I GUESS this curiously-named inn must once have been topped by a magnificent thatched roof, though that has long since been replaced by low-maintenance tiles.
Its imposing stone frontage is set back from the main street which winds through this pretty commuter village, a mile or so east of the A1. From the roadside, a path leads to the front door through a pretty beer garden, abandoned in this freezing spring, but a popular suntrap in summer.
Though perhaps less well known than some of its rivals, the Queen O’ T’Owd Thatch is fast gaining a reputation as one of Yorkshire’s very best dining pubs.
Stepping inside, it is immediately apparent that this place strives to be both a quality restaurant and a friendly village inn for the locals. There are plenty of other places which tread this fine line, and not all of them succeed – often an emphasis on the food slowly drives the drinkers away; in others a lively pub atmosphere can put off those hoping for an intimate dinner for two. But on the evidence of this visit, I’d say it’s a trick which the Queen O’ T’Owd Thatch is managing to pull off. The atmosphere is friendly, warm, benign, both drinkers and diners equally at home.
A stone-flagged area beside the front door leads to a small bar with four real-ale handpumps, which doubtless pull in thirsty locals. A cosy snug to the right and a more airy drinking space to the left aren’t specifically for drinkers only but it seems to be where the locals hang out. From here a short flight of steps leads to a mezzanine where specials blackboards and colourful displays subtly enforce the message this area is the preserve of diners.
Though we do slightly start on the wrong foot: “We don’t seem to have a booking in your name,” says the chap behind the bar, this is quickly amended when his colleague points out that he’s got the diary open at the wrong page.
The sure knowledge that whatever you order will be a treat, makes choosing all the more difficult. From the specials board, I order croquettes (£6), three chunky tubes of black pudding and spicy chorizo, wrapped in a thin breadcrumb crisp and imaginatively served on a bed of beans and decorated with salad leaves.
My partner’s bitter rollmop herrings (£6) are beautifully presented as silver pillars on a crimson smear of beetroot with horseradish of sadistic strength. The chef has clearly taken such pains about constructing the dish so attractively on the plate that it seems a crime his work should be so rapidly desecrated.
We follow these delicate starters with more robust main courses. There are several different steak options on offer, including a vast 16-ounce T-bone, but my partner decides on the 8oz Butcher’s Steak (£14), served to a perfect medium with a hint of bloody pink and accompanied in time-honoured fashion by roast mushroom and tomatoes, thin chips – and a luxurious sauce of port and blue cheese. The Queen makes great play of its meat’s provenance; the steaks are from Syke House Farm, Wetherby, one of the best in the business.
I’ve again gone to the specials, and chosen the pie of the day (£13.50), a hearty swamp of chicken, ham, mushroom and a rich sauce, all encased in a proper pie crust – top, bottom and sides – in an enamelled bowl.
Again there are chips, but we have also ordered a side dish of cauliflower cheese (£2.80) which turns out to be the only disappointment of the evening. Rather than being served in a soft creamy cheese sauce, a clump of large florets seem to have been simply draped in grated cheddar and baked until this topping is golden brown, leaving them rock hard and without any actual moisture.
Our wine has been chosen with the fulsome main courses in mind. While some may baulk at the idea of pairing a full-bodied plummy Tempranillo (£15) with herrings, it proves a fine accompaniment to the hearty, meaty dishes which were to follow. This was from the budget end of the Queen’s substantial wine list, while there’s also a good choice of whiskies, gins and cocktails.
After a brief interval as we draw breath, our desserts arrive. From a list of old school favourites like steamed ginger sponge and apple crumble, my partner has opted for the chocolate fondant (£6.50), served nicely warm with delicate hazelnut and tonka bean ice cream. The choice of cheeses changes almost daily. You can pick three or six, but after expressing a preference for the Wensleydale, I let the waitress choose my other two (£7.75). This isn’t merely idleness on my part, more a reflection on her service, which has been genuine and attentive. When they arrive, one is is a pungent goat’s cheese, the other a soft, sensuous blue, each a good counterpoint to the creamy crumbly Wensleydale. A slate of crispy thin biscuits, chutney, gherkins and silverskin onions completes this final savoury assault on the senses.
I settle up a bill for a little over £75, before rich, rousing coffees stir us sufficiently to be sent happily out into the snowy, blustery, darkening night.
Queen o’ t’Owd Thatch, South Milford
Address: 101 High Street, South Milford, LS25 5AQ
Food serving times: Noon-3pm and 5-8.45pm Mon-Thur, noon-9.45pm Fri-Sat, noon-6.45pm Sun
Telephone: 01977 685096