Since its inception in the summer of 2016, Horto at Rudding Park has ever so politely established itself as one of the landmark dining experiences Yorkshire has to offer.
Indeed, in 2018, it scooped our Best Fine Dining Oliver award for its style, elegance, poise and invention; for it’s showcasing of seasonal and local produce, with many of the ingredients plucked from its own kitchen garden and for its sheer brilliance in terms of flavour combinations. It’s the kind of destination restaurant we’re more than happy to shout about to the rest of the country and its mere presence does Yorkshire a great service.
It’s popularity may be taken as a measure of how good it actually is. Rudding Park (hotel/spa etc) is not the kind of place you just drop by. A drive is essential. As is booking. If you want to eat here, you’ll need to secure your spot well in advance.
Horto is just down from the spa, so don’t be surprised if you spot the odd guest padding by its doors in slippers and dressing gown. Service from the off is brisk, efficient, confident. There’s an a la carte menu but we’re here for the seven course tasting menu at £69 a head (wine pairing is £40 for four glasses/£55 for seven). We didn’t bother with the wine pairing but the tasting menu isn’t bad value, considering you’d probably spend the same (and get less variety) on the a la carte, with starters and desserts from £12-£15 and mains anything up to £35.
The experience began with Oyster Explosion, two delicate spheres served on actual beach pebbles, accompanied by fois gras and rhubarb tart. It was a good start: it really reminds you of the seaside, tempered by the delicate grassy/earthy notes of the rhubarb/fois gras.
There followed a selection of breads: treacle and stout brioche (yum), sourdough and a multiseed cracker, together with roast chicken butter and honey butter with bee pollen. The bread alone was something else, the bee pollen butter a delight. The chicken butter was too rich for me, though.
Then came Loch Fyne scallop, which glistened atop a bed of finely chopped Meyer lemon (a cross between a tangerine and a lemon), apple, pea puree, sorrel and what looked like nasturtium leaves, over which was poured a truffle veloute. What a combination: tangy, fragrant, lightfooted, the veloute added a richness and depth but we felt the scallop, though perfectly cooked, was a touch bland.
Cornish Turbot came next, served with clams, cockles, sea herbs, parsnips from kitchen garden and a chicken reduction, with a fish sauce poured on top. This was lemony and bitter, the chicken reduction had hints of marmalade, stock cube, the fish was nicely cooked, with a firm, stout flavour.
After that, the dish I wasn’t sure about: Yorkshire Beef tartare: a 50-day aged meat, served with chopped artichoke and caper jam, sourdough croutons and and an English mustard emulsion, with cornichons (so good) and mustard leaves. I was won over, it was pickle heaven: sharp, sweet, citrussy, the meat silky and soft as you like.
Nidderdale duck appeared next, served with beetroot and elderberry powder (subtle but it worked) normal beetroot and a duck ragu, which had a real sturdy, beefy flavour, the duck itself just absolutely divine.
At this point in the meal, despite the small portions for each course, we were feeling full but then came an unexpected course, which they called the ‘Crossover’. It won’t be for everyone. It’s meant to be a transition from savoury to sweet and it’s playful enough in its own way but one mouthful of mushroom ice-cream, served in a mini cone and topped with crushed hazelnuts, is all you’ll need.
On to the pud, which started with sea buckthorn (it’s a berry which grows by the sea). It came inside a white chocolate shell, with diced pear, honey and a coconut and umeshu jelly. It’s delicate, uplifting and refreshing and reminded me of eating trifle as a child. How many elements can they combine in one dish?
Finally, there was a sliver treacle tart, served with (deep breath) birch syrup, brown sugar, infused with bergamot orange and ginger and a birch syrup reduction… and yes, there’s still more elements… next to it is a pecan crumble and a quenelle of brown butter ice cream. It speaks of parkin and bonfire night, everything about it you’d happily eat again.
Possibly one thing which detracted was being asked not once but twice at the end of the meal by different waiters how it was, only for each to launch into a somewhat lengthy eulogy of the menu. Well, I suppose they have reason to be proud but still, once was enough.
The final bill, with drinks, was £169 and this included a glass of house white, not cheap at £10.50 and, sit down for this, Hilden still water at £5.55 for 75cl. Hmm. So, note to self: ask for tap next time - an Americano was cheaper at £3.70. Make what you will of the fantasy drinks prices but Horto continues to dazzle and delight.