I’m just about old enough to remember pubs before the “gastro” prefix was permanently attached. What halcyon days: a bland lasagne, curly fries and a few limp strands of lettuce - yours for just £3.99.
This may sound sneering but I’m only half-joking; because, actually, it was fine; not good, but fine. Besides, these were the pre-smoking ban days, and who wants to tuck into textures of rosehips or whatever with wafts of fag smoke eddying up your nostrils?
These days, though, every two-bit boozer that opens or reopens is proclaiming its repertoire of butternut squash risottos and propa bangers and mash as “a modern take on classic British cuisine”, albeit, wait for it, “with a twist”. Always with a twist. Often there’s no twist.
Yet occasionally there are pub restaurants (let’s avoid that word shall we) that do offer something worthy of the affixation, and these places, readers, are meccas – paradises where haute cuisine meets pub grub. And deep in rural Yorkshire, over frostbitten moors and round the corner from an emphatic gothic church, I find my own personal nirvana – James and Kate Mackenzie’s Pipe and Glass Inn.
You don’t find this place by accident; a few miles short of Beverley in a village called South Dalton, it is well off the beaten track. It is sustained, instead, by a fantastic reputation among locals and its one star listing in the Michelin Guide. On this particular Monday lunchtime it is thriving, with barely enough room for our Ford Fiesta to slot in among the Range Rovers and Mercs (it attracts that kind of visitor, too) in the adjoining car park.
Inside it is blessed with all the qualities you would imagine – open fireplaces, brassy pumps etc. – but is not quite your typical country pub. You see, Pipe and Glass is a grand old property, and beyond the bar there is further seating to be found in the main dining room, upstairs private dining room and even overnight accommodation available in a duo of rooms charmingly named “Thyme” and “Sage”.
It says something, then, that there is only just enough space for us to eat in the bar after an interminable few minutes spent hawking round those eating their desserts like hungry grim reapers. Covers here are clearly prized (we really should have booked ahead), and from the eat-me menus it is easy to see why. Smoked mallard salad with crispy duck heart croutons, Liquorice panna cotta, Chocolate and juniper pudding – to put it mildly: James Mackenzie’s food plays to our basest of epicurean desires.
After much deliberation I choose a savoury cheesecake to start. Confected from sour goat’s cheese and a surprisingly sharp beetroot glaze the flavours are mild, but not meekly so – more of a gentle warm-up for the hammer-out-of-the-park dishes to come.
The main is a generous brute, bequeathing palate-pleasing gifts in the form of tender strands of venison wrapped in suet pastry, a quenelle of salt-baked suede and an onion; just an onion, yes, but roasted to yielding beauty with flashes of sage. It makes for a straightforward combination, but held together by juniper the effects are practically transcendental.
The less said about the dessert the better, but only because it is so good it taunts me to have to write about it. Moist, rich, treacly, sharp, warming – that’s about all I can muster, though I must concede (succinct) praise to the gorgeously frothy custard: bloody good.
James and his wife Kate, who looks after front of house, took on this historic pub in 2006, and like James’s former employer and co-brewer Andrew Pern at The Star Inn, have built the business up slowly, winning the star in 2010.
While there are grander plans afoot, with an improved garden and rooms soon to be added, the pair do not seem intent on creating an empire here. There are no plans (that I know of) to roll out a string of Mackenzie pubs across East Yorkshire promising “Modern British with a twist”. Instead they concentrate all their energies on delivering highly-skilled yet accessible food coupled with reassuring service.
And that's a formula that requires no twist at all.