If you found yourself in North Yorkshire, you may end up driving through Staveley. It’s a typical little village with a sprinkling of houses, a church and a village pub. You might be mistaken for missing the pub as you drive through as it is set a little way back from the main road and the subtle green sign blends in well (a bit too well?) with the leafy surroundings.
But if you do miss it, you’d be making a bit of a mistake. Because the Royal Oak at Staveley isn’t just a great country pub stocked with real ale, open fires and friendly faces. Their restaurant is home to some of the nicest food I’ve had in North Yorkshire in a long time.
The owner, Daniel Parry, has been cooking all over Yorkshire for a while and took over the Royal Oak about 4 years ago with his partner, Cheryl. They’ve created a something really special – a relaxed, local pub feel that is also inviting to outsiders, and the sort of place you’d travel to specially to eat.
We went on Saturday night with some friends and were treated to a six course tasting menu extravaganza. All by a roaring fire on a cold February night – bliss!
After drinks at the bar (which was fairly busy but by no means too crowded), the evening kicked off with a winter mushroom broth. Served in a deep round glass with a Wensleydale scone on the side, this soup was ridiculously intense in flavour.
Probably because mixed in with the cream were field mushrooms, girolles, some truffle, truffle oil, truffle brine and probably about 10 other mushroom-related ingredients I’ve already forgotten! In fact, the soup was so rich I couldn’t eat it in one go – but because it was in a cheeky little glass I kept hold of it for the next couple of courses as a far superior substitute to water.
Next up was beetroot. But, at risk of sounding like a cheesy M&S ad, this wasn’t just any ordinary beetroot. The skill and creativity of the chefs came out through the beetroot spaghetti, beetroot caviar (little spherified gems), beetroot jelly (my total favourite), beetroot foam and beetroot sorbet. Ok, so I’m a bit biased as beetroot is one of my best ever foods but this really was a massive treat. Each element had a totally different texture but still retained that sweet, earthy taste. And while sometimes these dishes can be a bit style-over-substance-poncy, this one was the opposite. It showed off this ingredient in all its best lights.
The accompaniment for this beetroot bonanza was equally stunning. A choice of smoked salmon, goats’ cheese or ham hock. Each arrived in a little jar that opened to let a plume of smoke out. The salmon had been given an extra burst from the smoker that resides in the back garden of the pub. The theatrics were lots of fun and again, flavours were spot on.
I went for the ham hock which was lovely but think Tom’s choice of salmon edged it. The fish was a deep pinky orange and smoked with applewood. The aromas of applewood wafted round the room for the whole of this course which was a nice touch.
I was driving so couldn’t partake in the next course – winter Pimm’s. Note to self: NEVER AGAIN drive if I’m heading over the Staveley as I missed out on Pimm’s and brandy with grapefruit sorbet and Cinnamon. Although the drink was cold, the smells were all of Christmas – the perfect blend of winter and summer in a glass! We chucked the cinnamon sticks onto the fire to keep the drink going for that little bit longer.
I’m glad this course went by quickly so I could get back in the game for the main event.. braised Ox cheek with malted onion, winter greens, mash and gravy. Sounds simple but the flavours were again rich and intense. The Ox cheek has been slow cooked and melted in the mouth, the mash was creamy, rich and smooth and the veg had been shown a decent amount of butter. The onion was lovely and sweet from the malt and the gravy was almost a jus but just stayed on the right side of the gravy fence, and it’s always reassuring when extras turn up at the table.
By this point I was flagging so couldn’t manage all of the delicious desert of raspberries, meringue and lemon mousse that arrived next. Again, a few variations on a raspberry theme (pulped, dehydrated and reduced) made for fun textures and I’m reliably informed by Tom (who got most of my pud) that the lemon mousse was smooth with just the right balance of sharp and sweet.
Although stuffed, there is always room for cheese (I wonder how many times I can say this in one blog?!) and with a selection of Harrogate Blue, Kit Calvert and Abbott’s Choice cheddar it would have been rude not to have scoffed the lot. So I did. And to help it all down was some crunchy celery and a fine selection of crackers. Some cheesy ones, a few plain ones (for the rich blue cheese) and the most delicious crisp breads stuffed full of seeds, sun dried tomato and with a hint of chilli. I love it when restaurants put the same amount of thought into the crackers as they do the cheese. It make all the difference.
Phew – I’m stuffed again just writing about how much we ate! But, spaced over a good few hours (the service was spot on by the way – we never felt rushed but weren’t left hanging around either), it was just right.
So all that was left for the evening was to settle up – prices are pretty reasonable with main dishes costing around £15 – drive home and slip into a food coma.
Would I go back to the Royal Oak? Definitely. Would I drive there again? No chance. Too much boozy fun to be had.
But if you do happen to be driving up near Knaresborough then this is definitely a detour worth taking. You might not get textures of beetroot every day of the week but you will get great food in lovely surroundings next to a roaring fire… and on a cold winter’s day, life doesn’t get much better than that.