Two days after storm Ciara wreaked havoc across the country and Yorkshire in particular, we drove from Leeds to Harrogate. The weather was still blustery and wet. We passed the River Wharfe in full furious spate as it helped to drain the sodden Yorkshire Dales, splashed through large puddles on the country lanes, encountered flooded fields and raging streams. We drove back in angry snow-flurries.
The weather was certainly cooking up a storm.
Harrogate is renowned for it’s genteel, up-market feel, the 600 acre Stray grasslands which cosy up to the town and it’s healing spa-waters, though drinking this, ironically, is banned nowadays due to ‘health and safety’ reasons.
The town also takes immense pride in it’s floral displays which have won many awards over the years. It is a lovely place to spend a few hours roaming the sights, in all weathers.
A visit to the flagship Betty’s cafe for an indulgent afternoon tea is as close to a genuine Victorian afternoon experience as you can get, and the queues outside show how highly regarded this is. It would appear that nostalgia IS what it used to be. The freshly hand made sandwiches and superb cakes are a sight to behold let alone to taste, all the while listening to the tinkling notes of the piano player in the corner and being attended to by friendly staff wearing black with white aprons and hair tidy. And that’s just the ladies.
Just on the outskirts of the town is Rudding Park, a privately owned hotel and spa.
The elegant Georgian hotel here is world class and is surrounded by 300 acres of parkland. It has one of Britain’s best spas, complete with rooftop infinity pool, any number of treatments, two golf courses, 2 restaurants, including a 3AA star rated one, and a private cinema. There are 90 bedrooms and suites available here, all of them astounding.
Since opening a few years ago, the hotel has garnered many awards, among them the Best Hotel in England (Visit England 2018), Independent Hotel of The Year (2019) and the Hotel Spa of The Year (AA 2019/20).
There is even an ownership scheme for the lakeside luxury lodges, which are hidden discretely in the glorious grounds. What a fantastic place to live.
Sadly, my visit did not include a stay on this occasion, rather to sate hunger pangs by indulging in one of their lunches.
The approach to the hotel includes a gorgeous drive down a tree lined avenue past parkland to one of several car parks. The hotel itself looks typically Georgian, constructed of solid warm brown Yorkshire stone, whilst the majority of bedrooms are in a sympathetically built modern low-rise extension.
We were greeted at the bar and settled down to a pre-lunch drink. Our lunch was taken in the Clocktower restaurant’s beautiful conservatory which overlooked the lovely, if wind-swept golf course. This room was light and airy, with limestone and marble prominent everywhere. Dominating was a central gnarly old olive tree growing in the centre of the room.
At first glance, the three course a la carte menu looked expensive, but by trawling the many money saving coupon sites we had come up with the same three course meal for less than half the advertised price. A true Yorkshireman at work.
Starters and desserts should have been £9.50 each and mains up to £23. Fillet steak was almost £40. I therefore expected a great meal and that was what we got.
There are a selection of choices on each course.
After ordering, a complimentary slate arrived with two large hunks of olive focaccia bread and a dipping bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Yum.
I chose the smoked salmon with prawns and cream cheese for a starter. This arrived as a well stacked pile of thickly sliced, no fat and delicately smoked fish, the quantity and quality of which far exceeded my expectations. The prawns were juicy and plentiful.
This would have been more than enough for a main course. The half lemon to squeeze over it came wrapped in a ribbon tied muslin cloth to protect the fingers. A nice touch. My wife devoured the wild mushroom tart with roasted chestnuts and was very happy with the excellent textures and flavours.
For mains, I opted for a large and lightly battered haddock fillet with a basket of crunchy, fluffy chips. The accompaniments came in two small pans, one of garden pea puree and the other of tartar sauce. Also supplied were two warm slices of crusty bread. A muslin wrapped half lemon completed the set. The haddock was flaky and almost translucent. Great quality.
Across the table, the pumpkin tortellini with chestnuts and large chunks of Yorkshire Fettle cheese (the Yorkshire version of regionally protected feta cheese), decorated with sage leaves, looked like a magazine photograph and delighted the taste buds.
For dessert, I went for the coffee opera cake, a wonderful square tower of sponge, coffee cream, chocolate, chocolate curls and brittle, surmounted by a scoop of coffee and walnut ice cream, with a walnut topping. Simply divine.
The blow-torched lemon meringue was light and fluffy, accompanied by a refreshing Sicilian lemon sorbet. Another success.
A pot of tea and a barista style coffee (£5 each extra) came with superb, home made petit-fours.
All ingredients are locally produced and supplied. The hotel has over 100 varieties of herbs, edible flowers, fruits and botanicals in their extensive kitchen gardens, for use in their dishes. Some of the botanicals are used by Slingsby Gin of Harrogate in their own products which can be sampled at the comfortable bar.
The very smart staff were numerous, polite yet friendly. Both the meals and service were immaculate and an example to some other establishments.
There was never any pressure to eat up and leave, unlike in some restaurants.
We never felt the clock ticking.This was a very relaxed and leisurely lunch taken in excellent surroundings and with delicious food.
The weather was not the only one cooking up a storm.
For further details go to “www.ruddingpark.co.uk”:https://www.ruddingpark.co.uk/ and follow your sat-nav to HG3 1JH.