Spofforth, five miles to the south of Harrogate and three miles from Wetherby is a lovely little village with an ancient history.
The most prominent features of the village today are the remains of Spofforth Castle, an 11th century fortified manor house, later extended and castellated, built by the powerful and influential de Percy family. This proud construction was ruined during the English Civil War as the de Percy’s unfortunately chose the wrong side to support. Ooops.
It was rebuilt in the 16th century, but again allowed to lapse and the substantial ruins now reside under the care of English Heritage (free to enter, 7 days a week).
Just down the road from the castle, excavations were being made in 2001 in relation to new housing on arable land. Builders were alarmed to find large quantities of human bones being unearthed.
These later proved to be the remains of up to 400 Anglo-Saxon people in what was a previously unknown burial ground.
The majority of bones were carbon dated to between AD660-890.
The remains included a giant skeleton almost 7ft tall, buried with some significant grave goods, indicating a person of some apparent standing in the community.
Just around the corner from the castle stands the appropriately named Castle Inn, which has served the residents well for many decades. The last few years saw it stagnate somewhat and it was clear that major investment was required to bring it up to date.
Malvern Inns, formed in 2010, opened their first pub at Backwell in Bristol in 2011. They went on to refurbish the Square and Compass at North Rigton in North Yorkshire (see my earlier review), and saw further promise in the Castle Inn. Malvern now operate these three ventures.
All are in villages which give easy access to larger towns nearby.
Together with Punch Taverns, they have invested heavily in completely refurbishing the Castle and it’s associated barn into an up-market, 9 bedroom hotel/restaurant/pub which opened in October 2016. The bedrooms opened for bookings in December 2016.
All nine bedrooms are en-suite. Four are in the main building whilst four occupy The Barn and have wooden beamed ceilings. One of these is a ground floor room for the less able.
One has a four poster bed and all are individually designed to reflect the ambience of various castles around the U.K.
The Castle offers a contemporary restaurant as well as private dining and benefits from an al fresco courtyard dining area with a retractable roof (not yet complete as of Jan 2017). Great for warmer periods.
Head Chef Stu Paton has a policy of using locally produced seasonal ingredients (which restaurant of worth offers anything less these days?) and offers dining seven days a week.
The décor in the main building is very modern with muted colours. Lots of wood has been used around the walls. It seems to have a Scandinavian vibe which will not be to everyone’s taste or expectation in such an old building, but it worked for me and made a pleasing change from the mis-matched furniture and faux distressed look which is so popular nowadays.
Splashes of colour are provided by woollen throws draped over chairs here and there. Very trendy and Hygge. We felt right at home.
The log burner at one end of the large and airy main dining room will come into it’s own during cold snaps over the winter.
On our visit, the menu catered for modern restaurant tastes yet with a nod to our British heritage in the form of staples like haddock and chips with mushy peas and chicken in a basket. (Soup in a basket was considered, but a non-starter apparently).
An innovative way to start your meal are the sharing bowls, an intriguing choice of three bowls chosen from five choices from each of ‘The Sea’, ‘The Garden’ and ‘The Farm’ for £14.
Like Oscar Wilde, I can resist everything except temptation, so a friend and I went for the three bowls. We selected Prawn Pil Pil with tear and share bread, Feta cheese with olives, tomatoes, and green beans in herb vinaigrette whilst honey glazed chorizo sausages with creamed cannellini beans completed the dishes. A tasty and piquant trio if ever there was one.
Other starters range from £5 to £8.95.
For mains, I stayed traditional with a hunk of smoked gammon, chips, fried egg and with the added twist of a length of caramelised fresh pineapple.
Across the table the beautifully fresh and crisply battered haddock looked and tasted delicious whilst the crispy chilli beef strips on bean sprouts, peanuts and spicy Asian chopped salad was also a huge hit with my other guest.
Mains are £10.25 to £20 (for a 10oz ribeye steak).
Puddings are from £5.25 to £7.25, though the very thought of puddings at this stage was too much to contemplate.
Be aware though that the food portions are generously sized and may even have defeated the ‘giant man of Spofforth’ let alone me.
The shot glasses of smarties were an unusual and fun addition to the lovely, bright tasting coffees we finished the meal with.
There is an extensive and carefully selected wine and champagne list to cater for the most discerning of palettes from £16 – £50 a bottle.
True to it’s roots as a local pub, their are five locally produced real ales on draught with a standard Grene King pint to accompany them. Keg lagers are also on offer.
The staff were polite and efficient but in these early days, have still to ease into the comfortable, friendly banter stage.
Great to see a fading, humdrum pub brought back to life once more, and so successfully.
It’s not the cheapest of restaurants but the quality and ambience were excellent.
Like the giant man, it certainly stands head and shoulders above the local crowd.
For menus, bookings and a photo gallery, go to www.thecastleinnharrogate.com.