Review: Devonshire Arms Brasserie, Bolton Abbey

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THIS place has to pick a careful course. For those drawn to the gently unfolding slopes of Wharfedale this must always be a perfect retreat at the end of a long walk.

Yet for those staying in the splendid country house hotel next door, it must also offer quality dining entirely in keeping with their lap-of-luxury experience. It’s a difficult balancing act, yet one it carries off with some aplomb.

Mind you, it’s had plenty time to practice. This was already a well-established coaching inn before it came into the hands of the Dukes of Devonshire in 1753. And while you’re unlikely to bump into them propping up the bar, the Duke and Duchess do take a keen interest in the place, not least when it comes to choosing a new colour scheme.

If you’re staying in the hotel, you pass the high-end Burlington Restaurant before approaching the bar through a long corridor dominated by glass cabinets stocked with an eye-catching display of wines. You can feel the weight of history hanging about the place; if you’re in a cagoule, damp scarf and muddy boots, you’re probably best to enter from the rear, rather than risk disapproving aristocratic ghosts dogging your every step.

However you get there, you arrive in a room of stripped pine floors, white walls and ceilings, where a blood-orange back bar and funky striped upholstery offer a big splash of colour. In one corner, a wood-burning stove throws out much-needed warmth on a chill winter night.

On the bar, either side of a gleaming ice bucket the size of a small yacht, are handpumps serving three Yorkshire real ales – Black Sheep, Saltaire Blonde and Copper Dragon’s Golden Pippin ­– and lager fonts offering choices from Belgium, Italy, and er, Skipton, which is the home of Radka Pilsner.

I begin to re-acquaint myself with the easy-going, refreshing Blonde before working my way through the brasserie’s quite small menu. The pub end of the operation may offer a more relaxed, laid-back dining experience than the more hushed, formal service along the hall, but the food maintains the high standards of the Burlington.

I start with the small but flavour-packed smoked salmon fishcakes, given a twist of drama by the soft poached egg which oozes bright yellow yolk; my partner’s salad is a simpler affair yet equally well presented.

For my main course I opt for the beef cheek, yielding tender meat with a rich mushroom jus and a mash devilishly spiked with horseradish. I pair this with Black Sheep, a darker, more assertive and more traditional Yorkshire bitter than the Saltaire Blonde. My partner’s moist, juicy haddock is lightly battered and balanced upon a spread of golden chips with a tiny saucepan of mushy peas for good measure.

The menu makes great play of its local credentials – steaks from Kirkby Malzeard, cold meats from Lishman’s in Ilkley, fish from Whitby, cheeses from the Dales, salads from the kitchen garden.

And it’s clearly popular. Plenty of people are dining on this midweek evening, several of whom are also staying in the hotel.

They’re busy, but the friendly staff in their attractive pale pink and black livery deal with the rush, delivering food and drink and genuine hospitality with an effortless ease.

If only my lavish YEP expense account would run to B&B...

FACTFILE

Bolton Abbey

Type: Pub and restaurant

Host: Tom Stockdale

Opening Hours: Noon-11pm daily

Beers: Black Sheep, Saltaire Blonde and Copper Dragon Golden Pippin; Radka Pilsner, Stella Artois and Moretti lagers; Murphy’s stout

Wine: High-quality wine list, with a good choice available by the glass

Food: Quality brasserie menu served lunchtimes and evenings daily

Children: Welcomed

Disabled: Straightforward access from the rear

Accommodation: High-end bed-and-breakfast available in the hotel and spa

Beer Garden: Attractive patio area to the rear

Parking: Large car park

Telephone: 01756 710710

Website: thedevonshirearms.co.uk

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