The Blue Lion, East Witton, North Yorkshire - Restaurant review

Yorkshire has enjoyed a long love affair with the Blue Lion, the ivy-covered old coaching house in the immaculately pretty village of East Witton in lower Wensleydale...

It's easy to imagine past generations of gents and squires rubbing their hands in front of the log fire discussing 12 bores and stirrup cups, while in the back bar, yellowed with tobacco smoke, farm hands and beaters have nursed mugs of ale. The walls are still yellow, deliberately so.Hops and herbs hang from old meat hooks in the ceiling. The shelves hold mugs and jugs, bottles and plates, while the walls have fading pictures of hunt suppers and pheasant shoots. It is a little deceptive.

When Paul Klein took over in 1990, it was struck in a timewarp. Bessie Fletcher, the former landlady, served beer from a jug and only let in people she knew. Klein restored it with remarkable restraint.Without being the least bit contrived, the Blue Lion has a relaxed, lived-in charm that fools you into thinking it has gone unchanged for generations.

As with the d�cor, so with the food; homely, gutsy English dishes chalked up on blackboards. You can eat in a back bar, the restaurant or a private dining room, all of which are lovely. But the spirit of the place is in the front bar, with its old settles and log fire that go so well with beef and onion suet pudding, or a dish that's been on the menu for 15 years without a break: smoked haddock on new potatoes topped with a poached egg and toasted Gruyere cheese.

Our Sunday lunch began with a thick broth of leek and potato soup and a salmon and cream cheese tart. The pastry was overcooked at the edges, nearly burnt in fact, but let's be kind and call it rustic. It was still good. Next up were solid slices of roast pork, good crackling and apple sauce with the most decadently crisp roast potatoes imaginable.

Game is even closer to the Blue Lion's heart than a good Sunday roast. They are part of the Jervaulx estate in prime shooting country. Last year it hosted 100 shooting lunches and has the honour of having the first Yorkshire grouse on the menu on the Glorious 12th. Out of season we had venison pie in a big, no-nonsense bowl. The pastry topping was short and crisp; the meat rich, red and succulent. It was a treat.

There were more treats for pudding. A shared rhubarb, apple and cinnamon crumble, led to a minor spoon war over the ratio of fruit to crumble and the grey slab of iced liquorice terrine won no beauty contests but tasted absolutely terrific, a sign that chef John Dalby can do modern just as deftly as traditional.

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The Blue Lion was one of Richard Whiteley's favourite haunts. He was a man who knew his food and wine. He settled in East Witton and is buried in the churchyard. He can rest assured that the place remains in good hands and that a meal here washed down with a pint of Black Sheep is still one of Yorkshire's warmest and most dependable pleasures.

The Blue Lion, East Witton, near Leyburn, North Yorkshire DL8 4SN

Tel 01969 624273 Fax 01969 624189 Email

Open every day lunch noon-2.15pm and 7pm-9.15pm Three course dinner with coffee �35 plus wine Accommodation 15 en-suite rooms �89-135 per room per night inc. breakfast

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