It was the day the clocks went back: when dark nights and hefty clothes make their presence known.
When with the flick of the big hand, our diet moves to the comfort zone and it becomes acceptable to live on robust reds and creamy mash at every mealtime.
The day in point was everything you love about the late autumn: dazzlingly blue skies, low-slung sun and a manageable chill in the air.
We made the drive to Leyburn in the Yorkshire Dales (see our Luxe Local pages)and drove over heathery hills soaking in the joyful views.
Our destination for lunch was the Garden Rooms at Leyburn, which is housed in the Tennants Auction Room building.
The building is new and impressive, housing regular – and fascinating – auctions and there is plenty to look at in terms of collector displays – on this day some beautiful vintage cars – from a pristine Jaguar to very shiny and much-loved blue Morris Minor.
There is a more regular cafe and a gift shop too – and concerts bringing young acoustic performers to candlelit cafe-style gigs.
So where we might have expected stuffy, there was definitely a more relaxed vibe going on. On sale day too the Garden Rooms offers up a main and glass of wine menu for £10 – this day, a whole roast slip sole with new potatoes.
The restaurant is smart and stylish: elegant and welcoming with diners of all ages and mixes. There are curvy, plush booths to sit in and a colour pop of modernity with brightly upholstered chairs.
Breast and leg of partridge are by far best eaten when cooked by someone else
The a la carte menu featured a neat but well chosen selection: partridge, venison, ribeye and seabass plus a veggie option.
A Dales menu is excellent value at two courses for £14 with starters such as game pate and mains ranging from shepherd’s pie to Yorkshire Blue macaroni cheese. Serious comfort there.
Warm from the oven bread arrived with lovely salty butter.
My starter of tempura king prawns (£5.50) consisted of four meaty prawns, well-cooked in a crunchy batter with little rice puffs. The batter ‘case’ left the juicy prawns intact and perfect for dipping in a very perky chilli sauce.
Crayfish and smoked trout cocktail (£5.50) with apple, watercress and yoghurt dressing was meaty and fresh-flavoured, trout sweet and gently smoked.
A brioche hen’s egg and streaky bacon starter (£5.50) (breakfast by any other name) was clever – an egg-shaped hole in brioche slice then the egg cracked and fried – and impeccable slithers of local bacon alongside.
My main course was a sea bass fillet (£12.50). It was pan-fried, soft fleshed and crisp skin side-up on arrival, bedded on top of creamy potato puree. Blissfully delicious was the braised fennel alongside, a favourite of mine. Half a big bulb, soft and buttery as could be with caramelised edges. A creamy sauce of knobbly brown shrimps made the whole dish a really good combination of textures and flavours.
Breast and leg of partridge (£14) are by far best eaten when cooked by someone else. This bird is a gently flavoured member of the game family and really doesn’t need too much cooking. This was soft and tender with that hint of game flavour that is never overpowering. Added to this, the combination of celeriac puree
and fondant, creamed barley, sprouts and walnuts and a gentle red wine jus created a dish that was the essence of the seasons.
The hungry teenager with us also laid into an 8oz Waterford Farm burger (£10.50), which came dripping with molten cheddar. It was meaty, just pink and super-juicy with a pot of crispy fries alongside – and he was defeated by it.
For desserts, the combination of dark gingery Yorkshire parkin and home-made banana ice-cream (£5) was memorable. We reckoned the bananas had been caramelised before becoming ice-cream with their treacly flavour.
Spotted Dick (£5.50) with egg custard was a definite Yorkshire portion, but a contrasting delicacy came from a peanut butter and jam slice (£4.50) with raspberry and strawberry puree. It’s an impressive food destination, the Garden Rooms, there’s real attention to detail in the cooking and obvious quality ingredients.
But be careful what you bid for after a glass of wine of two – that Jag might end up on your drive.