Chapter One Restaurant, The Travellers Rest, East Keswick - Restaurant review
'Chapter One is Yorkshire's latest gastropub dining experience,' trills the press release, of the newly refurbished Travellers Rest, a sprawling roadhouse set on a speedy stretch of the A659 between Harewood and Collingham.
It promises beef and mushroom pie, Whitby fish and chips, rib eye steak, salt marsh lamb, which sounds just the job: straightforward, gutsy, homely dishes, the very stuff that gastropubs are meant to be all about.
Of course, Yorkshire is happily blessed with some of the finest gastropubs in Britain. Think of the Angel at Hetton, the Star at Harome. The Blue Lion at East Witton, the Millbank above Sowerby Bridge or the Dawnay Arms at Newton on Ouse just for starters, all great pubs serving fabulous local food with conviction. If a new gastropub can cut it here in Yorkshire's golden triangle, it should be a very easy money-spinner.
So with the paint barely dry and the website still under construction, we head off for lunch at Chapter One. The name, the PR tells me, is just a name, 'It doesn't mean anything. Steve just likes it.' Steve is Steve Collinson the new chef and owner who is breaking out to launch his own enterprise after 15 years in the kitchens of the ultrasmart Oulton Hall Hotel in Leeds where he was executive chef and director of food and beverage.
There's not much immediate kerb appeal to the cement rendered old boozer. There's an enormous double car park for all the 4 x 4s of the neighbourhood and a functional beer garden. Inside it's been made over in burgundy and beige with regulation pub furniture, hotel-style prints and some curious modern ornaments. It's clean, it's smart and it's just a little bit bland. Rather like a corporate gastropub version of the Oulton Hall so recently vacated.
Upstairs in the restaurant it gets more formal, with white linen tablecloths and instead of the traffic at ground level there are lovely views across the lush green valley of Lower Wharfedale to the million pound properties of Kirkby Overblow. The menu reads well: baked Goosnargh chicken fillet with borlotti beans, pancetta and vine tomato stew; vanilla roasted duck breast tart tatin; monkfish; steak and a risotto of the day.
We began with chicken liver parfait. A silky smooth, buttery parfait; rich and unctuous and served with a fabulous sharp cranberry chutney and a slice of white bloomer. Lovely. So too, was the mushroom and asparagus risotto. Flavoursome mushrooms and thin stalks of asparagus still with some bite, all combined with well flavoured rice and finished with a spoonful of crme fraiche.
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Disappointingly, the high standards of our starters fell away at the main course. Half a fillet of Whitby cod, a dozen chips and two ramekins of mushy peas and tartare sauce, even if it is homemade, didn't score. Less because it was small and cost �9.50, more because the fish was overcooked and the chips were soft. Similarly, the top of the range 10oz rib-eye steak was lacklustre, too grey for the medium rare order, with the same soft chips. It didn't explain how Steve Collinson won his British Meat Chef of the Year award.
The cracked pepper sauce cost an extra �1.50 which might have been waived given that it didn't arrive before the steak had been eaten to a five ounce size. The slow roasted tomato was nothing of the sort, just a regular tomato, very lightly grilled. The dish was partly redeemed by proper, crisp onion rings but for �20.50 this was not a bumper treat for any hard core steak lover.
Any new kitchen takes time to settle in and maybe Steve wasn't at the stove at our visit. Perhaps minds were on their imminent major opening night. Even so there was something deeper missing. Call it personality, authorship, a signature style but whether it was the subdued welcome, the decor, the wine list, the absence of any real ale or superior lager on tap, or ultimately the cooking, it was hard to detect the individual passion in the creation of Chapter One, the stamp that could lift it from an efficient business to a labour of love.
It may be, as the press blurb says, be Yorkshire's latest gastropub experience but it is far from the most convincing. Hopefully, it will find its feet, above all find a distinctive heart and then Chapter Two will have a stronger story to tell.
Review by Jill Turton
CHAPTER ONE RESTAURANT AT THE TRAVELLERS REST Harewood Road, East Keswick, LS17 9HL
T: 01937 579740
Open: Tue-Fri11am-3pm &5pm-11pm Sat 11am-11pm Sun 11am-9pm