Middleton Lodge, a grand Georgian country house hotel just outside Richmond in North Yorkshire, used to overshadow the adjoining stable yard – but after careful restoration and the addition of nine luxury bedrooms, it’s The Coach House that’s attracting attention now.
Thankfully, the original building remains and has been gently improved by adding beautiful arched French windows, a lick of pastel-coloured paint and glowing lamps on the walls. Arranged in a horseshoe shape, The Coach House’s focal point is its restaurant in the east wing, where chef Gareth Rayner presides over what he calls ‘an accessible menu that makes our favourite ingredients sing’. The space itself impresses with high-domed ceilings, a stylish bar and flickering candlelight come evening time.
A basket of beer and onion bread – slightly sweet and pillowy soft with a chewy crust ideal for gnawing – set the standard for what turned out to be a special evening. It’s the first time we’ve eaten four slices of bread (each) before starters. Chargrilled broccoli with salty Iberico Bellota, pickled Jerusalem artichokes and toasted hazelnuts was vividly colourful and a party of textures – dehydrated Jerusalem artichokes made a satisfying crunch and provided a great contrast to velvety smooth artichoke purée. The crispy duck egg with salty pancetta, meaty mushrooms and truffle was also faultless.
As for mains, sous-vide venison saddle was ruby red and tender enough to eat with a spoon. Delicious on its own, but accentuated here with sweet blackberry vinegar, perfect circles of cabbage and fat chunks of salt-baked beetroot. I’d happily make the four-hour drive from London to The Dales again for that kind of game. Flaky roast cod with soft potato ‘risotto’ showcased the same intelligent cooking style and we loved how our beer-pickled onion shells acted as pools for the vinaigrette.
Despite varied menu choices, our sommelier (the friendliest we’ve ever had) found us a Spanish Albarino that surprisingly matched both cod and venison. It also went with a slice of lemon and olive oil cake for dessert, which came steeped in zingy lemon syrup and accompanied by honey and fennel ice cream – a refreshing, herbal-like flavour that we’ve since tried to make ourselves at home. Finally, a Maragda soft chocolate ganache with chocolate sorbet and honeycomb was as dreamy as it sounds.
What comes across so strongly in Gareth’s cooking is an unfaltering respect for ingredients. Whether cabbage, venison or truffle, everything gets the attention it deserves and there are no shortcuts or second-bests. And despite Gareth’s insistence that it’s ‘simple’ food, it’s the odd treat – dehydrated Jerusalem artichokes and fennel ice cream – that pushes his food up to another level.
After a meal like that, it’s a comfort to know that there are bedrooms within stumbling distance. Exposed beams, giant beds, stylish stand-alone baths and free packets of Yorkshire crisps in the mini bar make for a great base to explore the beauty of North Yorkshire.
Written by Charlotte Morgan, January 2016
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