A PUNTER’S VIEW OF Holdsworth House, Halifax, West Yorkshire, BY SAVOUR WRITER DAVE MACKAY
Ever the disorganised one, Mrs Punter left it to Friday of the Coronation weekend to say that she wanted to stay at The Angel at Hetton on the Sunday.
I was not staggered to find that they were fully booked so I headed to Google and Michelin to see if there was anything I could find as an alternative. Not only were some places booked but others had the temerity to be closed on a Sunday.
Eventually though, Holdsworth House in Halifax popped up so I ran through the checklist: Open – check. Available – check. Taster menu – check. Vegetarian option – check. All requirements checked, we booked in for the dinner, B&B – £289 all in, and included the eight-course taster menu.
Holdsworth House is a Jacobean mansion and gardens dating back to 1633 but has only been run as a hotel since 1963 and has remained family owned since then. It still had many period features and has been used as a filming location for shows and films such as Happy Valley, The Last Tango in Halifax and The Railway Children.
It is also a popular wedding venue can accommodate parties of up to 150 people. It is very pet friendly and Eric, the resident cat, even gets a spot on the “meet the team” page on the website.
There is a manicured garden outside with plenty of ‘sun trap’ seating in the afternoon and numerous photo opportunities.
The restaurant is headed up by Head Chef Adam Harvey and he and his team pride themselves on using fresh local or Yorkshire ingredients. They do three different types of Afternoon Tea (of which we saw many being consumed) and private dining is available for up to 120 guests – or an exclusive table of four can be set up in the garden’s Gazebo room built in the 1630s.
We opted for the eight-course taster menu (normally £75pp) which was based on portions of the a la carte menu which is not only easier for the chef but easier for the diners having to try and decide between the dishes available. A real point of interest is that the restaurant features the original 1963 menu and wine list on the wall.
As creatures of habit, we went for the wine pairing and there is a very special note for that. £52pp for a wine paring is great value but when you factor in that these were Yorkshire-sized measures, it worked out better value than if you were buying single glasses in a pub. There were some delightful pairings but the Sancerre to start with was the standout serve.
We kicked off with an amuse bouche of a pot of curried cauliflower soup which was just on the right side of spicy. We both had the same first course of Kidderton Ash goat’s cheese along with a caramelised, peppered pineapple. I was tempted to just ask them to bring me that seven more times.
The next course saw separate dishes. There was a crab and salmon salad for me which was lifted by the addition of pickled raisins whereas Mrs Punter had a delightfully crispy hen’s egg which was accompanied by pretty much all of her favourite things: caramelised celeriac, cauliflower, pickled kale and black truffle. She was almost moved to lick her plate clean but she has more class than I do.
Back onto a mutual course with a leek, potato and turnip terrine with chestnut, kohlrabi, fennel pollen and chilli oil. A nod to the “Morning Fog” chardonnay that paired with it and ramped up each of the flavours in the dish.
Ordinarily the main element of a tasting menu would be a smaller version of one of the a la carte mains. I hope, for the sake of other diners, that this is not the case at Holdsworth House because the mains here were ‘hearty’ to say the least. It wasn’t enough to give me fillet steak and a great big piece of buttery Pommes Anna but there was a pie stuffed full of unctuous beef cheek. All of that with a mushroom ketchup and a red wine jus (or ‘sauce’ as I like to call it).
Mrs Punter was given an unfeasibly large ravioli of Blacksticks Blue, shallot and spinach served with mushrooms, broccoli, pecan nut and a truffle foam. Mrs Punter was moved to quote Monty Python and describe her pasta as ‘wafer thin’ and she really enjoyed the various mushrooms, each of which brought something to the dish.
A breather was then required before we moved on to the first of our two puddings: a white chocolate crème brûlée (with the required level of wobble) with rhubarb, blood orange and burnt meringue. The rhubarb ice cream was in the top three ice creams we have ever eaten and was up there with the mushroom magnum at Grantley Hall. The dish came with a lovely Muscat which elicited at least one ‘ooh’ from each of us.
For the sake of the integrity of our innards we decided to pass up on the cheese board and save room for the final course and, of course the petit fours. We’re glad that we did because the last dish was a lovely wild honey crémeux with perfectly poached pear, ginger hazelnut and a vanilla mascarpone, washed down with a delicious late harvest Riesling from Chile.
With no room for a post-meal Baileys we waddled off to bed in readiness for breakfast. I made sure that I shut my eyes on approaching our room so as not to catch the eyes of the distinctly disturbing boy and his dog whose picture was right outside our door.
Our room was a standard double which was light and airy with plenty of storage. Tea, coffee and a couple of waters were available and some biscuits, just in case we weren’t full enough. Our room didn’t have air conditioning but we left the Velux window open and had plenty of fresh air through the night.
Breakfast the next morning was as good as breakfast as you will get. One of each on the full English was the order of the day, except for the beans, of which we got more than one. That had been preceded by a selection of juices, yoghurts, cereals and pastries. Mrs Punter went for the eggs Benedict (mushroom instead of ham) and the Hollandaise was up to her exacting standards. Both of her poached eggs were perfectly cooked, as were mine.
The visit left us feeling entirely satisfied both gastronomically and financially. The only sour taste in the mouth was that Mrs Punter remains of the view that “you don’t always have to plan”, which makes my eye twitch like Chief Inspector Dreyfus in The Pink Panther whenever Clouseau was around.
For more information about Holdsworth House Hotel and Restaurant, visit holdsworthhouse.co.uk