DO YOU mind sitting in the lower area, because all the other tables are booked?” says the waitress, doubtless realising that we’re not regulars and she can probably get away with directing us away from the sociable hubbub of drinkers and diners at the main bar and into a colder, sparsely-populated annex.
I’m not one for making a fuss, but I do mind a little bit – not least because there are clearly empty tables near the bar, and we have actually taken the trouble to book.
“I’ll be back with your cutlery and to take your order,” she says, before attending to a larger party of regulars, who arrive after us, and then sorting them out with drinks and taking their food order. Nothing wrong with this; it’s exactly how they should be treated. It would be nice if the same welcome were afforded to us.
In the end I make my own way to the bar, place our orders there and scurry back to our dim little corner where we remain disgruntled and largely ignored until the food arrives.
Truth is, I’ve always liked the Scotts Arms. We came often when our children were small and they could play in the beer garden. The food has always been good and the service reliable too. This is the first time in probably two dozen visits stretching back to the 1990s that I’ve been made to feel distinctly unwelcome.
Which is a huge shame. It’s wonderful that a pub like this can be so obviously the heartbeat of the Sicklinghall community, giving its regular and local customers everything they could ever need of a village inn. But it should also minister to the needs of those occasional visitors like ourselves, who have driven out from Leeds or Harrogate or Wetherby in search of Sunday dinner at a traditional Yorkshire country pub, rather than making us feel a little like second class citizens.
So our visit gets off to a fairly frosty start, but it soon improves, my spirits lifted by a pint of the firmly bitter, biscuity, earthy and refreshing Timothy Taylor Landlord – surely the archetypal Yorkshire brew. This has been a regular on the bar here for as long as I can remember; Black Sheep from Masham and Wainwright from Lancashire were among other choices on this visit.
And I’m delighted to report that once the food arrives, accompanied by some much-needed cutlery, we are treated to a quality night of pub dining entirely in keeping with the kind of fare a pub like this really ought to provide: for my wife, juicy slices of roast beef topped with an oversized bowl of a Yorkshire pudding, brimful with gravy (£13.50); for me a piping hot pie of prawns, salmon and white fish in a rich sauce and topped by mashed potato and a layer of melted cheese (£14.25).
And of course, lulled by the influence of the alcohol and the food, my attitude towards our treatment mellows. Perhaps they’re truly rushed off their feet, or those tables might be reserved for people who booked before us – or even for the many ghosts reputed to haunt this place: the Victorian gravediggers Will and Dave, an elderly Victorian couple, a milkmaid, a blacksmith’s daughter and a soldier with his dog. Several mediums have visited and come up with an identical roll call, apparently.
On the strength of this visit I’d say they probably need to try a bit harder to keep their customers satisfied. On the strength of previous ones I’m confident they will.
Main Street, Sicklinghall
Type: Traditional upmarket village inn
Manager: Ted and Julie van Zeller
Opening times: 11am-11pm Mon-Sat, 11am-10pm Sun
Beers: At least three hand-pulled real ales plus good choice of lagers and bottled beers
Wine: Excellent selection
Food: Food served noon-2.30pm and 5.30-9.30pm Mon-Fri; noon-9.30pm Sat and noon-8.30pm Sun. Menu changes during the day
Disabled: Straightforward access but there are some split level areas inside
Functions: Large room for hire
Beer Garden: Paved areas to one side, attractive beer garden accessed through pub
Parking: Large area to rear
Telephone: 01937 582100