Is this the perfect Yorkshire pub?

P1060343 topside of beef at the Board Inn 16-07-2017 16-23-57

Topside of beef blushing pink

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.

P1060341 Scallops starter at the Board Inn 16-07-2017 16-00-56

Sweet scallops with lardons and lemon butter sauc

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.

P1060334 Blackboard Sunday menu at the Board Inn 16-07-2017 15-28-57

The blackboard menu at the Board Inn

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.

P1040102 Board Inn, Lealholm

The Board Inn beside the River Esk at Lealholm

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.

Visit www.theboardinn.com

*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

P1060332 the band plays on at the Board Inn 16-07-2017 15-27-20

The band plays on at the Board Inn, Lealholm

A fry up in Fryup

P1040229 Offering a fry up to Fryup!

A fried breakfast in Fryup

What to have for breakfast when you’re staying in a place called Great Fryupdale? No contest, is it? So that’s bacon, egg, fried potato, oatcake and tomatoes for me. It’s a little ritual I have every time I come to this hidden valley very few people know, even though it’s only 10 miles from Whitby.

There isn’t even a village (although there’s a building called a village hall), just a few farmhouses and scattered hamlets and a post box. Even the name is unsure: the signs say either Fryupdale or Fryup Dale. Either way, it’s next door to Little Fryupdale and Glaisdale, arranged in a row like piglets at the belly of a sow, Eskdale.

There was never any thought of a Full English Breakfast when they came to name the area. The two dales get their name from Frige, the Anglo Saxon goddess of love (the Vikings’ version was Frigg) and ‘hop’ means a small valley: so Frige’s valley. But my fry up could be regarded as a 21st Century votive offering to Frige.

You don’t go through Fryup but to it. A little single track lane lazily circles the dale either side of the beck although there is a spur which climbs dizzyingly up the hillside and over the moors to Rosedale and beyond.

I’m not sure about the people (only a few hundred) but the rabbits breed like, well, rabbits here. Stroll down the lanes of a midge-filled evening, look across the fields and clap your hands like a gun going off. Their white tails bob furiously as they run for cover to the hedges.

I dream that if I lived here all year round I would have a gun and eat rabbit pie. Or rabbit ragu, perhaps with a wild garlic pesto made from the leaves which line the verges, the white flowers twinkling like stars. Instead, I usually stay for a week at Prospect, a converted coach house owned by local teachers.*

The dale is a larder. Up above, the moors will be heavy with bilberries come late July. In the valley, along with the rabbits, sheep and cows graze. And somewhere there are pigs, unseen, but they’re there because we eat one later.

Just over two miles away, out of the dale in the parent valley of Eskdale, is the village of Lealholm. Besides the river is the Board Inn, the sort of pub you imagine only in your wildest foodie dreams.

P1040102 Board Inn, Lealholm

The Board Inn beside the River Esk at Lealholm

Former butcher turned chef Alistair Dean and his wife Karen have turned this 18th century inn into a real beer and real food haven. The boast is that all the main ingredients are sourced within 500 yards of the pub. Now how’s that for terroir? Perhaps not the fish, from Whitby, but the trout might just have been hooked from the Esk alongside.

Blackboards in the bar give the pedigree and provenance of almost everything Alistair cooks. So they list the serial number of the heifer which donated your steak, its owner, who ‘despatched’ it and for how long it was hung. And it’s not just the meat. Providers of the eggs, potatoes and even who grew the rhubarb get a name check.

Don’t think gastro pub but good, honest, homely cooking without Fancy Dan gastro prices. For our Sunday lunch we had some wonderful pork which came from Fryup and pot roast mutton on the bone, followed by rhubarb sundae. Lovely.

Lealholm has a railway station. Ten miles down the line is Whitby, which has so many fish and chip shops and restaurants you could have fried cod or haddock in a different place once a week and not go back to the same place.

For us, the acme is the Magpie Café but then we only go to Whitby once a year and always eat there. Others, who eat in Whitby more widely, tell us the Magpie has slipped. I’m not sure it has but the menu is certainly trendier. These days you can also get habas fritas, fried broad beans, to nibble if you don’t fancy the vinegared cockles to nibble while you’re waiting for your fish. Actually, I do want the cockles and they are lovely.

There is a dazzling array of fish to eat, fried, poached, steamed and gluten-free but this is Yorkshire and for me it’s got to be battered haddock, the Northerners’ fish, although I am from Down South. My wife, who isn’t, has the cod.

But first I have three shucked oysters, served with lemon and shallot vinegar, as juicy and briney as you could wish for. The haddock comes with a wonderfully crisp and rippling batter, echoing the waves outside. The chips aren’t bad and the mushy peas, just dried peas and water, nothing else, are heavenly. I like the haddock but the flavour might just have been more pronounced but you’d only mention this in a place where you naturally expect perfection.

So I’m going to mention the tartare sauce as well. As I remember they used to make their own. This was a commercial confection, cheap and vile. Yet, oddly, the woman at the next table loved it. There’s no accounting for bad taste, is there?

*Prospect can be booked via http://www.sykescottages.co.uk

P1040171 Magpie Cafe, Whitby

The Magpie Café, Whitby