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Leader of the Hack
2:36pm Friday 9th November 2012 in Leisure
IT MUST be a tough job running your own restaurant. For instance, what do you do if a block booking of ten suddenly cancels with only a couple of hours notice, leaving your restaurant seriously depleted?
In the case of the Hack and Spade at Whashton, near Richmond, you just smile your brightest smile and carry on regardless.
That’s what had happened when we decided to visit the newly re-opened Georgian Inn last month.
It came as a bit of a surprise to discover just one other couple in the restaurant – especially as it came highly recommended by a friend who advised me that it was usually fully booked.
Indeed, I was beginning to feel a bit foolish for reserving a table until the restaurant’s effervescent co-owner Andy Ratcliffe explained what had happened adding: “So you’ve pretty much got the run of the place.”
And what a place. Hidden from view, the Hack and Spade is reached via a sinuous single track country lane that twists and turns for about a mile-and-a-half from Ravensworth, just off the A66.
Although it’s more a gastro-pub than an oldfashioned local, Andy tells me that the dominoes team still meets there every Thursday evening.
He runs the pub with his wife Jane who, he says, does all the hard work – cooking and overseeing the accommodation. The inn has only just re-opened following a two-year hiatus during which it underwent a complete refurbishment.
The couple added five luxury en-suite bedrooms and reduced the number of covers in the restaurant from 38 to 20, which makes dining at the Hack and Spade an intimate experience. If you’re looking for a romantic evening then this is the place. I suspect Andy and Jane will be booked up long before Valentine’s Day rolls around next year.
The stone fireplace, tiled floor and oak beam ceiling lend an authentic country inn atmosphere to the restaurant. Subtle uplighters enhance the cosy mood and, to the left, there’s a comfortable snug where you wait for your table.
The small bar is straight ahead when you come through the door.
Jane prepares all the food on the premises using locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible.
She cut her teeth working in other venues, including the highly rated Shoulder of Mutton at Kirby Hill, and clearly loves her job.
The menu is packed with tempting starters (the smoked mackerel and horseradish pate sounds devine) but Andy offers me something different – a crab salad (£5.50). Maybe it’s because I’m from Scarborough and grew up with seafood of all kinds, but I just can’t resist crab.
THE meat in my salad was just right – light and delicate, with just the right amount of flavour, the taste took me back to childhood days by the seaside – and the mixed salad was beautifully presented.
My Jane opted for the pea and pancetta risotto (also £5.50), a traditional Italian rice dish that tastes smooth and creamy. Again, the presentation was top notch. Both starters came with warm bread and butter.
For our mains, Jane chose a rib eye steak with garlic (good value at £15) and I opted for the chicken breast with Yorkshire blue cheese and toasted pine nuts (a snip at £12).
Jane knows how she likes her steak – and won’t have it any other way. That can be a recipe for disaster when a restaurant asks how she would like her steak done and offers up something still drizzled with blood. In this case, however, we need not have worried. The steak was done as per instructions and the meat was so tender it virtually fell off the bone (a good thing as Jane forgot to ask for a steak knife).
The chicken breast was a tempting package – the blue cheese giving it an unusual creamy taste and the pine nuts adding a bit of crunch. Again, the meat was cooked perfectly, not too dry and not overdone, and the plate came well presented.
Both mains were accompanied by a varied selection of crunchy vegetables.
By now, we were both feeling quiet replete but, given that we were dining in a Georgian Inn, it seemed inappropriate not to try something traditional.
Syllabub is an English dessert that’s been popular for hundreds of years (the famous Mrs Beeton liked it so much that she penned two different recipes).
After decades in the doldrums, syllabub is making something of a comeback. Originally a drink (of sorts) made from milk direct from the cow’s udder into a tankard of cider, it’s now made from sugar, cream, a dash of lemon and either wine or brandy. This is whisked into a light, frothy dessert that tastes simply divine. It also makes the perfect way to end a meal when you’ve no more room for anything heavier.
Throughout our meal Andy was chatty and the service was very attentive. At times, it felt more like a dinner with friends than a meal in restaurant and, as we left, we both agreed that we would definitely be returning soon.
The next time, however, I suspect the Hack and Spade will be rather busier.