area, while nine beautifully re-fitted bedrooms have turned this into a quality boutique hotel.
Stepping through the front door, you might easily be misled into thinking this was just a village inn, pure and simple. Here you find a line up of five real ale wickets dispensing a choice of predominantly Yorkshire beers – Black Sheep, Leeds Pale and Tetley’s on this visit, along with a couple of interlopers from Burnley and Cambridge. And, like all good village pubs, there’s plenty of room here just to sit and enjoy a pint and a conversation. It says “Village Pub with Dining and Sleeping” beside the front door, and I get the impression all customers are equally welcome, whatever combination of eating, drinking, or staying over they have in mind.
In that respect I feel compelled to contrast it to the Plum and Partridge at Husthwaite, which was the subject of this column just a couple of weeks ago, and where I felt that those drinkers and villagers who should be encouraged to put the pub at the heart of their community, had somehow been neglected amid a lavish and expensive refurbishment.
Not here. You can eat near the bar, but by placing the main dining room to the rear, the Castle has created sufficient separation between the two different elements of their custom that neither feels discomfited.
And after pausing to collect a couple of pints of the reliably crisp Leeds Pale, we soon make our way through to the dining room, where staff in smart grey livery are busying themselves among the tables scattered across a floor of small black tiles. Huge skylights set into the gently sloping ceiling flood the whole space with natural light.
We take a place on wicker chairs towards the centre of the room, where our starters soon arrive. For me there are four crunchy spears of asparagus, neatly teamed with a runny poached egg, a smear of Hollandaise and some shavings of parmesan (£6.25). This benign, easy-going starter contrasts with the gargantuan blast of flavours offered by my partner’s smoked salmon and mackerel pate (£6.50), given additional tang by some pickled vegetables.
Main courses soon follow, and the quality established by the starters is surpassed by the sizeable wild mushroom and arancini burger, packed with some pungent melted blue cheese (£10.75) and by the Castle’s take on fish and chips. The latter is a delicately-battered hunk of haddock (this is a guess, the menu doesn’t actually specify), on a bed of chips, with a mound of crushed garden peas – and a small bowl of devilish curry sauce for good measure (£12.25).
For those who are lucky enough to be staying over, nine rooms in the main building and nearby barn have been fitted as bedrooms, each named after a castle. Tartan curtains and a Saltire head board await those booked into Edinburgh; those in Warwick awake to oak leaves and forestry scenes. Each is splendid, but in all it has done to move way up the market, the Castle has never lost sight of its key role as a village pub. Others have plenty to learn here.
High Street, Spofforth
Host: Steve Mutlow
Type: Quality village pub and restaurant
Opening hours: 7am-11pm Mon-Sat, 7am-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Changing selection of five hand-pulled ales, plus Peroni, Carlsberg and Aspall’s cider
Food: Quality restaurant dining available from breakfast-time onwards
Wine: Good selection
Functions: Private dining area available for hire
Accommodation: Nine bedrooms from £89 for B&B
Children: Welcomed, high chairs available in restaurant
Disabled: Ramp access to rear and disabled toilets
Beer Garden: Outdoor tables to the front of the pub - and large area to the rear
Parking: Large area to side
Telephone: 01937 590200