WHATEVER levels of service a restaurant can offer, however elegant the experience or sumptuous its suroundings, it will always stand or fall by the quality of its food.
And the arrival in the summer of new head chef Paul Leonard has brought fresh impetus to one of Yorkshire’s best-loved restaurants, the 3AA Rosette award-winning Burlington at The Devonshire Arms. Paul joined from the Michelin-starred Isle of Eriska hotel in Scotland, returning to his roots in Yorkshire, having previously worked at the The Feversham Arms in Helmsley.
“I aim to make The Burlington one of the most talked-about restaurants in the UK,” says Paul. “My style of cooking is light, non-fussy and natural; freshness and quality are key, so I am blessed to have such a wonderful rural location for the sourcing of the required ingredients needed to deliver my approach.”
In the few short months since taking over, he has re-affirmed the Burlington’s absolute commitment to quality, to locally-sourced produce and to treating customers to a dining experience which is matched by few of its rivals anywhere in the county.
Few could equal the setting. Surrounded by the gentle rolling hills of Wharfedale, gothic Bolton Abbey rises dramatically from a sharp bend in the river on a site which was gifted to Augustinian monks in the 12th century. The monastic estate expanded – and building work was still going on when King Henry’s break with Rome saw it suddenly abandoned some 400 years later. What remains of the Abbey – whether ruined in the violence of the Dissolution or buildings which were simply unfinished – have for generations inspired the aesthetes of their day. Turner and Landseer painted it, Trollope captured it in prose, Wordsworth in verse, The Cure on an album cover.
The attractive Devonshire Arms renders its own homage in exuberant food and drink and superb hospitality. It stands just outside the village, a two-storey sprawl of Yorkshire stone surrounded by acres of lush parkland. Its main building has been extended several times; a long bright conservatory and a line of bedrooms now encloses a central garden of exquisitely sculptured privet.
Much of this land has been held by the Dukes of Devonshire for centuries; the family seat may be the grandeur of Chatsworth, but for sheer natural spectacle, Wharfedale is hard to beat. And to spend time here is to experience just a little of how those privileged classes live – from the moment one is ushered into the high-ceilinged cocktail lounge for canapes and aperitifs beneath oil paintings of brooding Yorkshire scenes in ornate gilt frames, before being shown through to intimate dining room where a low hum of chat is broken only by the chink of glasses, as black-liveried staff flit effortlessly between tables dispensing high-end service and first class food.
A weighty wine list is proffered – it runs to about 100 pages and is rated among the best in the whole of England. But tonight the choice is taken out of our hands as we are treating ourselves to Paul’s ‘Taste of the Dales’ menu which focuses exclusively on locally grown, reared and produced foods, from the hotel, the Duke’s estate and nearby farms, along with seafood and sea herbs from the East Yorkshire coast, such as Whitby crab, samphire and oyster leaf. Each is paired with a wine from that gargantuan list.
A soft and appley Sauvignon Blanc has been chosen to accompany the seafood, first an amuse bouche of Whitby crab with turnip and sea herbs, then juicy langoustines, which have been creel-caught rather than trawled, and imaginatively served with strips of celeriac and a hunk of pork cheek. This combination is then drizzled with a chicken stock, adding a surprising poultry element to the dish, which works well.
Paul’s passion for local produce is evident throughout this dining experience, not least in the next course where a big-tasting whole heritage carrot from the kitchen garden has been topped with slithers of salty eel and a sprinkling of spiced seeds and curds. The earthy elements of the dish are cleverly drawn out by the minerality of a crisp Australian Riesling.
For Paul’s next trick, a slab of turbot, freshly caught off the east coast, has been draped beneath thin curls of black kale, dashed with soft mussels and paired with a sharply acidic, citric Chenin Blanc from South Africa. Like all the courses in this remarkable gastronomic performance, it is beautifully presented.
Though each dish is relatively small, the next offering, a hearty loin of rich-tasting Yorkshire Venison, seems like the main course, particularly when it is joined with the first red wine of the night, a bold and luxurious Chateauneuf Du Pape. It feels like the business end of dinner.
Even so, the drama still has several acts to come, not least a selection of cheeses, each of them expertly described by a waiter whose knowledge and patter are an integral part of the whole evening’s entertainment. From the dizzying variety we are offered we choose the mushroomy Dale End from Whitby, the pungent Stichelton blue, creamy luxuriant British brie Baron Bigod and – very best of all – the slightly sweet and fruity Beenleigh Roquefort.
The stewed apples and Yorkshire skyr yoghurt which follow act as a neat palate-cleanser before our evening concludes with a delicate whipped sea buckthorn dessert and strong oily coffees.
Well, almost. After this sustained three-hour assault on the senses, there is literally no way I could drive home – even if I’d turned down the sommelier on each of his visits to the table. So, recharged just sufficiently by the coffees, we amble slowly along the corridors to a beautiful, sumptuous suite where sleep soon overtakes us, and holds us in its loving arms ‘til morning.
* The Taste of the Dales experience is available Tuesday to Thursday evenings, priced £60 per head, with the opportunity to stay over at a special rate.
Burlngton Restaurant, The Devonshire Arms
Address: Bolton Abbey, near Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 6AJ
Opening times: Dinner menu served 7pm-9.30pm Tues-Sun Telephone: 01756 710441