THE PIPE & GLASS: STAR LITE IN EAST YORKSHIRE
The term “lite” comes with all sort of baggage, usually negative.
I use it to describe New York, London Lite. Just like London but without the wit and history.
You can use it to describe a beer. Just like a real beer, but without all those nasty tastes to worry about.
And, you can use it about food, when people accept a reduction in flavour for the similar reduction in calories.
However, “lite” doesn’t always have to mean "shite"
There are times when all of us shy away from the full works in favour of something more simple and down to earth and that is just what you get when dining at The Pipe & Glass in South Dalton in the heart of Yorkshire’s East riding, where James Mackenzi, formerly of The Star in Harome has been cooking with his heart on his sleeve since 2006. There are, however, enough little twists and turns to suggest that the cooking is beginning to outgrow its original intentions and look for wider recognition.
To be honest, I had never heard of the place until it was given the thumbs up by my friend and legendary diner, Gary Marshall who certainly knows his gastro pubs. Along with his lovely and long suffering wife, Sarah, Gary used to run a great place called The Blacksmith’s Arms near York and if he says a place is worth visiting, you can take it to the bank.
The Pipe & Glass, is no small countryside pub however for, although the bar is small and comfortable with a large log fire in front of which to drink your pint of Black Sheep, the dining room is large and the menu, while filled with hearty sounding dishes, has enough about it to suggest that The Star is a target as well as an inspiration.
Excellent, house made Spelt bread added to the expectations and the presentation of the starters confirmed the kitchen's loftier ambitions. Most successful of the three was a superb tuna tartare, which was beautifully seasoned and only slightly let down by the quail egg and salmon “scotch egg” which had been pre-cooked too long until the yolk was hard, leaving nothing to dribble over the fish. Gary’s risotto too, was spot on, using a well-executed Cullen Skink as its base and requiring a pleasing chew on the rice.
My own choice, wild rabbit rissoles, had seemed the prime candidate for “most likely to succeed” and, although the main ingredient was everything you could ask, discs of perfectly cooked wild bunnykins in a crisp crumb, the sauce that coated the plate contained too much butter leaving a slick on the plate, which coated the mouth and swamped the clever addition of beautiful little local cockles. A sharper compliment, like a sauce gribiche, similar to the one surrounding the tuna, would have made this a memorable beginning.
I like a little intercourse as much as the next man, unfortunately, a plate sent out by James for two of his favourite customers containing a tempura of Lindisfarne oysters would have emptied my stomach quicker than watching a belly dance from Simon Cowell. I like oysters, they don’t like me, so I just sat disconsolately as Gary and Sarah made yummy noises and cleaned their plates.
On returning to my family home in Rotherham the next day, I showed my six-year old niece, Biba a picture of Sarah’s main course, she commented “it looks like a fish pie. In fact, it looks like the best fish pie, ever!” I don’t know about that, but the small taste I tried reminded me why a good fish pie can be a thing of beauty, large chunks of flaky fish, a rich sauce and a topping with a sight crunch.
It almost made me wish I had chosen it that is until my own main course arrived, a suet crust pudding, filled with chunks of local venison marinated in red wine, sitting on a bowl of crunchy vegetables and a deep, rich gravy. Breaking open the pudding released a waft of gamey steam and the meat retained a bit, pleasingly as did the pastry. The braised vegetables, including celery, made the side orders of Winter greens and red cabbage we had chosen redundant.
Pudding should have been an impossibility at this point, but we managed to share ice cream which came with a slab of local favourite, Cinder toffee (imagine a smoke flavoured Crunchie bar) and a warm posset topped with forced rhubarb and served with an “East Yorkshire sugar bread” from a Victorian recipe discovered in the Beverley Archives. Both terrific.
This being Yorkshire, you expect and get a lot for your money and a bill of £50 a pop did not seem unreasonable for three pre-dinner drinks, two bottles of wine, three courses and service which was overseen with great efficiency by pregnant Kate who looked like she was only minutes away from adding to the Clan MacKenzie. They breed them tough up North.
It was certainly not a flawless meal, as my starter showed and there is a feeling of gentle conflict between MacKenzie’s talents and ambitions and the demand of Yorkshire folk for large portions at cheap prices. Add that to a poor wine list more suited to a pub than a restaurant and it is obvious that this place is still a work in progress. But, Gary is right about one thing, whatever its future ambitions, The Pipe & Glass is, right now, a damn nice place to have supper.