Has anyone else noticed that everyone is talking about the ‘F-word’ right now? There’s great debate over what it actually means, and it’s not only the women bandying it around, men are getting in on the action too. I’ve never used it to describe myself, but I guess I am one… so here goes, I’ll admit to you that I am a feminist. Though I would actually prefer to describe myself as an egalitarian because equality for all is actually what we’re striving for, right? Growing up in the ‘girls can do anything’ generation, it blows my mind that it was once commonplace to think and even proclaim that a woman’s place was in the kitchen. However what renders me even more speechless is the contradictory stereotype that it was only a kitchen in the home, the professional variety was still a man’s world. What the?!
Luckily the earlier stereotype is almost completely erased and I’d like to think we are making inroads with banishing the second one but we’ve still got a way to go. While watching this year’s Great British Menu honouring the Women’s Institute, I was a little disappointed to see less than a handful of female chefs competing and only one getting through to the finals. According to Great British Chefs, of the 169 Michelin starred restaurants in the UK right now, only eight are headed up by women, even with my poor grasp of numbers I know that’s a teeny tiny percentage. But it’s still an improvement on the year before so with my ‘girls can do anything’ attitude I have faith it’ll keep growing.
One of the women in this exclusive group of talented chefs is Frances Atkins, co-owner and chef at The Yorke Arms, an absolutely stunning restaurant with rooms located in the Yorkshire Dales. I salivated over Frances’ food in last season’s Great British Menu and fancied a certain someone and I recreating the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon double act from The Trip, so it was a no brainer that this would be the finale to our Yorkshire Food Tour!
The drive to the restaurant is quite an effort but it’s completely worth every twist and turn… from the outside, the ivy covered walls create quite the impact, from the inside, the dining room has a sense of quality and occasion. We enjoyed our wine and intricate canapes on the terrace, just catching the last of the day’s sunshine before heading settling into our table with a little tomato and fennel amuse bouche. To mark the final night of our tour we decided on the surprise eight course tasting menu; a great option for those wanting to sample the best of the seasonal dishes.
As someone who takes first impressions seriously, I think the first course is the most important as it sets the scene for the rest of the meal. The lobster dumpling in broth with crab and crispy vegetables we started with was immaculately presented and full of flavour; this set a very high standard for the rest of the courses. The smoked ham and rabbit press with tamarind and mushrooms, and the lovage and onion tart with garden vegetables and cacao nib were both vibrant on the plate and palate.
A dish of apple crusted saddle of venison, oxtail and sweet potato had a lot going on but it was harmonious; complimenting the excruciatingly inviting venison were elements of sweetness and spice. This combination of wholesome ingredients and technical finesse resulted in our kind of fine dining, all the quality minus the pretension!
The desserts gave us the best of both worlds; something rich and decadent in the dark chocolate mousse with raspberry, pistachio ice cream and chocolate and nut bar, followed by an ethereal Grand Marnier soufflé with strawberry and rhubarb parfait. It takes a lot to challenge my love of chocolate and the soufflé almost did it but that classic chocolate and raspberry combination is unbeatable in my opinion.
This is where I usually like to end a meal, on a high, more specifically on a sweet note but we still had cheese on its way… I know many who would find this prospect quite exciting but for me, it’s all a little daunting. Cheese is something I like to have with crackers as a snack (or grilled on toast with marmite but it’s probably un-foodie like to admit that) so that board filled with an amazing selection of Yorkshire cheeses was a little wasted on me… but any cheese-lover would have been in raptures!
This dining experience was exceptional. No ifs or buts about it – I can’t fault the service and I think it’s obvious we loved the food, but the icing on the cake for me was sneaking a peak into the kitchen and seeing Frances at the helm. With so many chefs merely putting their names to restaurants but barely gracing the pass, it was great to see this chef still overseeing her kitchen! The Yorke Arms has held its Michelin star continuously since 2003 and it is very easy to see why, here’s to many more years!
When You’re Not Eating
- Spend the day at Fountains Abbey and Study Royal; not only are the ruins of the abbey impressive but the grounds are perfect for wandering. Sit by the water gardens, stroll through the forest, or go deer spotting in the medieval deer park!
- If you’re feeling peckish after all this fresh air and strolling, pay a visit to Harrogate establishment Betty’s for a cuppa and cake… we thought it was a little overrated but best go see for yourself!
This was the final stop on our Yorkshire Food Tour; four days of what I can only describe as incredible food in stunning settings. Perhaps tackling one Bib Gourmand and three Michelin starred restaurants in such a short time is a little extravagant but we loved every moment of it… except maybe those moments where I got us rather lost, a certain someone was definitely not impressed then!