They say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” – for fifty plus years, The Box Tree in Ilkley have been doing what they do and doing it well… what they do well is skilfully cook contemporary light interpretations of classical French inspired dishes, using premium ingredients.
Although still under the directorship of chef / proprietor Simon Gueller, one thing that has changed since my last visit (here) is the departure of Head Chef Dan Birk (who has moved to Jason Atherton’s Michelin starred Social Eating House) and the arrival of Chef Lawrence Yates (previously at Midsummer House, Mark Poynton’s Alimentum, Whatley Manor and the Connaught).
What Michelin say, ‘An iconic restaurant set in two charming sandstone cottages, with a plush, antique-furnished lounge and two luxurious dining rooms; it celebrated 50 years in 2012. Cooking is refined and skilful, with a classical French base, and dishes are light and delicate. Only the best ingredients are used.’
We visited for Sunday Lunch – dishes at lunch are perhaps a little less elaborate than dinner or those on the testing menu but at £35 for three (plus) courses they offer exceptional value for Michelin starred cuisine. It’s important to remember that a visit to The Box Tree is more than about having a value for money lunch; the whole package from the ambience and staffs’ passion for hospitality is second to none.
Salmon Ballotine with Braeburn apple purée – a Box Tree favourite the salmon ballotine is all about the quality of the fish buoyed by the vibrancy of the fresh herbs and sweet acidity from the apple purée. My wife orders this every time.
Undecided between the Crispy Hens Egg with textures of shallot and the Yorkshire Suckling Pig Terrine with fig chutney & toasted sourdough, knowing me too well, @BoxTreeManager suggested I had both. I didn’t argue.
Encased in crisp, golden potato threads, the delightfully cooked egg was a joyous thing but the terrine was my pick of my two starters. All the good bits of the pig had been combined into a slice of porcine perfection.
Aged Sirloin of Beef with Yorkshire pudding & red wine sauce – I’ve said before how I am all too often disappointed by the state of Yorkshire puddings served in Yorkshire, the quality of the meat more than made up for any Yorkie shortcomings. My wife would have happily drank a carafe of that red wine sauce.
Tranche of Halibut with Mayan Gold potatoes & asparagus – as Michelin say in their red guide, “Only the best ingredients are used” Here, they were cooked with splendid skill and precision with a respectful simplicity. Sublime.
Raspberry & Champagne foam – I’m not going to write much about this because you can’t talk about ‘pre desserts’ or ‘palate cleansers’ without sounding like a complete numpty. Let’s just say, it did the job.
Morello Cherry Soufflé with black cherry ice cream – another classic, the soufflés at The Box Tree are always a highlight. I particularly enjoyed this one thanks to the natural sour notes of the morello cherries.
A selection on fine cheese with 1998 Krohn Colheita Port
The Box Tree may not meet everyone’s expectations as to what a ‘contemporary’ Michelin starred restaurant should be, but to my mind, along with places like Le Gavroche and The Waterside, it’s one of those special places whose history and love of the classics always make a visit special.