Chefs on the Move

If you need to know just how difficult it is to run a restaurant talk to James and Tommy Banks, the two brothers behind the much feted Black Swan at Oldstead. James remembers that despite earning a Michelin they found it difficult to fill this out-of-the-way restaurant on a quiet Wednesday in November. They were on the brink of closure when Tommy took part in the Great British Menu. It meant the Black Swan could reach a wider audience and from then on the phone never stopped ringing. They were, and still are, fully booked every night. TV helped make a success of the Black Swan and led them to open a second location, Roots in York, which was booked out even before it opened.

Tommy Banks of the Black Swan at Oldstead and Roots, York

Things have been less happy for others. Rascills, where chef Richard Johns cooks like a dream but couldn’t get enough punters through the door at the restaurant he runs with his wife Lyndsey at Raskelf and has announced their closure at the end of the year. With plenty to choose from in York, diners have less inclination to travel the 15 miles to Raskelf.

 

Rascills will be there until Christmas, so we urge you to make a visit for dinner or for one of the best Sunday lunches in the county served on the last Sunday of every month.

 

Another distinguished restaurant Alimentum in Cambridge closed earlier this month, though happily for us in Yorkshire, head chef Samir Effa has been signed up by Simon Gueller at the Box Tree, presumably with the job of regaining the Michelin star it lost this year after holding it for 14 years.

 

When Andrew Pern, chef/patron of the Star Inn at Harome lost his Michelin star a few years back, he recalled how he got back in the kitchen and between him and his head chef Steve Smith, they covered every single shift for the next three years until they’d won back that star.

 

Good news then that having taken a back seat for the last few years, Simon Gueller has reported that he will be back in the kitchen invigorating the Box Tree. We wish all these hardworking chefs well.

Michelin Drops the famous Box Tree

The surprise news when the 2019 Michelin stars were announced a couple of weeks ago was that the Box Tree in Ilkley had lost its star. We’ve written before about Michelin’s curious star system and how we are often baffled by those honoured and those serving comparable food that miss out year after year.  I’m thinking Skosh and Cochon Aveugle in York, Home in Leeds and the Hare at Scawton.

Simon and Rena Gueller with friend Marco Pierre White

It’s been a while since I visited the Box Tree so can’t comment whether the demotion by Michelin was justified but I would only say that in the new 2019 Good Food Guide, (IMHO a much more accurate and readable judge of British restaurant food), the Box Tree scored an estimable 6  which translates as ‘exemplary cooking skills, innovative ideas, impeccable ingredients and an element of excitement’.

We have long been supporters of Simon and Rena Gueller from their early days in a little bistro in Harrogate then Leeds and later bringing much needed order out of the chaos that was the Box Tree in the late 90’s. I’m also ever grateful that they came to our house just days after Christmas when everyone else was closed, to cook a fabulous spread for our wedding.

If you care about these things and, of course, for chefs it is the ultimate accolade, and want to tick off the Michelin stars in Yorkshire and nearby here is the list of M. starred restaurants:

The Star Inn at Harome; The Man Behind the Curtain, Leeds; The Pipe and Glass, South Dalton;  The Yorke Arms at Ramsgill; The Black Swan at Oldstead.

Among our near neighbours a star was awarded to Winteringham Fields, a second star for Moor Hall at Ormskirk and for the Raby Hunt near Darlington, a star for Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume outpost Rogan & Co in Cartmel and a new star for the White Swan at Fence.

There you have it. No more nail biting till next October.

Guinea Pigs at Home

Home, the Leeds fine dining restaurant run by Mark Owens (ex Box Tree) and Liz Cottam (Masterchef finalist) have announced their new March menu. Onions they say feature prominently with a posh leek tart then pork belly, pigeon, Coronation chicken and orange parfait. Sounds good to me though be warned, it’s a pricey £70 for 10 courses.

Worth knowing about are their guinea pig nights when for £35 you can sample four experimental courses which are bound to be worth trying. Tables sell out quickly so get on their mailing list for early notice.

Home, 16/17 Kirkgate, Leeds

Vote for your favourite Yorkshire restaurant

Box Tree RestaurantEach year the Good Food Guide invites readers to nominate their favourite restaurant for the Reader’s Restaurant Award. They first make an award to each region and then an  award  to the overall winner.

There is still time to vote, but we can reveal that at the halfway point, the leading restaurants in the whole of the north east are all from Yorkshire. They are: the Box Tree, Ilkley, Eric’s of Lindley, Melton’s, York and the Spiced Pear, Holmfirth.

We think any of these – indeed, any from our Top Ten – would make a worthy winner. Take a look at our reviews and see if you agree.

Last year the GFG was bought by Waitrose so we wait to see what changes that may herald but for now the GFG is our guide of choice, the best and most independent of all the food guides, (except for Squidbeak of course).

To vote got to www.thegoodfoodguide.co.uk

 

 

Le Squidbeak Tour

Leeds Town Hall

In case you’ve had your head under the duvet, the 20th Tour de France starts off from Leeds Town Hall on the 5th July and after 191km  of pedaling they reach Harrogate (don’t they know it’s only 25km?) .

The next day starts in York where they depart, of all places, from the Designer Outlet and continue for another 190 km to finish in Sheffield, and that’s it. They’re off to Cambridge then London for the UK finish along the Mall.

Forgive us for being a bit jaded. I’m sure we’ll be swept up in it come July, just like the Olympics, but with all the hype, the special reports, the supplements, Squidbeak have to admit they are not yet counting down.

Still there’s no denying it’s a spectacular route, so we have devised our own Tour, a route that roughly follows day one of Le Tour, but is about the best places to see and eat.

So, unless you want to stand roadside watching 198 riders flash past in the blink of an eye, we suggest you consider taking  Le Squidbeak Tour between now and July  at  our more leisurely pace.

Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire Dales

The showpiece route centres round the Yorkshire Dales National Park where you can walk the hills and valleys, stroll through chocolate box villages, sample the local craft ales, watch Wensleydale cheese in production and feast on Yorkshire game and Swaledale lamb but most of all, drink in the views. They inspired the French to choose Yorkshire and it’s not hard to see why.

Ilkley is the gateway town of the Dales where you can put a picnic together from the famous Betty’s bakery and tearoom. If you’re feeling flush eat a Michelin star meal at either the Box Tree in Ilkley or the Devonshire Arms, in Wharfedale where the 12th century Bolton Abbey, sits splendidly on a bend on the river Wharfe and where the Dales proper begins.

Box Tree Restaurant, Ilkley

The cyclists will head straight for Grassington, but we can detour through a string of pretty villages: Appletreewick has the delightful Craven Arms and Burnsall the Devonshire Fell. At Grassington, the Grassington House Hotel is good for  lunch or an overnight.  Kilnsey has the mighty roadside crag with its 40ft overhang with invariably a rock climber clinging on to its face. There are detours here to Linton and the  Fountaine Inn, Litton for the Queen’s Arms,  Malham for the peregrines and Arncliffe for the delightfully unspoilt Falcon Inn where ale is still poured from a china jug.

The peloton will be enroute to Kettlewell and over the high pass into Wensleydale, passing close to Aysgarth Falls where a sparkling river Ure pours over broad tables of limestone. Unlike them, you can dawdle in Freeholders Wood carpeted with bluebells and wood anemones in spring. Nearby Hawes is home to the Wensleydale Creamery, with its creamery tour and Wensleydale cheese to take home.

Fifty five miles from Leeds and Le Tour will be heading into Swaledale, my favourite Dale through the villages of Muker – with cream teas in the village tearoom – and Gunnerside where in high summer the wildflower meadows, farmed sustainably for generations, bloom with the likes of buttercups, eyebright and melancholy thistle. We like the Punch Bowl at Low Row and the  CB Inn way up in Arkengarthdale.

Blue Lion, East Witton

At Reeth the peloton will head south to Leyburn where you will eat well at the Sandpiper.  For cake, a coffee and a simple bed for the night, you can’t do better than the Dales Bike Centre at Fremington.  Middleham is famous for it’s racehorse stables and Richard III’s ruined castle then on through pretty East Witton. The cyclists might grab a musette  – a bag of food – you and I can stop for a perfect gastropub lunch at the lovely Blue Lion.  From there it’s a leisurely drive south to Ripon to feast at Lockwoods and the must-see World Heritage  Fountains Abbey before a sprint finish into genteel Harrogate, with its elegant shops, sedate Valley Gardens, glorious Turkish Baths and, of course, Fodder, an irresistible emporium of the finest Yorkshire food produce

After a slap up dinner at Van Zeller’s you can congratulate yourself on completing 120 miles and stage one of the Tour de France 2014, wearing not the yellow jersey but a well earned bib gourmand.

To download a map of the route click here

 

Hot Chefs Head to Head

We were well and truly cosseted last week at the Devonshire Food Festival, a week long extravaganza showcasing the work of the best chefs in the region and beyond.

Chocolate hedgehogDevonshire here means the Devonshire Arms Hotel at Bolton Abbey where the new, young executive chef of the Burlington Restaurant, Adam Smith – just four months in post – was well and truly in at the deep end, cooking and overseeing lunch and dinner by a series of visiting guest chefs over the seven days of the Festival.

If he was on his knees he wasn’t showing it on our visit which was a light-hearted competition between Smith and his potential arch rival six miles down the road at Ilkley’s Box Tree, Lawrence Yates another young ‘un who by coincidence was also just four months into the job.

Over champagne in the lounge, we were asked to choose from two menus, A & B without knowing who was cooking what.

It was a tough call so Mandy and I did the obvious and chose a menu each. Do we need to tell you they were both brilliant? Refined, labour intensive but beautifully matched so that each flavour was allowed to sing.

My highlight was a starter of langoustine and suckling pig served with a rich shellfish bisque; Mandy’s was her peach soufflé, sweet and light as air with a little jug of peach sauce that you add more or less to take down the sweetness so it’s just to your liking. Clever.

 

Menu A

Sauté Langoustine
suckling pig and spiced garden apple
Ruinart Blanc de Blanc

Peppered Venison
chestnut, pear and celeriac
Springfontein Ulumbaza Shiraz, Walker Bay, South Africa

Milk Chocolate Hedgehog
tonka bean and hazelnut
Nicholis Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico, Italy

 

Both menus were text-book in execution. Menu A was the prettier, more delicate and had more elements on the plate. Menu B was more substantial, seemingly simpler but with flavours and textures that married perfectly.

 

Menu B

Seared Scottish Scallops
roasted pumpkin seeds and paste
Il Feudiccio, Pecorina, Colline Teatine, Italy

Fillet of Grass Fed Beef
Braised cheek and bone marrow, shallot marmalade, red wine sauce
Rockford Basket Press, Shiraz, Barossa Valley

Ruby Peach Souffle
almond ice cream
Veuve Cliquot Demi Sec

 

Box Tree BeefAnd the winner? Menu B, by Lawrence Yates from the Box Tree but only by a whisker (and not we trust by any vote rigging from the Box Tree table!) And it turns out the chefs are not rivals after all, but two enthusiastic young chefs loving their new jobs and crazy for all the fine Yorkshire produce on their doorstep.

If you missed the Festival this year, put a note in your diary for mid November 2014 or splash out and catch these keen young chefs on the rise.

 

 

 

Michelin 2014 out today

The new Michelin Guide to Britain and Ireland 2014 is out today with fifteen new stars across the UK and Ireland though none for Yorkshire. Five chefs have held on to their stars: the Box Tree in Ilkley, the Yorke Arms at Ramsgill; The Black Swan at Oldstead; the Pipe and Glass at South Dalton and the Old Vicarage, Sheffield. It’s no surprise that a change of chef (stars are awarded to the chef not the restaurant) at the Burlington Restaurant, Bolton Abbey means they have lost their star. No pressure then on their new young chef Adam Smith to earn it back for next year.

Kaushy Patel of Prashad

Kaushy Patel of Prashad

Bib Gourmand’s (meaning good food at moderate prices) have been awarded to El Gato Negro in Ripponden and Prashad in Drighlington, two of our favourites. Well done both. The only other Yorkshire Bib is Vennell’s at Masham.  Le Langhe in York which we consider serves some of the best Italian food in the UK, they’ve been stripped of their Bib.

 

And what of the rest?  Followers of Michelin should log onto www.elizabethonfood.com who is a dedicated reviewer of Michelin starred restaurants across Europe and has the full breakdown.

The headlines though are that Heston’s Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental and the Greenhouse in Mayfair have both won a second star. L’Atelier Joel Robuchon has gone down from two stars to one. Gordon Ramsey, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, The Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn at Bray have retained their three stars.

It’s noteworthy that of the 142 stars across the UK and Ireland, very few reach the north of England. The exceptions being the five in Yorkshire, L’Enclume in Cartmel (two stars) and a new star for the Samling in Ambleside and for the rest of the north:

Fischer’s of Baslow

Fraiche, Birkenhead

Northcote, Blackburn

Chester Grosvenor, Chester

Raby Hunt, Darlington

Holbeck Ghyll, Windermere

 

Of the 143 Bib Gourmand’s awarded, there are just 11 north of Nottingham. They are:

El Gato Negro, Ripponden

Prashad, Drighlington

Twelve, Blackpool

Waggon, Bury

Bay Horse, Hurworth on Tees

Bistro 21, Durham

Chequers, Gedney Dyke, Lincolnshire

Vennell’s Masham

Broad Chare, Newcastle

David Kennedy’s River Café, North Shields

Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom

We’d suggest they get a few more inspectors on the East Coast Mainline and sample a few more. On the other hand we prefer the Good Food Guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chefs on the Move

Jeff Baker

Jeff Baker

No sooner have we reported on the closure of Create followed by Anthony’s in Leeds than we have to announce the demise of J. Baker’s in York. He cooked for a wedding reception and then closed the doors for good.
What a shame. We’ve always rated Jeff Baker who arrived in York in 2006 after a Michelin star-studded career at Leeds’ Pool Court. His modern, exuberant cooking brought a breath of fresh air to York. We hope he will be back at the stove somewhere in the county very soon.
It’s certainly all change just now. Ex-Harvey Nichols and Create chef Richard Walton-Allen has been signed up by the polished outside catering outfit Dine Consultancy. His short-lived replacement at Harvey Nix Paul Cunliffe has moved on, too, to open a newly refurbed pub, The Dunsforth at Lower Dunsforth in North Yorkshire.
Another brave start-up is Michelin-starred Adam Jackson who has departed the Black Swan at Oldstead for what he describes as a fine dining restaurant, The Park at Sutton Park at Sutton on the Forest, the pile owned by Samantha Cameron’s family.
Elsewhere, Dan Birk leaves the Box Tree to join Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House in Soho though it remains in safe hands under owner  Simon Gueller, while young Adam Smith moves into position at the Burlington Restaurant at the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey.  The fancy hotel and spa at Raithwaite Hall, Sandsend have appointed Martin Pick (one time partner with his brother Chris of Armstrong’s, Barnsley) as temporary head chef following the departure of head chef Darren Iddon to Queens Quay Social in Derry/Londonderry. The permanent chef Mark Johnson starts in October. He trained at Bradford and Ilkley College and has worked at the Connaught, the Ritz and Chelsea’s Sloane Club.
Finally we hear that following the closure of Kitchen in the Alea Casino in Leeds, TV celeb James Martin is renewing his links with the casino owners to open in the Manchester 235 Casino. He remains executive chef of the Talbot Hotel in Malton.

 

Box Tree Restaurant Timeline

Rena Gueller celebrating the Box Tree's 50th birthday with a special cake

This year the Box Tree celebrates its 50th birthday. Today it is in the safe hands of Simon and Rena Gueller, but times have not always been so calm.

Do you remember the Box Tree – its fortunes and misfortunes? Here is our edited timeline. Let us know your memories of the food, the wine, the prices and the characters.

Leave us a comment.

1962  Malcolm Reid and Colin Long, open their camp jewel box of a restaurant, the Box Tree Cottage, in  Ilkley creating one of the country’s top restaurants at a time when there is nothing much to be said for eating out in Britain.

1971 Shirley Bassey opens the dining room extension

1979 A young Leeds lad called Marco Pierre White passes through the kitchens before departing for London and fame and fortune.

In the years that follow, the Box Tree wins two Michelin stars and Egon Ronay’s Best Restaurant in Britain award.
Prices are legendary and with wine, stratospheric

1986 Reid and Long retire selling the place with its antiques and object d’arts for £1 million.

1992 The Box Tree crashes with debts of £50,000 following a falling off of food standards. Bought out of receivership by the dynamic and eccentric Greek-born businesswoman Madame Avis, who immediately signs up MPW. The relationship is predictably short-lived. After three months he stomps back to London as she threatens to sue him for fire damage to the kitchen ceiling.

2004 Chefs come and go under Madame Avis until  Simon and Rena Gueller take over and run it without interference. Simon’s experience and reputation from running his own places – Millers in Harrogate, Rascasse and York Place in Leeds ensure it’s a success. Gueller seems to have found his spiritual home and within 9 months he is awarded a Michelin star restoring the reputation of the Box Tree once more.

21 March, 2011 Box Tree celebrate their 50th Birthday

Happy Birthday Box Tree

Box Tree Menu circa 1964

Box Tree menu circa 1964

 

 

If you are interested in what was the height of sophisticated dining in one of Britain’s top restaurants of the 1960’s, this is a menu from the famous Box Tree Cottage restaurant in Ilkley.  There is no year on the menu, but the month was 23rd February and the price 32/6.

Artichoke vinaigrette and taramasalata were the height of chic. Fried scampi a 60’s treat. Desserts are remarkably straightforward even mundane. Maybe the strawberries tasted better in those days. They should do at five bob extra.

If you have memories of the Box Tree we’d love to hear from you. You can leave a reply in the comment box below.

 

 

Fresh grapefruit and avocado cocktail
Hot creamed shrimps
Quiche Lorraine of smoked salmon
Fresh artichoke vinaigrette
Mussels a la mariniere
Prawn Cocktail
Taramasalata
Chilled Pear Nectar

Cream Crecy

Supreme of chicken chasseur
Boned out breast of chicken cooked with piquant sauce of sliced mushrooms, tomatoes, coriander and sherry
Contra fillet of prime baby Aberdeen Angus
Roast haunch of Highland venison in red wine
Poached new season Tay salmon with Champagne sauce
Caneton Montmorency – Duck with black cherry and port wine sauce
Le Scampi Fritti – Fried Dublin Bay prawns with sauce Gribiche

Fresh strawberries and cream 5/-
Crème brulee
Fresh fruit salad with syllabub
Apricot mousse
Sherry Trifle
Lemon sorbet
Petit pot au chocolate with Curacao

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