The Black Swan Hotel, Helmsley, North Yorkshire – Afternoon tea, bed and breakfast

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My husband treated me to a stay with afternoon tea here last week. I’ve had many an afternoon tea and I must say this one ranked highly! Not least because they offer a gin and tonic tea! Although I have to say it didn’t taste much like gin and tonic but nice all the same. The list of tea was impressive and quite difficult to choose one from. The tearoom is what you might expect from a North Yorkshire village, very quaint with cutesy crockery. The afternoon tea arrived and although it didn’t look like anything out of the ordinary, it was delicious. The sandwiches were simple flavours but delivered on fresh, good quality bread. The scones were warm and served with clotted cream, butter and jam. My only complaint is that out of the 4 scones, only one was filled with fruit. Either we were given 3 plain and 1 fruited by mistake or the spread of fruit wasn’t very even on the fruited batch. The little cakes were delicious, particularly the passionfruit meringue tart. Despite being pleasantly full by the end , I couldn’t help but lust after some of the treats, both sweet and savoury at the counter! All in all a very lovely afternoon tea which I would happily have again!

Atmosphere 8/10
Quality 8/10
Service 8/10
Value 7/10
Unique 7/10
Overall 8/10

As mentioned, we also stayed over the night and had breakfast the following day. The hotel is quite large and is located next to a lovely little church and opposite a large square surrounded by shops and pubs. Helmsley is a small village but has a lot to offer including it’s own castle ruins. The staff were very welcoming and polite. The room was clean and cosy and stocked with Molton Brown goodies. They even give you an apple and a bottle of water for your journey home when you leave! Our room was near the entrance to the beautiful gardens which was a lovely place to relax with a gin and tonic/cup of tea. We had a really peaceful stay, although we did find the room to be quite warm and there didn’t appear to be any air conditioning and the window didn’t stay open. The bed was comfy. The bathroom was very small, we couldn’t both be in there at the same time. Breakfast was in a nice and comfy dining room. There was plenty to choose from, both hot and cold options. We both went for the Yorkshire breakfast which was nice,although the bacon was rock hard and we had the impression that it was all reheated food. Backed up by the speed in which it arrived.

Comfort 8.5/10

Quality 8/10

Quietness 9/10

Service 9/10

Value 7/10

Unique 7/10

Amenities 7/10

Overall 8/10

 

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The Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire

The Star Inn has been on my to-do list for ages and I was lucky enough to be taken there by my husband for my birthday this week. The Star Inn is in a small place called Harome. We stayed in a nearby village called Helmsley, a lovely quaint little place with nice shops, art galleries and pubs to explore.  You can even visit the ruins of Helmsley Castle. Helmsley is a lovely place to stay but be warned that taxis will charge you around £15 each way for the 6 minute drive to Harome.

Back to the meal. Firstly it has to be said that the atmosphere in Star Inn is delightful. It’s quite hard to strike the balance between living room and restaurant and I’ve seen it done a few times but never achieved quite so smoothly as The Star Inn. There are two restaurant areas and we dined in what looked to be the smaller of the two. I loved the cosy feel and the quirky decor. I can imagine that it’s a wonderful place to be in the winter with the fire going.

After we had ordered we were treated to an amuse bouche of a kind of biscuity crispbread and chutney. It was nice but not particularly remarkable. We were also given warm bread, one was black pudding flavour and the other was apple cider flavour. Both great breads, really nice. My husband ordered the blonde beer braised oxtail ravioli to start and I ordered the foie gras and black pudding with apple and vanilla chutney. We sampled a bit of each others and both agreed that the fois gras was the better of the two. It was very tasty and had wonderful balance with the chutney. The ravioli was somewhat disappointing. It was quite bland with no real depth or variation of flavour. There was no hint of the fresh horseradish shavings that I could detect. Both were presented beautifully though.

For main we both chose the deer with pistachio cake, pickled cherries, game juices and twiglets. Again it was presented beautifully and it was enjoyable, however, we both agreed that the combination of flavours didn’t really work. The deer and cherry went together beautifully but the pistachio cake seemed quite random and made the dish way too sweet. Perhaps it might have been better sprinkled over the dish rather than hefty chunks. Maybe even just roasted pistachios instead of the cake would have been better but the cake just did not do it for us at all. The twiglets were really hard to bite and really sticky so you didn’t want to pick it up with your hands but the cutlery couldn’t penetrate it. They didn’t really add anything to the dish either. The flavour was a nice savoury counter for the sweet cake but I would have preferred the game juices to have been more complex and flavourful and hit the savoury notes instead. We were surprised to see that the dishes came with huge complimentary sides as we haven;t experienced this at Michelin star venues before. It was a nice touch although we were too full to eat them and we did both think that the mains should be enough on their own.

For dessert we both ordered the special which was plum tart tatin with spiced toffee sauce and blackberry ice cream. The dessert was delicious! We both felt that it really stood out. We decided if we could start again we would have ordered a different main and he would have ordered a different starter but we both would have kept the pudding!

It has to be said that the value for money here is excellent. We had a 3 course meal each and a bottle of wine for well under £200, which is fantastic for Michelin Star prices. Although it may not be quite as refined as some places we have been, we loved the rough and ready Yorkshire edge to it and would definitely return. I would recommend it but not as a good example of Michelin star experience but as an example of good hearty food. I’d be tempted to come back and try out the tasting menu or maybe just lunch.

The service was good, not too in your face but made sure everything was okay. The waitress even dropped us back off in Helmsley as she couldn’t get us a taxi back!

Atmosphere 9/10
Quality 8/10
Service 9/10
Value 9/10
Unique 8/10
Overall 8.5/10

Dakota Deluxe, Leeds

It’s no secret that I love this place for drinking and socialising. Since discovering Dakota Deluxe, I’ve been intrigued to see what the food is like. I often like to test places out by their lunch as it’s a cheaper way of seeing if I want to splurge on a dinner there. So I had a look online and discovered their market menu. I shared the menu with a friend and we were both excited to book a table! Unfortunately by the time the big day came, that menu was no longer in use and we had to choose from the new lunch and light bites menu. A little disappointing as what we wanted wasn’t on this menu but we liked the look of it and it had options for our vegetarian friend.

For main we chose smoked salmon with potato pancakes £10, wild mushroom risotto £8 and charcuterie £8. The best value for money was by far the risotto. It was a decent portion and reasonably filling. The charcuterie was second best for value although my friend had to add the bread as a separate order. The bread does not come included in the price. Lastly was the smoked salmon. At £10, the most expensive of our choices, I expected to see 1-2 large medium thickness pancakes topped with a decent helping of smoked salmon. The amount of salmon was just right but the tiny pancakes didn’t touch the sides and made the presentation look really lacklustre and disappointing. I don’t mind paying the price but I want more for my money. It has to be said that the quality of each meal was fantastic, we each enjoyed what we had but we still felt hungry after.

So we had to order desserts, obviously. Now here is where we saw the Dakota quality shining though. Each dessert well worth the money. The lemon meringue cheesecake and the pineapple tart tatin both came in at £7 and the dark chocolate cremeux at £8. The tart supposedly came with a coconut ice cream but neither my friend or I could detect the coconut. The hazelnut ice cream that accompanied the cremeux was very tasty by all accounts. As you can see in the pictures, the presentation was really good, particularly with the cheesecake which is extra beautiful. Wonderful desserts, really enjoyed them.

Our table was on the terrace. As with any part of Dakota Deluxe, the atmosphere was luxurious and welcoming. I will definitely be back to Dakota for more drinks and socialising. I might be tempted to try the dinner menu but only for an occasion and it’s purely the desserts that would bring me back.

Atmosphere 10/10
Quality 9/10
Service 10/10
Value 8/10
Unique 9/10
Overall 9/10

Fisk, Harrogate

I booked Fisk for a special lunch for my hubby’s birthday. I was not disappointed. The restaurant is small, in a cosy way and not at all cramped. It was very quiet as it was a Thursday afternoon. We were greeted by a friendly member of staff who looked after us really well throughout. He had the perfect balance of being visible but not hovering weirdly. Which is difficult to achieve in such a small venue. The decor is modern and chic. I imagine it’s an even better environment in the evening, when you can’t see the launderette and chippy etc over the road.

We were pleasantly surprised to receive an amuse bouche. It was a spicy prawn bases ball with a tangy sauce underneath, reminiscent of a Thai fishcake. For main we both had lobster accompanied by Pol Roger champagne. You can choose your style of lobster. I went for lightly spiced and and hubby went for spicy south Asian. Both were delicious and a decent amount of lobster. Both came accompanied by diced potatoes and salad. The total bill came to £60 plus service charge. For a less decadent option, they also do a set lunch menu of 3 courses for £22, Monday to Friday.

I really enjoyed it and would definitely consider returning if I was in Harrogate in the future.

Atmosphere 8/10
Quality 9/10
Service 9/10
Value 9/10
Unique 9/10
Overall 9/10

Dakota Deluxe bar, Leeds

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I cannot rate this place highly enough. It has fast become a favourite of mine. The customer service is impeccable, the decor is decadent and the atmosphere is incredibly relaxing. The staff make you feel at home at the same time as making you feel valued. The drinks list is fantastic and the cocktails are gorgeous. I almost didn’t want to do a review because it’s that good, I don’t want to share it! However, I couldn’t not tell you all and I would certainly urge you to go!

Atmosphere 10/10
Quality 10/10
Service 10/10
Value 10/10
Unique 10/10
Overall 10/10

 

Tattu, Leeds

This is a frustrating review, to write and to read, because I’m about to tell you all about the magic of Tattu , how it’s customer service ethos is on point and plenty of reasons why you might want to go. I’m also going to tell you why it’s unlikely that I’ll return.

I arrived with my family for our table at 6PM. Tattu was so popular that this was the only table I could book for the night despite it being booked in advance. I was so excited to try the place, I didn’t care what time the table was. When we arrived I gave my name and booking details. The member of staff appeared to find me on the list but then there was long period of time where we stood waiting for instruction and the staff spoke to each other uncomfortably as if something had gone horribly wrong. Eventually we were seated.

It’s a strange atmosphere at 6PM on a summery day. The restaurant decor is very dark and sleek and sexy. The juxtaposition of this against the bright sunny windows felt somewhat clashed. It felt like being in a nightclub in the middle of the day. On that point, the music is just awful. There was loud house/dance type music pounding away at 6pm. I asked our waitress if the music was this loud during the week and she  somewhat proudly announced that it was and it gets louder from 9pm. It doesn’t really go with the tranquil imagery I associate with Chinese culture and it certainly doesn’t make for a pleasant eating environment. It’s almost impossible to have a conversation across the table. This is the reason why I am unlikely to return. I can think of lots of friends and family that I would like to take to Tattu to show them the decor and the food but I would never subject any of them to the atmosphere.

The tables are beautifully decorated but feel a little crowded. There doesn’t seem enough room for everyone to look at the menu and you have to hold it up as there is nowhere to lay it down on the table. Unfortunately, along with the horrendous music, there was an alarm that kept going off continuously. It wasn’t Tattu’s fault, their alarm was being triggered by the alarm of a neighbouring bar. This brings me on to one of the best things about Tattu, the customer service. The alarm was annoying, very annoying. The staff recognised this and  both our waitress and the co-owner came to speak to us to apologise and the co-owner bought us a round of cocktails to apologise. In my opinion, you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the way they handle their mistakes. Tattu had it bang on. We also waited an extremely long time for our dessert to arrive. Again the waitress and co-owner spoke to us, apologised and we got another round of free cocktails. This time it was a sharing cocktail and it was certainly a showstopper! and very tasty too!

We ordered starters and they were all delicious. We had a mix of dim sum and small plates including Wagyu dumplings, lobster and prawn toast and mushroom spring rolls. They were presented beautifully and each tasted delicious. We ordered mains and again they were delicious and looked stunning. Between us we ordered Thai monkfish, caramel soy beef fillet and pork ribs. We had all ordered a different main initially but we were told that they had run out. This was extremely disappointing considering how early it was and that it was a Friday evening, the start of the weekend. I would expect a restaurant to be better stocked. We were advised to order two sides between the four of us as that was more than enough. The side portions are pretty small, I’d recommend ordering a starter each or maybe three between four. We waited an incredibly long time for dessert. Again they had run out of one of our choices, so we each ordered the cherry blossom dessert, which is a really fun and magical dish. It’s certainly worth ordering and is lots of fun but don’t expect anything as refined as the rest of the meal. It is cherry and chocolate flavour and involves candy floss. It makes you feel like a big kid but it just tastes like sugar, very lacking in flavour or quality. Unlike the rest of the food.

The cocktails are great but some are better than others. My first cocktail, recommended by the waitress, was very small and insignificant, not worth the £9. I was envious of everyone else’s that were bigger and better presented, some bubbled, some sparkled. I did later order a peepshow martini and it was incredible! Very good cocktails, I just wasn’t a fan of the ‘Eastside’.

Be careful when coming back from the toilets. They are pretty far away and when you get back through the door to the restaurant, everything is dark and there are mirrors everywhere. It’s hard to work out where to go and two of us walked in to a mirror!

While waiting for our bill a magician came over and did some tricks with us, he was very good and I liked the added fun. At one point, they had made a cocktail and didn’t know who to give it to so they gave it to my mum as it was her birthday, which was a nice touch.

The restaurant gets very smokey over the course of the evening. I wasn’t too bothered by it but it was irritating others.

All in all, I had a good night, but I think that was mostly due to the free cocktails! The food is great and I would love to return but not with the music. I can’t think of anyone who I would recommend it to. I suppose if you are looking for a party atmosphere even while you eat then this could be the place. For me, it was so uncomfortable, I couldn’t wait to leave. Unfortunately, we were there for around three and a half hours in total due to all the waiting. I was over an hour late to the bar I had booked for after my meal. Luckily the bar were fine about it and we could all relax in a peaceful atmosphere once we got there.

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Atmosphere 2/10
Quality 8/10
Service 8.5/10
Value 8/10
Unique 9/10
Overall 5/10

Iris, Wakefield

A good friend has been telling me about Iris restaurant in Wakefield for a long time, so I jumped on the opportunity to give it a try. We arrived on a Tuesday lunchtime. It was empty, which was slightly off-putting but it was the very beginning of lunchtime and it was mid-week. We were politely greeted by friendly gentleman and immediately felt at ease. We forgot about the empty surroundings as we had lots to catch up on and another pair of diners did join us later on. I felt the staff got the service just right. I’ve found in empty restaurants that staff can either be overbearing and nowhere to be found. We got just the right amount of attention.

On to the food. I ordered the beetroot salad to start. It arrived beautifully presented, with a mix of purple and golden beetroot, slivers of sharp and creamy goats cheese and decorated with leaves and blackberries. Hidden underneath the beetroot was a heap of caramelised onions and something crunchy that seemed candied. Not sure what it was but it was a delightful contrast. Very enjoyable starter. My friend ordered the scotch egg and was very impressed with it.

For main, I ordered flat iron steak with twice cooked truffle oil and Parmesan chips and savoy cabbage with pancetta. I ordered chimichurri sauce on the side. With lunch, each main comes with two sides and a sauce, which is great value. The food was very nice and the portions generous. We were asked if we wanted any salt and pepper when we were given our meals which we declined. Once I’d had a chips, however, I realised they did need salt and I feel it would have been more convenient if there was salt and pepper on the table. Good quality food though, I did enjoy my main.

Despite being stuffed, I hate to turn down a dessert. I was immediately drawn to the elderflower cheesecake with raspberries and meringue. Unfortunately, the dessert did let the meal down for me. Elderflower is subtle but in this cheesecake, it was undetectable and I actually forgot that it was flavoured. The cheesecake tasted quite savoury with a saltiness rather than a sweetness. The accompanying elements of the meringue, cream and raspberries were all very sweet so I understand the need to balance, however, I feel that the balance was not achieved here. The base of the cheesecake lacked flavour and was on the soft side for my liking. My personal preference is that a cheesecake base should be crisp and have a biscuity, buttery flavour. It should be an element in it’s own right, rather than a vessel to transport the cheese topping. Personally, I wouldn’t have presented the meringue as shards. I would perhaps have crumbled the meringue over the cheesecake. I found the meringue a little too stiff and feel a softer and more crumbly meringue would have helped to sweeten up the cheese topping. Perhaps a dusting of icing sugar would have lifted the salty flavour a little. That said, I did enjoy the combination of cheesecake, raspberries and meringue and the coulis was well balanced in terms of sharpness and sweetness. The texture of the cheesecake topping was perfect. It was just the right amount of dense. Personally, I’m not a fan of cheesecakes that are too gelatinous and mousse like, this was firm and just right.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience. I found the food to be of good quality, I would just recommend a couple of tweaks here and there as mentioned, but that’s my preference. The value for money is outstanding and the presentation is pleasing without being pretentious. When comparing this restaurant in my mind to some of the fine dining/Michelin star restaurants I’ve been to, I’d say it’s not too far off to be fair. I would recommend a visit and I would like to return for evening meal and see what it’s like when it’s a bit busier. I’m not sure how old the restaurant is but I feel like it could be one to watch if it keeps building on its already good foundations.

Atmosphere 7.5/10
Quality 9/10
Service 9/10
Value 9/10
Unique 8.5/10
Overall 8.5/10

The Cat’s Pyjamas, Eastgate, Leeds

I was attracted to The Cat’s Pyjamas because I love Indian food but I find most Indian places to be very similar, this place has a twist. I’m a big street food fan and I’ve not tried Indian street food before, so I was excited to try it here.

The venue itself is unique, it has a good atmospheric street food feel yet it’s not too crowded and doesn’t have that ‘canteen feel’ that other street food venues have. The open plan kitchen brings lots of lovely inviting smells into the arena!

We were greeted and seated and given a menu. The menu is small but has a good mix of traditional favourites and things you may not have tried before. I like that the menu is small compared to the giant menus you see in traditional curry houses. My only criticism is that a fair chunk of the menu is vegetarian. I don’t mind that so much but my husband is a firm believer of it not being a meal if it doesn’t contain meat! That said, it’s a great place for a group of mixed vegetarian and meat eaters to go together.

We ordered poppadoms and a pickle tray. You just get a standard basket of poppadoms rather than paying per poppadom. The pickle tray was small but tasty and the poppadoms were plentiful. I ordered pani puri to start. They were like little fried baskets filled with tamarind chutney, chilli, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas. They came with a little flavoured water on the side which I had been using as a dip until a waitress came over and explained that the idea was to pour the water in! I wish I had been told that when I received the starter! My husband ordered Keralan beef fry which was a generous portion of chunky tender rump steak cooked with onions and spices and topped with coconut flakes. Both starters were very generously sized.

For main, I ordered Lamb Rogan Josh. It was nice, not the best curry I’ve ever had, not the worst. My husband had the Goan chicken, a mild and almost sweet dish. I wasn’t a fan but then I don’t like mild, sweet curries. We shared rice and an onion and corriander naan bread. The naan was lovely, really tasty and perfectly cooked, fluffy with a delicate crisp. I washed it all down with a mango beer which was delicious and my husband had a nice IPA.

In terms of service, it was all pretty quick and efficient until the end. It really annoys me  when they give you the bill and then disappear for ages. Clearly if I’ve asked for the bill, I want to pay it. I don’t want to look at it while you wipe tables. Generally, the staff were good, checked if things were okay without hassling us. They gave good advice about the food in terms of portions, flavours and consistency. The only downfall was that I missed out on eating the majority of my starter the proper way because it wasn’t explained to me from the beginning.

I think I would go back. There are still things on the menu that I would like to try. If I was craving the full curry experience, I would probably still go to the usual popular places but I’d take friends and family here for something different.

Atmosphere 7.5/10
Quality 7/10
Service 8/10
Value 8/10
Unique 8/10
Overall 7.5/10

Bilboa bar, Leeds

We are spoilt for choice with tapas in Leeds but Bilboa should not be overlooked! I came here with a large group of women and the service was fantastic. They were the perfect combination of seamless efficiency and friendly attentiveness. We were welcomed by a friendly member of staff who guided us to our table and talked through the menus, making recommendations.

The menu has the classics on there that you want such as spanish omelette as well as different things t make them stand out, such as ox cheek in rioja. I went for the ox cheek, a special of scallops with black pudding and some chorizo in cider. Great flavours, decent portions and fast service. Happy customer!

The gin selection was good, with some of my favourite spanish gins including Gin Mare and Nordes. A gin and tonic was a little pricey at £10.50 but my glass was full and the garnish was almost perfect, missing an olive in the Gin Mare.

The waiters glided in and out of sight as and when needed and nobody seemed to be waiting long for anything, pretty impressive considering the size of our group. More impressive was the fact that they sorted us all out with individual bills and again this was done with no fuss in an efficient manner.

Great place, great food, great service, great gin list. I shall be back.

Atmosphere 9/10
Quality 8.5/10
Service 10/10
Value 8/10
Unique 8/10
Overall 8.5/10

Hessian, Oakwood, Leeds

I recently stopped off at the new Hessian cafe for a cappuccino, just to have a nosy at the new addition to Oakwood parade. After browsing the menus and meeting a member of staff there, I knew I would be returning.

Bank holiday weekend seemed like the perfect time to try it out for lunch. We were greeted by warm and welcoming staff. It was great to see a familiar smiley face from Sunshine Bakery amongst the staff crew, I hope he will be a permanent fixture. Hessian is only a small venue and it was bank holiday but I was pleasantly surprised to see how busy it was in there. I love that the menus are small, less pressure on the staff means better quality produce. The food is everything I love, healthy, hearty and wholesome. I love the Mediterranean theme.

I really like the decor and the feel of the place. The small dining area in front of the open plan kitchen has a real cosy, living room feel to it. The only drawback of this is that it is quite cramped and when it’s busy it can get really loud. The chef had a system where he rang the bell when a dish was ready for service to collect. It was so bustling in there that the waiting staff kept missing the bell.

We drew the short straw somewhat with the service. One of the best things about Hessian is the staff team. They are smiley, friendly, helpful and just the right level of chatty. Apart from the man who was serving us unfortunately. He was pleasant enough but it really seemed like he’d rather be anywhere else but there. I had ordered a salad that came with grains, when the salad came there were no grains. I raised this with our waiter and he seemed surprised, went away and came back and said “We ran out of grains, that’s why there weren’t any”. I can think of better, more apologetic ways of putting that message across. I believe a good staff team communicates and the waiting staff and chef should work together to ensure that everyone knows what is and isn’t available before the customer orders. I heard other customers order things and their waiter/waitress knew what was and wasn’t available. There did seem to be quite a lot of things they had run out of but they are new, it was a busy bank holiday and it was late in the afternoon. Overall, the rest of the staff are lovely and fit in well with the welcoming attitudes shown in the other venues on Oakwood parade.

I ordered the grilled halloumi salad which comes with super grains (if you’re lucky), avocado, leaves, roasted red peppers and honey and mustard dressing. My husband ordered Jamon, picante cheese, roasted red pepper and pesto grilled melt. We were both happy with our food. We had ordered polenta wedges but they had run out and in the end we were nicely full anyway. One thing to keep in mind is that they serve the food when it’s ready so you may not eat at the same time, we didn’t. I’m assuming that is usual practice but I’m not sure. Our waited didn’t mention it but as mentioned, he wasn’t exactly on the ball. I also noticed that they offer gluten free bread, always a bonus in my book.

We had some lovely drinks. A nice beer, gin and tonic and a gorgeous espresso martini. I’ve had great espresso martinis and I’ve had some awful ones and this one was definitely up there with the good’uns. The drinks are quite reasonably priced too, £5 for a prosecco, around £7 for a cocktail or gin and tonic.

Overall, I really like Hessian and hope it stays around. I can’t wait to come back for the evening menu and to sample some cakes. I did notice a message on their Facebook page apologising for not offering ‘the full Hessian experience’ over the bank holiday weekend. I think that’s fair enough and goes to show that they are a staff team that care.

Atmosphere 8.5/10
Quality 8.5/10
Service 8.5/10 (based on overall from both visits)
Value 8/10
Unique 8/10
Overall 8.5/10