Wentbridge House – Restaurant Review
by Paul Howard
Driving up the A1 in Yorkshire to where it meets the M62, one passes through an area of Yorkshire that is perhaps best known for its mining and industrial heritage. It’s easy to look at the vistas of Ferrybridge power station and the spaghetti of modern motorway intersections and dismiss this area as possessing little of interest or natural beauty to delay you.
That impression could not be more wrong.
This area near Pontefract is a gem; full of history, attractive green countryside and grand stately homes. In an area roughly bounded by the industrial towns of Pontefract, Doncaster, Barnsley and Wakefield lie peaceful landscapes and none more so than the beautiful Went Valley and the village of Wentbridge. This site was once a busy river crossing on the original Great North Road, and is redolent of heroes and villains: highwaymen and Robin Hood. Here, overlooking the River Went and its picturesque stone bridge, you will find Wentbridge House.
Wentbridge House is a four star luxury Country House Hotel with a reputation for fine dining. I recently stayed for a weekend break with friends and came away harbouring a desire for a rapid return.
“Walk to work up an appetite”
This Georgian property dates from 1700, occupying a prime site in the village with 20 acres of grounds, gardens and impressively huge trees. It is converted from a private home to a hotel in 1960 and is independently owned. The level of investment made over the last few years is easy to see. There are 41 bedrooms in the original House and the connected Garden Wing. The fine restaurant is called the Fleur de Lys. It boasts two rosettes and an excellent wine list, with a bar and a brasserie for more informal dining. There are also function rooms making it is an ideal venue for weddings. One was taking place on the lawn under a magnificent Copper Beech tree as we arrive.
After booking in it was tempting to take Afternoon Tea, particularly as Billecart-Salmon Champagne is an option. Instead, we decide to save ourselves for the evening meal. We opt to explore the Wentbridge walk to work up an appetite. This is a five-mile circular stroll around the limestone valley from the hotel. It’s charming nature reserve full of wild flowers, birds and butterflies.
On returning and now feeling virtuous, there is time to take full advantage of our tranquil Junior Suite. Its bay window gives a fine view across the gardens. This, and my friends’ room is well-appointed. There’s a luxurious bathroom and toiletries, a separate sitting area and a king size bed smartly dressed in Egyptian cotton sheets. A particularly welcoming touch is the handwritten card from Catherine Harrild, the hotel manager. Every bedroom is individually designed and decorated and for a romantic stay there are four-poster oak-panelled bedrooms located in the main house.
We book a table for four in the Fleur de Lys restaurant, which proves to be a highlight of our stay. The room is set in a country house style, with plenty of space between tables to allow for relaxed conversations. Open to nonresidents, it boasts a wide selection from an imaginative menu. Carefully sourced British ingredients are used with, as it turns out, modern yet unfussy presentation.
The menu is matched by an extensive and high quality wine list which is well worth exploring. How refreshing to see more unusual and well chosen wines too!
Choosing our food and wine is clearly going to take a little time. So we enjoy an apéritif while doing so in the Cocktail Bar. Gin hits the spot for us, either with tonic or as a dry martini. During this selection process the attentive waiting staff demonstrate they knew plenty about the food and wines on offer, as well as providing exceptional service.
Having been escorted to our table it is time for the delights of the kitchen. Tempura king prawns and squid come with a sweet chilli sauce. Something of a classic dish but the tempura batter is especially light and delicious. Beef carpaccio is intensely flavoured with peppery radishes and watercress. My Moroccan Chicken salad features couscous, hummus, pomegranate and a tangy coriander dressing. An explosion of Mediterranean flavours. All these are washed down with an excellent Italian white wine from Livio Felluga. His “Sharis” is a blend of ribolla gialla and chardonnay, having the freshness to suit tempura yet with enough apricot fruit to balance the more powerful flavours of the other dishes.
“We all agree on the highlight”
The main courses also prove to be outstanding. With locally sourced beef, steak is a speciality here. Flat iron steak, an increasingly popular cut, is served rare with a béarnaise sauce and garni. A duo of spring lamb arrives appetisingly pink. Lemon sole has been spied on the specials board and proves to be excellent. I opt for “this little piggy went to market,” a melange of belly pork, gammon, black pudding and crackling served with fragrant cabbage – a kind of luxurious choucroute. Lest anyone doubt, there are good vegetarian options to explore another time. Leaving the remaining white wine for the lemon sole, a versatile bottle of red is needed for the beef, pork and lamb. Charles Melton’s Nine Popes, the classic Châteauneuf-style GSM blend from Australia’s Barossa arrives correctly decanted at the allotted time and performs brilliantly with all three.
Was there room for puddings? Of course. Warm fondant caramel and peanut butter ice cream draw appreciative noises. A sticky toffee pud is remarkably airy with a hint of salt boosting the sweet flavour. However, we all agree the highlight is the Pontefract Cake iced parfait with rhubarb. This is especially apt because both liquorice and rhubarb grow as local Yorkshire specialities. Retiring to the Cocktail bar, good coffee, Armagnac and friendship ends our memorable meal.
“Dispatched with gusto”
Breakfast is taken the following morning in the Brasserie. With plenty of hot and cold choices available in a conservatory-styled room, this proves to be an ideal start to Sunday. By now, we expect high quality. Eggs Benedict and Florentine, kippers and full English are all excellent and dispatched with gusto. This set us up well for a visit to nearby Nostell Priory, just 15 minutes away. With interiors by Robert Adam, Chippendale furniture and manicured parklands, Nostell Priory continues our theme of Georgian splendour and proves to be an ideal way to spend an indulgent Sunday and round off a lovely weekend.
How best to sum up Wentbridge House? Simple. My friends decide to stay on for another night! I wish I could have done the same.
Wentbridge House, The Great North Road, Wentbridge, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, WF8 3JJ