THEY do things differently at the Board Inn, Lealholm, a little village tucked away in a valley in the North Yorks Moors. My wife Sue has ordered the scallops in butter sauce as her main and the waitress has just asked her if she’d like a Yorkshire Pudding with it.
“With scallops. Why?” she asks, surprised. “Because it’s Sunday,” the waitress says, as if it is the most natural thing in the world. Sue is about to say no when I intervene. Oh yes she will. I’m having the topside of beef and this way I’ll get two Yorkies. Actually I get three because when my plate arrives there are already two big crispy puds on it.
Everything about the Board Inn is supersized. At most pubs the biggest struggle is between choosing the beef or the lamb or possibly the pork. Here you have to make your mind up between three beef dishes, topside, rib or slow-cooked silverside, all supplied, as a blackboard of breeders, growers and suppliers helpfully informs, by M Wood, a local butcher.
I’ve written before about the pub here. Let your imagination run wild on what your ideal boozer would be and the Board Inn (established 1742) exceeds it. On the banks of the River Esk, it has two unspoiled bars and a dining room decorated with prints and pots and fishing rods, B&B rooms, real beer and good food cooked by landlord Alistair Deans, mostly from ingredients grown within a radius of a couple of miles. The fish is a bit of a problem. It comes from Whitby seven miles up the road.
It’s a perfect sunny Sunday with the sounds of light jazz and show tunes coming from a mature five piece swing band playing on the wooden decking over the river outside the dining room window. With a two girl, three man line-up, they’re the Esk Valley’s answer to Fleetwood Mac.
Lealholm, a pocket-sized village of some 50 homes but still managing to fit in a school, post office and general stores, ice cream and sweet shop, petrol station, garage, post office, three churches, two tea rooms, three water fountains, a garden centre, public toilets and a railway station, is fortunate to have the pub.
Until Alistair and his wife Karen arrived in the summer of 2007 things looked grim on the banks of the Esk. By all accounts the atmosphere at the pub was cold and it opened erratically. “It went up for sale and there was talk of it being turned into a house. There was talk of clubbing together and buying it as a community pub and the next thing we knew it had been sold,” says one resident.
Alistair had form. A former Smithfield butcher, he had run a foodie pub in Sheringham, Norfolk, before heading north. He keeps in touch with the meat business by raising his own cattle “fussed over by Gill and Richard Smith of Wood Hill Farm,” according to the blackboard, and cooking it.
I can tell my wife her scallops are going to be good because I order a smaller version to start with: three tender, sweet little pieces cook with lardons of bacon in a herbed up lemon butter sauce. She has five complete scallops. They have been cooked precisely, are sweet and come with their corals. I mention this because I was once visiting a restaurant kitchen in France and annoyed the chef because I was horrified he was cutting them off and throwing them away.
The topside comes in two slices the size of paving slabs – well, cut thickly at about a quarter of an inch – and are pink as requested, juicy, easily cut and as tasty as they come. It’s the sort of meat you roll aroud your mouth to give all your tastebuds a treat.
The gravy, with more in a jug, is full of meat juices and if the roast potatoes are a little on the plus side of done I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m wondering if the Board Inn is the perfect Yorkshire pub.
We are full but nothing is going to stop me having a rhubarb sundae, full of sharp-sweet poached fruit and homemade ice cream. Sue has an enormous portion of rich beetroot and chocolate cake.
We sit, replete, with our coffees and listen to the band. Sunday lunches don’t come any better than this, we think. And that’s before I go to the bar to pay to discover that someone has already settled our bill.
*We visited while on holiday at the delightful Prospect Coach House in nearby Great Fryupdale a couple of miles away. The two bedroom holiday let is available through www.sykescottages.co.uk