Usually, I measure the appropriate time between revisiting a review in years rather than months.
In what has to be a first for me, I was back at Horto at Rudding Park in less than 12 months. Why so soon? Because last year I ended my review with the future of Horto hanging in the balance, wondering if the then temporary pop-up over the golf shop would become permanent.
I for one wished it would as this was a seriously great restaurant and for it to disappear would have been a huge loss for the county. Happily, it has not only continued but has relocated into the recently opened (and utterly stunning) multi-million-pound spa at the hotel.
What a smart move on the part of Rudding this is, as Horto gets a glamorous home and the short walk past the spa reception to Horto’s door affords seriously tempting glimpses of the pampering atmosphere on offer. Plus, the place is dual-purposed as by day the menu serves worthy, squeakily healthy and no doubt delicious (I have yet to try it) food befitting the spa guests. But, by night it is all change as the kitchen switches back into the hands of talented chef Murray Wilson and his team.
Chef’s premise of his menu, led by what the extensive garden at Rudding under the watchful eye of head gardener Adrian Reeve offers up, remains, so seasonality, freshness and creativity are the keys to what appears on the plate; this approach, of course, is best suited to a tasting menu, so thank goodness that has not changed either.
Gone, however, are the showy culinary theatrics in the dining room from my last visit and all the magic now takes place in the kitchen. Chefs still pop out from time to chat, but now undistracted, staff are profoundly on purpose both back and front of house with diners able to focus on the food and intriguing wines.
As a reviewer – and I am sure for the reader too – the tasting menu though is hard to both write and read. The sheer number of components is often too many to describe in detail, but at Horto the amount is staggering; I started counting but by the time I went past 60 I was losing it. I have the utmost respect for the team here that they can keep track of these ingredients, let alone store, prep and cook them while making sure each one is the best it can be.
The highlights of this nine-course culinary fest though deserve mention. First up is the optional wine flight. I highly recommend this way especially here, as they are serious about wine and have done the job for you.
There are a few surprises along the way though. A Slingsby Gin and tonic with three snack starters contained botanicals from the garden at Rudding and an elderflower tonic which made this deliciously dangerous as it was too easy to drink. Surprise two was a fermented in the bottle sparkling Sake. I didn’t see that one coming.
A 20-ingredient from the garden salad stands out for the freshness and individuality of each tiny part which was extraordinary together with a touch of bacon crumb, millet, spelt bread and dill butter.
Exceptionally fresh Whitby crab came with a silky pea puree, yuza and a promise of peanut – which we failed to find. A chunk of Scottish cod with mussels, a flash of Danish-style curry and cabbage came layered one on the other and topped off with a potato crisp.
A neat block of hogget cleverly brought in the meat without overpowering the delicacy of the flavours surrounding it, namely tiny, podded broad beans and verbena. Much as I enjoyed the food, the textured plate-cum-bowl it was served on was captivating, and if it is possible to fall in love with a plate, I did.
Not one dish or ingredient let this experience down. It was only personal tastes or preferences that managed to get slightly in our way, and are not worth a mention.
From the handsome zinc bar, glass lights, imposing artworks, multi-coloured (and comfy) chairs and benches, this place oozes individuality and serious style. Front of house buzz around the room and are consummate pros, as unequivocally, are the team in the kitchen.
In my last review, I made mention that I missed Murray’s astute sense of adventure. Well, it is back, and in spades. This place is seriously good.
Horto, Rudding Park Hotel, Follifoot, Harrogate HG3 1JH. 01423 871350. Open seven days a week. Tasting menu, £63 per person.