THOUGH I’ve never written about The Mitre before, I’ve often sung the praises of Market Town Taverns.
Whether at Arcadia in Headingley, Coopers at Guiseley, or Muse in Wetherby, my experiences have been routinely positive.
Until now. And I only hope the rather patchy experience we endured at the Knaresborough branch is not reflected across a group which now stretches beyond its Yorkshire heartland to Merseyside, Chester and Aberystwyth, look you.
Perhaps my opinion is coloured by the fact that I like these pubs so much – the Old Bell in Harrogate is one of my favourites in the whole county – that I’m judging my night at the Mitre against that whole back catalogue. There wasn’t so much wrong with it, in truth; simply I was left with the impression that something had been allowed to slip, either by local management or by head office – and that MTT’s values just weren’t being applied.
It’s Sunday, so we take the trouble to book, fearing a run on the roast beef and Yorkshires. On arrival, it’s clear we needn’t have bothered: “Are you the people who booked?” asks the chap behind the bar, as though this were quite a turn up for the books.
“We’ve put you in the restaurant,” he adds, pointing the way to another room utterly uncontaminated by other customers. When it becomes apparent that we don’t want to eat there, and choose instead to sit at a table closer to the bar, where at least there are signs of other life – both human and canine, as it goes – his colleague closes the door to the restaurant and turns off the lights. Clearly they had intended us to dine alone.
So we take our place at a copper-topped table, from where we can observe the clear signs of a lack of care bordering on neglect. Around the bar, the proud display of pumpclips shows off the amazing range of real ales which have been served here over the years. But so many of them have fallen off the wall, leaving blank patches of plaster and the remains of the sticky pads, that it looks like a student bedsit, stuckled up tackily with beermats.
Where posters have come off the walls, bits of blue-tack have been left behind; a gaudy sticker has been left on one of the toilet doors.
These minor faults add up to a careless untidiness I would never expect of an MTT pub. And they are magnified by the amount of time I am afforded to observe them; service is so woefully, painfully slow that we almost have to resort to conversation. And this on a night when only nine people in the entire pub are dining, three of them on our table.
When our food does arrive, it’s of variable quality. Of the starters, the chicken liver parfait is the best – rich, full-flavoured and coarse. The two falafels are nicely moist inside but just bite-sized; the fishcakes are appreciatively bigger, but there’s no suggestion of the zing that the advertised wasabi might have been expected to give them.
That lack of spice continues to at least one of the main courses, where a slab of dry and flavourless meat is masquerading as a Cajun chicken burger. The Sunday roast is better – a generous portion of beef and trimmings; the meat and potato ‘pie of the day’ passes muster too.
And the fine choice of beer raises the Mitre experience well into the tolerable. The long connection between MTT and local brewer Roosters ensures that their beers feature on the long list of ales chalked up on the blackboard beside the bar. I go for the excellent marmalade and vanilla-accented Hetton Pale from the Dark Horse brewery in the Dales.
But beer as good as this should be the crowning glory of a great pub, not merely its one saving grace.
Address: Station Road, Knaresborough
Type: Modern alehouse and restaurant
Opening Hours: Noon-11pm every day
Beers: Excellent changing choice of real ales from £3.15-pint plus Veltins and Pravha lagers
Wines: Good choice from £4.10-glass and £14.95-bottle
Food: Wide-ranging menu served noon-2:30 pm and 6-9pm Mon-Thurs; noon-9pm Sat; noon-8pm Sun
Entertainment: Jam night on Tuesdays
Accommodation: Four letting bedrooms available from £90 for two, for bed and breakfast
Disabled: Straightforward access to ground floor, disabled toilets – but no wheelchair access to the bedrooms
Children: Welcomed but no special facilities
Beer garden: Some tables on terraced area outside
Parking: On-street parking nearby – but the spaces directly outside are for station customers
Telephone: 01423 868948