This week when my alarm clock went off there was no sunlight streaming through the crack in the curtains, putting on the 50 deniers was a no brainer, and there was an unmistakeable autumn chill in the air as I walked out the door. This, I told my sun-loving-self was the final nail in the coffin for summer and winter, my least favourite season of them all, is on its way. Sigh. Followed by a little shiver, and then another sigh. Goodbye summer.
This is also about the time everyone chips in their two cents worth about what an average summer it’s been, but as we’ve spent the whole season confined to this island, I can say with some authority that this great British summer hasn’t been all that bad. While our friends were road tripping in Albania, checking out the pyramids in the smouldering desert heat or even downing drinks on Moscow’s rooftop bars, we enjoyed picnics in Clapham Common, sunny afternoon beersies in our backyard, and a much needed escape to the countryside.
Having already been to Cornwall and the Lake District, we wanted to explore another part of England so settled on a couple of days in North Yorkshire. The first reason was to see how this God’s Own Country would stack up to the other God’s Own Country closer to our hearts; the second reason being that I had stumbled upon a little foodie trivia which piqued my interest.
Did you know that outside of London, Yorkshire has the most number of Michelin starred restaurants in the UK? There are six of them… three of which we will get to soon, but first up on our little Yorkshire Food Tour was Vennell’s, a charming Bib Gourmand rated restaurant in the picturesque market town of Masham. We quickly settled into our cottage then made our way to the town, arriving too late to peruse the market goods but in time for a beer at the well-known Black Sheep Brewery before dinner.
The weekend we were visiting, the restaurant was marking their tenth anniversary with a special tasting menu so we were more than happy to head along and help them celebrate. Our evening started with a drink at the bar and a lovely conversation with a couple who have dined at Vennell’s for more or less the whole ten years it’s been open which I thought was a noteworthy endorsement.
The first course of mushroom veloute is never going to be a pretty one no matter what vessel you put it in, the silky smooth earthy taste is what matters. Plentiful mushroom flavours in that little espresso cup. Not suffering the same unphotogenic fate was the vibrant venison carpaccio with soused vegetables, parmesan and truffle oil. While the paper thin slices of venison were faultless, it was the light pickle from the vegetables and saltiness of the Parmesan which elevated the dish. I was bitterly disappointed a certain someone cleared his plate too.
Any mention of a lobster and salmon ravioli, or lobster anything, evokes thoughts of luxury; this is a dish which should be just that little bit special. The plump pasta parcel looked majestic sitting on top of tomatoes and a sweet lobster sauce but upon tasting, was sadly a touch bland and strangely eggy.
I have no doubt that the trio of beef listed on the menu was what initially lured a certain someone into booking a table at Vennell’s; an avid meat eater can hardly look past the promise of brisket, sirloin and beef Wellington all on the same plate so how could we resist? My knife sliced through that sirloin like it was warm butter; tender, pink and juicy, it definitely outshone the brisket, a cut of beef we love but on this occasion found a little dry.
Beef Wellington is another dish which for me, evokes connotations of grandeur; considerable effort goes into making sure the duxelle is well seasoned and not too wet, the pastry cooked but crispy, and the beef fillet still blushing when sliced open. I can happily confirm this was a very well executed version and I was right in saving the best for last when considering which order to tackle the trio.
With a choice of cheese or panna cotta to end the evening, we chose one of each. I’m not a cheese connoisseur and not one who likes to end a meal with it so a certain someone had all three Yorkshire varieties to himself while I happily devoured the vanilla and cointreau panna cotta with orange sauce and vanilla tuile. It’s taken me a while to appreciate a good panna cotta, of which this was one, with the right amount of wobble; I’d previously dismissed them as being lacklustre and boring but the balance has now swung the other way. I particularly like it when the sweetness is offset by some fruit, in this case a zesty orange sauce.
The literal icing on the cake of what was already a thoroughly enjoyable tasting menu was a slice of dense, decadent chocolate cake and a glass of bubbles, this is how all celebratory meals should end in my opinion! Usually I’m the one researching the restaurants and a certain someone just comes along for the ride (and half the bill) but on this trip the tables were turned… I must admit he impressed me with this gem of a find, but of course, he has had a very good teacher!
Vennell’s is run by husband and wife duo, Jon and Laura Vennell; I’m not sure if it’s the norm but on the night we dined, Jon single-handedly fed a full dining room, while Laura and her team ably looked after us. Quite the achievement I think!
And a final note to self, the town is pronounced Mas-sum, not Mash-em as I first thought, which gave me flashbacks to the time I didn’t realise I was saying Mousehole in Cornwall all wrong!