A Brief History of Business in Wakefield

In 2015, I was asked to write a short history of Wakefield’s business-life for TopicUK magazine – which made sense given that the magazine is aimed at Wakefield’s businesses today. However, the word limit I was asked to work to – just 400 words, would barely scratch the surface, so it was agreed that I should write a series of articles. These are reproduced together here for the first time. I make no claim to be an historian – but I have read a lot of books and articles about Wakefield written by others including JW Walker, John Goodchild and Kate Taylor.

A Brief History

Look up in Cheapside, or Thompsons and Woolpack Yards, and you will see the vestiges of numerous hoists jutting out from the top of buildings; buildings that are now often smart offices but which were originally built as warehouses for storing grain and wool.

While Wakefield may be known today for its association with rhubarb, its early commercial activity was centred on textiles, agriculture and mining. Raw wool from the surrounding area was brought into Wakefield to be sold at market or to be processed – there were fulling mills (where wool is treated with detergents to remove the oil) along the banks of the River Calder and local weavers could use the treated wool to produce cloth. The Tammy Hall (between Wood Street and King Street) was built for the trade in cloths (a tammy is a type of worsted cloth), and opened in 1778. Unfortunately, the trade was relatively short lived in Wakefield as business moved to Leeds, Bradford and other places in the West Riding. The building was acquired by Wakefield Corporation who demolished part of it to create a site for the current town hall and converted what was left into a police and fire station.

Wakefield was, nonetheless, an important market town and administrative centre by the turn of the 19th Century. With good links by turnpike (toll) roads and, later, canals (the River Calder had been made navigable to Wakefield from around 1702), traders converged on the town to buy and sell raw materials, finished goods, grain and livestock: some readers will no doubt remember, for example, the cattle market that stood on Market Street (where the Royal Mail building is now) and which closed for business as recently as 1963, after nearly 200 years of operation. The Graziers pub on George Street takes its name from the men who grazed their cattle to get them ready for market.

What is perhaps less well known is that, before the coming of the railways in 1840, Wakefield had become a busy inland port: it was, of course, easier to carry large bulky loads by water than by road and the canals gave access to both the east and west coast ports so goods and materials were brought to Wakefield for onward transport, something which is still happening today, although nowadays principally by rail and road: witness Wakefield Europort and the many distribution warehouses located adjacent to the district’s motorway network.

Although by the 19th Century, Wakefield was a successful market town and inland port, by the middle of that century, it had started to lose ground to others as some of its traditional textile markets declined.
Fortunately, new businesses emerged in both the manufacturing and service sectors: yarn spinning, coal mining, brewing, brickmaking, soap-making, printing, glass-making and market gardening all flourished. The waterfront was busy with boat building and repair yards and the coming of the railways saw new markets developing as it became possible to bring more goods and raw materials into and out of the town.

Chemical works, engineering and rope making businesses were established or expanded. Joseph Aspdin’s cement works in Kirkgate invented Portland Cement. Some Wakefield businesses were successful enough to exhibit at the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in London in the Crystal Palace. In August 1865, Wakefield staged its own Industrial and Fine Arts Exhibition in a purpose built exhibition hall in Wood Street, attracting up to 10,000 visitors a day during the seven weeks of its opening.

These industries required people, creating job opportunities that led to an influx of working men and their families. Many of the people who moved here in search of work came from outlying rural areas and even further afield with many coming from Ireland. This incoming population had to be housed and catered for, in turn creating further commercial and job opportunities.

Meanwhile, the business of money – not just making it but keeping it safe and encouraging people to save – was ever more important and a number of independent banks were established. Some of these failed, merged or were taken over, yet they often leave their mark on the buildings we see around the city today. On the corner of Westgate and Bank Street are the former premises (now a night club) of banking firm Ingram and Kennet. They were taken over by Leatham, Tew and Company who had premises on the corner of Wood Street – look at the sun dial on the Marygate façade and you’ll see their initials. This building later became home to Barclays Bank after Leatham and Tew were amalgamated with that company. Meanwhile, the former Wakefield and Barnsley Union Bank had premises a little further up Westgate. The building may be yet another night club but the bank’s initials can still be seen in the arched pediment over the door. Other examples of former bank buildings include Bank House in Burton Street, now the offices of a firm of solicitors, but formerly the premises of the Wakefield Savings Bank.

A brief history of Wakefield as a centre for administration

No one knows for certain when people first started to live in what we now call Wakefield. There is some evidence of Stone Age activity in the area around Wakefield and a Roman road from Pontefract to Manchester came through Wakefield – fording the River Calder at the bottom of what is now Kirkgate, before branching off to the north and the west, roughly along the lines of the present day Northgate and Ings Road. We do know that the first written record of Wakefield (recorded as Wachfeld) appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 by which time it was already one of the largest manors in the country.

It is thought that the area was first settled by the Angles in the 5th and 6th centuries and that the name Wakefield is derived from the name of a prominent Anglo-Saxon chieftan by the name of Waca (literally meaning Waca’s field). After the Viking invasions of the 9th century, the land under Viking control (known as the Danelaw) was divided into administrative areas called shires. The county shire of York was further divided into three ridings (literally meaning a thirding) and these ridings, were subdivided into wapentakes which took their names from the principal places that were used for village meetings (or moots). Wakefield was part of the Wapentake of Agbrigg and Morley (which was later split into two). This indicates that the main meeting place of the wapentake in Wakefield was actually at Agbrigg, rather than in what we would regard as today’s city centre.

Following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror (himself of Viking descent) set about bringing the country under Norman control. It was he who commissioned the creation of the Domesday Book, actually a great survey that would be used by the crown to calculate taxes. Although not completed until after the king’s death in 1085, the book records the ownership of all lands, buildings, livestock, meadows and woodlands, as well as details of the people whether they be landowners or tenants, free men or slaves.

The Manor of Wakefield was granted by William II to William de Warrenne, created first Earl of Surrey, probably in 1088. The Earl, who died later that year, had supported William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and had been loyal to the king’s son, William II. Possession of the Manor, and responsibility for its administration, passed down the de Warrenne line and it was they who built Sandal Castle in the 12th century, originally in wood but later consolidated in stone. (They also built another castle at Lowe Hill, now in Wakefield park, but this was abandoned shortly afterwards).

Although the de Warrennes did not spend much time at Sandal castle, they did install Constables to keep the peace (the castle also housed a gaol) and to administer the area on their behalf.

The Manor returned to the control of the crown in 1347 with the death of the seventh Earl of Surrey who had no legitimate heirs but the castle retained its function as an administrative headquarters until Tudor times. However, with the rebuilding in the Moot Hall in upper Kirkgate in the first half of the 16th century (during the reign of Henry VIII) as a place for the Steward of the Manor to live, and the building of a new prison in Wakefield in the 1590s, administrative matters moved away from the castle and into the town centre.

Wakefield – A regional centre for over five hundred years

As well as being an established centre for local administration and commerce, Wakefield has a long history as a centre for regional administration. Indeed, Wakefield can claim to have played its part in regional government for over five hundred years.

In 1472, King Edward IV, England’s first Yorkist king, established the Council of the North to implement better government control and administration of the north of England and to bring about economic growth within the area. The Council of the North was firmly rooted in Yorkshire. Originally based at Sheriff Hutton Castle and Sandal Castle (just over a mile from today’s city centre) and later at King’s Manor in York, it had jurisdiction over all six of the northern counties that existed in England at that time, viz. Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland, Westmorland, Durham and Northumberland. One of its principle functions was to restore law and order and impose the impartial justice of the crown in the northern regions. In fact, the Council’s main purpose over time was to evolve into being that of a recognised court, with social and local administration being left to the church, local councils, guilds and JPs. The Council was abolished in 1641 but Wakefield was to continue its involvement in regional matters.

As we saw in my last article, following the Viking invasion of the 9th Century, Yorkshire had been divided into three parts, or Ridings, for administrative purposes. However, until the 1832 Reform Act, it was the County of Yorkshire that was represented in Parliament (by just two MPs). The 1832 Act divided the county into three parliamentary constituencies for the first time and these were based on the North, East and West Ridings with each of the three resulting constituencies being represented by two MPs from in the years between 1832 and 1865.
In 1865, the constituency of the West Riding was further divided into those of the Northern West Riding of Yorkshire and the Southern West Riding of Yorkshire, each with two MPs. Further changes introduced by the Local Government Act of 1888 established an administrative boundary centred on the West Riding and led to the creation of the West Riding County Council (WRCC) to administer it. The new County Council came into being in 1889.

To begin with, the WRCC met at the recently opened Wakefield Town Hall in Wood Street at the invitation of the then Wakefield Council, but it was not long before the WRCC started looking for accommodation of its own. The WRCC already owned Rishworth House, a Georgian house built in 1812 with a large garden, situated on the corner of Cliff Parade and Bond Street. Although there was a debate at the time that could have led to the new headquarters being sited in Leeds, it was decided to erect the new council building in Wakefield, cementing Wakefield’s reputation as a regional centre for another hundred years.

Rishworth House was demolished and in its place rose the building that we now know as the County Hall. Built in the Renaissance style with Art Nouveau decorative treatments, construction of County Hall commenced in 1894 with the building officially opened in 1898. It was the first of Wakefield’s civic buildings to be wired for electricity. The building was extended between 1912 and 1915.

The WRCC continued in operation until local government reorganisation saw county councils being abolished. It was replaced by the newly created West Yorkshire County Council in 1974 (with a different geographical area). When that organisation was itself swept away following yet more local government reorganisation in 1986, County Hall was put up for sale. It was subsequently acquired by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council in 1987. Wakefield Council now uses the council chamber in County Hall for meetings of the District Council, as it is a larger space than the former council chamber in the Town Hall (the Kingswood Suite).

As the above potted history demonstrates, when it comes to regional government, nothing seems fixed for long. Politics, economics and population growth drive constant change. Although the West Yorkshire County Council was abolished in 1986, it seems as if we might be coming full circle in some respects. There is now a West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), established in April 2014, which brings together the councils of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, Wakefield and York as well as the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to create a united force for economic growth. It is currently chaired by Councillor Peter Box CBE, leader of Wakefield Council.

And with the possibility of elected mayors for city regions also under discussion, it seems we may have not yet seen the end of the changes in our regional government. It would be nice to think that Wakefield will continue to play its part in whatever political and administrative structures emerge.

José’s Tapas Restaurant – “where friends meet to eat”

This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

There are some obvious benefits to being a restaurant reviewer. That I get to try out different restaurants and taste all kinds of delectable food goes without saying, of course, but, in what is now nearly four years since I started writing these reviews for TopicUK, I have also had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people, from restaurant proprietors and managers, to the chefs and waiters without whom no restaurant could succeed.

In my reviews, I often make reference to how cosmopolitan Wakefield has become over recent years with many and varied culinary delights from around the world being available and yet, somehow, I haven’t before managed to fit in a review of a Spanish restaurant. That is an omission I can now correct following a recent visit to José’s Tapas Restaurant.

Now, regular restaurant goers in Wakefield may well have met the proprietors, husband and wife José and Sofia Escribano before – they used to have a restaurant at Newmillerdam and José has worked in a number of restaurants, both in the city and in Leeds, including Rinaldi’s and Bella Roma, before opening this newest venture in Cross Street, Wakefield. As his name suggests, José hails from Spain where his home city was Madrid, although he has been in the UK now for 37 years. Sofia meanwhile, was born in Leeds but to an Italian mother and Hungarian father.

On the night we visited, Sofia was front of house, supported by waiters Maria and Franklin. While Sofia sorted out our orders, José took charge in the kitchen with Paco, the second chef, helping to prepare meals for a steady stream of customers throughout the evening. Sofia was keen to impress that the restaurant, although bearing José’s name above the door was very much a family affair. Their son, Richard, had worked up the business plan and even done some of the fitting out while other members of their family – daughters Maria and Elizabeth and son Jonathan, along with daughter-in-law Liz – all helped out. Sofia even pointed to the table cloths and said that her mother had helped with the stitching and hemming. As well as family involvement, José and Sofia have a team of six staff to call on.

As the name suggests, this is the place to come for tapas. The last time I dined there, it had been with around 30 members of the Wakefield Civic Society Dining Club on an evening when we had taken over the whole restaurant and Sofia and José had organised a sampling menu where members were invited to try out lots of tapas dishes – and there really is a good mix to choose from, with over 20 different tapas listed on the menu, including ones with chicken, chorizo, ham, prawns and anchovies.

For the purpose of this review, there were just two of us but, as both my partner and I are vegetarian, we dispensed with the menu and left it to Sofia to make recommendations for us. She did explain that the secret with tapas was not to order too many dishes – she recommended that around five or six sharing tapas dishes would probably work for two people – there was always the option of ordering more later on, of course, if appetites allowed. You can see the menu on their website – and it’s worth taking a look beforehand.

Our meal started with pitted marinated olives (José marinates his own olives so that they are not too salty), bread and cheese, mushrooms in garlic and olive oil, tortilla (Spanish omelette – very light and fluffy!), tomatoes and asparagus, and some slightly spicy potatoes (when I say spicy, it was nothing we couldn’t handle!). There was also a basket of bread with butter to accompany.

For our main courses, José, knowing that we were vegetarian as I had mentioned this to him when I booked our table, had prepared a butternut squash for us, served with lightly roasted tomatoes and sauce. This was followed by a lovely vegetable paella for us to share.

At this point, I was ready for a lie down – the food was simple but delicious and each dish visually and aromatically appealing but there comes a time when the belt needs to be undone a notch. It was just then that Sofia asked me if we would like dessert..….at first, we declined, but our will was weak and before we knew it we found ourselves eating a creamy and fruity lemon cheesecake, although we did have just the one between us: there are limits!

Since opening, the restaurant has featured regularly at the top of the TripAdvisor customer reviews for Wakefield and has proved very popular with the Wakefield public. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch from 12 noon until 2 pm and then again in the evening from 5.30 pm until 9.30 pm, the restaurant can also be booked for private parties on Sundays and Mondays. Whenever you are planning your visit, it’s always advisable to book to avoid disappointment, especially at busy times such as Friday and Saturday evenings, and do remember to pass on details of any special dietary requirements at the time of booking. The restaurant can serve vegetarian, vegan and gluten free dishes but it always helps to let them know in advance if you can.

We had a really enjoyable evening with José and Sofia and had plenty of time to chat with them between courses. It was clear that they are passionate about the food they serve and that they are really proud of what they and their family are doing. Their enthusiasm really does shine through!

But don’t just take my word for it: go in and see it for yourselves!

http://josestapasrestaurant.com/

9-11 Cross Street, Wakefield, WF1 3BW

Eastern promise: Street Food offers diners a blend of Iranian and Turkish delights!

This article first appeared in the January 2017 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

Over the last few years, there’s a part of Wakefield that has become a sort of ‘restaurant central’ for the city centre. Walk down Northgate from Rishworth Street towards the Bull Ring, turn right and right again and walk up Wood Street. Then turn right down Cross Street and re-enter Northgate. You’ll have walked around a third of a mile. But count the restaurants as you go – how many do you think you’ll see? 5? 6? 7? Believe it or not, you’ll actually find over a dozen restaurants in this relatively small area, and that’s not counting the cafés, the takeaways and the pubs that serve food.

In the last edition of TopicUK, I wrote about one of Wakefield’s newest restaurants, the New York Italian Kitchen on the corner of Cross Street and Northgate. Having ‘filed my copy’ I went off on holiday. When I came back, well, knock me down with a feather, but I quickly spotted that yet another new restaurant had opened its doors – this time one called Street Food which is also to be found in Northgate in a converted retail unit next door to what was, until recently, Wakefield’s main post office.

Not surprisingly, given my task here is to review the city’s restaurants, I toddled along to make an appointment to view and proprietor Paul Wiper and I fixed up a date for me to dine at the restaurant. With notebook and camera in hand, I turned up at the agreed hour to set about sampling the fare.

As I said, this is a former retail unit – formerly part of a carpet shop. Well, the carpets have gone and Paul has given the shop a complete makeover to achieve a stripped back, almost industrial look. The kitchen area is front of house and an integral part of the restaurant area, so you can see what’s cooking and how it is being cooked. Large plate glass windows all round add light and give diners uninterrupted views of what’s happening in the streets outside. At night time, the restaurant sheds a warm glow onto the pavement enticing you to enter. If you do, you’ll not be disappointed!

The food is a mix of Mediterranean and eastern dishes with a tilt towards Iranian and Turkish flavours. You’ll find charcoal grilled kebabs, lamb chops and halloumi along with stuffed vine leaves, roasted aubergine and hummus. Greek salads and Turkish breads also appear on the menu. Talking to owner Paul, I learned that he had long held an aspiration to run his own restaurant but wanted one that would serve his favourite foods, something he has certainly achieved here. The restaurant is also a complete change from his usual day job selling power and construction tools.

On the night we visited, my partner and I were greeted by lead waiter Sedat and fellow waiter Tyler. A number of tables were already occupied and people were clearly enjoying their meals; word obviously travels fast on this street. Menus were offered and we made our choices. Vegetarians are well catered for in the selection of starters but mains are mainly meat or fish based. However, let Sedat know if you want a vegetarian main course and he will offer you a mezze platter made up of a number vegetarian treats. We opted for two starters each and dessert (a home-made and traditional Turkish baklava, made by Sedat himself) and were well satisfied. There is also a self-service salad bar.

Street Food is described on its Facebook page as a “bright and contemporary restaurant serving eastern cuisine” offering a “relaxed and friendly atmosphere with fresh kebabs and cocktails. What more can you ask for?” Well, I can confirm that this description rings very true: the food we ate was well presented and beautifully cooked; the service was relaxed, informal and unhurried. What more could you ask for indeed!

One thing I’ve not mentioned yet is the prices. Street Food has to be offering some of the best value dishes in Wakefield at the moment. Starters cost from £2.50 and go all the way up to £4.50 while main courses range from £7.80 for charcoal grilled chicken breast pieces served with Turkish bread and salad, up to £9.80 for charcoal grilled lamb served with chips and salad. Desserts are just £2.70 for the baklava or, for the same price, there’s a traditional Iranian sponge flavoured with rose water and cardamom. Or if you want to splash out, there’s a chocolate fudge cake with fresh cream for only £3.50.

This extraordinary value for money also extends to the drinks and beverages – a post meal coffee comes in at £1.95 and a bottle of house wine can be had for a very reasonable £11.50.

Street Food is open seven days a week from 11.30 am until 10 pm Mondays to Saturdays and from 12 noon until 9 pm on Sundays.

It’s early days yet for this restaurant but I noticed that it’s already receiving good on-line reviews from customers. With this sort of value and quality, I have no doubt that Paul and his team of 8 staff will continue to win support from the public.

So there it is, and if you didn’t know already, the word on the street right now just has to be Street Food!

Street Food on Facebook

Unit 2, Trend House, Northgate, Wakefield

Sizzling! A new menu, a new name and a new look greet diners at Restaurant 85 at Cedar Court Hotel, Wakefield.

This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

Many readers will have visited the Cedar Court Hotel, just off junction 39 of the M1 on Denby Dale Road, over the years. Whether for business or pleasure, a work do or a family occasion, the hotel has been home to many a function and celebration since it opened and has become something of an established institution in the city.

Now, the hotel is undergoing a major refurbishment with over half a million pounds spent so far. Many of the public areas have been transformed and two thirds of the bedrooms have already been upgraded with more to follow over the next couple of years.

Part of this transformation has seen the bar, lounge and restaurant areas given a complete reworking to create a light, airy and connected space, decorated in a contemporary style. The restaurant, which is open to non-residents, has been re-branded as Restaurant 85 in tribute to the year when, 31 years ago, the hotel first opened. With the re-brand comes a new menu which includes the ‘Hot Stones’ option – where you get to cook your steak to your own liking at your table on a slab of, yes, you guessed it, hot stone.

I visited the restaurant at the beginning of July with around twenty members of Wakefield Civic Society’s Dining Club to check things out for myself. This was a ‘special’ night that had been arranged for us by the hotel, a Silver Corporate Member of the Society, in recognition of the long-standing relationship between the hotel and the Civic Society.

As I’ve said before in these pages, satisfying all our Dining Club members can be a challenge but it was one that Restaurant 85 rose to admirably. With plenty of space available in the restaurant, they had arranged for us all to sit at one large table, which certainly helps conversation to flow, overlooking the planted terrace area. It was a warm evening and the doors to the terrace were open so we were able to step outside and admire the setting, although a sudden downpour did have us scurrying back inside moments later!

Welcome drinks of Prosecco and sparkling Elderflower pressé were served as we took our seats and we were introduced to our chef, Jamie, and Jacob, our lead waiter for the evening.

As we were quite a large group, members had been asked to email their orders in advance and we chose from three starters, three mains and three desserts. Starters were Cream of Watercress and Spinach Soup; Whipped Goat’s Cheese, with honey, walnut and salt-baked beets, with a pesto dressing; and In-house slow-cooked Chicken Terrine, Caesar style, grana padano and anchovy dressing. I chose the goat’s cheese dish, light and full of flavour, but the consensus was that all three options were delightful.

For the main course, around half the group opted for the 8oz-Rib Eye Steaks, on ‘Hot Stones’. These were served with plum tomatoes, garlic and thyme-roasted flat mushrooms and a generous portion of herb-crumb, hand-cut chips, and dressed baby watercress together with a choice of butter (Café de Paris, Garlic or Paprika). As people started to cook their steaks on the hot stones, the room filled with sizzling sounds, steam and not a little smoke – as well as much laughter and chatter. The steaks certainly brought the table to life! If you’d prefer it, the chef will, of course, cook your steak for you in the kitchen. Just state your preference when you order.

Meanwhile the rest of us had chosen from either the vegetarian Pumpkin Ravioli, in nut brown butter with toasted seeds and baby leaf salad, or the Char-grilled Chicken with chorizo, kale, new potatoes and olives. These were cooked for us by the chef in the kitchen – cooking ravioli ourselves on hot stones might have proved a little messy!

Desserts were a warm Yorkshire Curd Tart with vanilla bean ice cream; or Dark Chocolate Brownie with honeycomb ice cream; or Yorkshire Strawberries with cream.

We concluded with coffee and the settling of the bill, made easier because we had agreed a set price for everyone, so no calculators were required.

As I’ve explained before, one of the things we do as a Dining Club is to score the overall experience each time we meet – not just the quality of the food but also the service, value for money and atmosphere. Final scores are kept as a closely guarded secret by Civic Society treasurer Jean Broadbent until the year end when the Society announces its ‘Restaurant of the Year’ Award. Jean doesn’t let on what the scores were for each night until the year-end reckoning but I understand that the scores for Restaurant 85 were very good. Certainly, from talking to fellow diners, all seemed happy with their experience and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and the excellent service we received.

For those whose curiosity is piqued, have a look at the hotel’s website where you can download a copy of the new menu. Here you will see that prices are very reasonable with starters costing from £4.50 to £7.00 and main courses from just £10.00 to £18 for the rib-eye steak, somewhat less than you might expect for a hotel restaurant.
Of course, the restaurant isn’t just open on an evening. It’s a great place for lunch as well and I hear they do rather lovely afternoon teas which can be taken in the restaurant and lounge areas with prices starting at just £11 per person.

Meanwhile, the bar and lounge provide a bright, comfortable place to meet up during the day offering a full bar menu of soups, sandwiches, light meals and homemade classics daily. It’s also a great place for a relaxing pre-dinner drink area in the evening.

And with ample free parking available, there’s really no excuse for not re-acquainting yourself with the Cedar Court Hotel!

www.cedarcourthotels.co.uk/hotels/wakefield

Sleights of Hand and culinary magic – mystery and wonderment at Orlando’s Italian Restaurant

This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

I still don’t know how he did it. Standing just inches away from me, Orlando Gubbini, experienced restaurateur and, it turns out, accomplished magician, managed to turn Kings into Aces before my very eyes! It was at that point that I realised this was going to be an interesting evening and one unlike any other I have so far written about in this series.

My mission when I am asked to write these reviews is to report back on the food and service at the various establishments I visit and to give an account of the overall experience to be enjoyed should you choose to follow in my footsteps (or, more likely, tyre tracks).

For my latest review, I was asked to visit Orlando’s Restaurant at Grange Moor – around 9 miles out of Wakefield city centre on the way to Huddersfield. As such, it was a bit off my well-beaten track but I’m always keen to explore so two of us took ourselves off, heading west along the A642.

The restaurant is set back from the main road behind a large carpark and has open views to the rear over open countryside. On entering the building and being shown to our table, I was reminded by the décor of the many traditional trattorias I have visited on my travels in Italy. With the windows open and the sun gently settling towards the horizon, it even felt a bit like Italy!

Our orders were taken and shortly after we were presented with fresh bread and tomato dip to nibble on along with our drinks while we waited until the starters arrived. It was at this point that proprietor Orlando approached with his pack of cards. Showing us four cards, two revealed to be black Kings, and two face down, he shuffled them and asked us what we had seen. Two black Kings, we replied! Not so, he said to show us to red Kings but with two cards still face down. Obvious, we thought – he’s just reversed the cards and we’re not so easily fooled! But then came the master piece – he turned all four cards over to reveal four Aces and no Kings! And it wasn’t as if he’d had something hidden up his sleeves – he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt!

Time to eat as our starters arrived – one serving of Mozzarella Carrozza (deep-fried mozzarella cheese in bread crumbs, served in a tomato and basil sauce) and one of Triangoli Di Formaggio (golden deep-fried brie served with cranberry sauce – a particular favourite of mine). These were generous portions and rather lovely.

As we ate, we watched Orlando and his team of kitchen and serving staff as they looked after their customers for the evening. The restaurant, which can accommodate up to 65 diners, employs three chefs and the kitchen opens out on to the restaurant, so you can see the staff working hard preparing the food you have just ordered.

In between attending to his customers’ culinary requirements, Orlando moved from table to table performing more of his magic tricks, to the bewilderment of the adults and the delight of any children present: prestidigitation, or legerdemain if you prefer, goes down well here! Orlando is a member of the Huddersfield Circle of Magicians (find out more at www.huddersfieldmagic.co.uk), but he wasn’t giving anything away about how he did his tricks.

For our main courses, my partner and I had the Cannelloni Vegetariana and the Tortellini Ricotta; simple authentic Italian-style food that was freshly prepared, nicely presented and a joy to eat. I needed a slight pause after that before I could face dessert so took the opportunity of asking Orlando something about himself.

He told me that he spent the first fifteen years of his life living in France and then moved to live in Italy. Having attended catering school, he has spent his career working in the catering and hospitality trade – from working on cruise lines and as a plane steward, to running the café at Hampson’s Garden Centre, first in Huddersfield and then in Wakefield.

Fifteen years ago, he acquired what had been a Little Chef café on the Wakefield Road at Grange Moor and opened his restaurant with his wife Caroline. (One of the reasons Orlando gave for choosing the location was that it was half-way between his former customers from the Huddersfield and Wakefield gardens centres.) The café had originally built in wood but Orlando was to demolish that building to erect the more substantial structure that is there today.

Somehow, I managed to find room for a dessert and opted once more for a traditional Italian favourite – a light and creamy Tiramisu – before ending with a coffee.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening. Prices are very reasonable – starters from under £4 and mains from under £8 (but going up to over £20 for the top-end fillet steak dish). There is also a set menu for £13.95 including a glass of wine and a children’s menu. On Thursday evenings, Orlando has reintroduced a popular Tapas option – only £17.95 for two people which includes seven dishes. As you would expect, there’s a good selection of wines and beers to accompany your meal.

So, that’s Orlando’s for you. If you’ve not been before, it’s well worth a visit. Good food, great hospitality and, of course, it’s magic!

www.orlandosrestaurant.com

5 Wakefield Road, Grange Moor, Wakefield, WF4 4DS

Dining with the Quality – Taking Yorkshire to the House of Lords

This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK.

As a restaurant reviewer, I’m always prepared to travel in search of that special meal and when the Yorkshire Society provided a rare opportunity to dine at the House of Lords back in February 2016, I needed little convincing. Here is my review of a rather unique evening.

Back in 2013, I took the opportunity to visit the Houses of Parliament, doing the full guided tour offered to members of the public. If you know that in my career as a Civil Servant I made the occasional visit to the building in my official capacity, this might sound surprising but the tour revealed parts of the building to me that I’d never seen before when there on business, so it was well worth the entry fee: the building simply oozes history with parts of it dating back to the eleventh century. The tour also proved fascinating for my partner whose ancestors include one of the stone masons, Timothy Peckett (born in Barnsley in 1819), who helped with the construction of what is the New Palace of Westminster after the fire of 1834 destroyed much of the former palace building. Timothy Peckett was recruited to work on the building because he had experience of working with the Yorkshire Stone from which the New Palace is built.

One thing that I never did when visiting with my work, was to have a meal there so when the Yorkshire Society announced that they would be holding a dinner at the House of Lords, I found it difficult to resist and purchased tickets for my partner and myself.

Now, my relationship with the Yorkshire Society is through Wakefield Civic Society as each organisation has reciprocal membership of the other. The Yorkshire Society is a not-for-profit membership organisation established in 1980 with the aim of encouraging businesses, charities and individuals, whether from Yorkshire or just based here, to join together in “promoting the county”.

My tickets duly arrived. Our official host for the evening would be Lord Kamlesh Kumar Patel of Bradford, OBE, one of the Yorkshire Society Vice Presidents, and we were to present ourselves at Black Rod’s Garden Entrance at the House of Lords for 7pm. Train tickets were ordered and a hotel was booked for the evening (talk about pushing the boat out!).

On the day, we travelled down to London and checked in to our hotel before setting out to do some sight-seeing. As luck would have it, by evening, the heavens had opened so we decided on a taxi – a tear-inducing extravagance in London!

It’s not every day that you have to go through airport-style security to gain admission to your dinner but the process was efficiently handled and we soon found ourselves in the Cholmondeley Room in the House of Lords rubbing shoulders with around 120 members and guests of the Yorkshire Society at a drinks reception. Many had travelled down from Yorkshire especially for the dinner (and it was good to count a few members of Wakefield Civic Society in their midst) but some had travelled from elsewhere, including some now resident in London. One particularly recognisable face was BBC Look North presenter, Harry Gration, another of the Yorkshire Society’s several Vice Presidents.

In due course, we were ushered into the Terrace Dining Room which gave commanding views across the River Thames. Seats were pre-allocated and we discovered that we would be in some very good company as we joined a table with Sir Rodney and Lady Walker (Sir Rodney is also a Vice President of the Yorkshire Society), Rod and Sheila Scholes (Rod is Treasurer of the Yorkshire Society), Wakefield business leader Margaret Wood MBE, as well as two people whom we got to know better over dinner – Karen Swainston and Caroline Pullich, both Yorkshire representatives of Barclays Bank.

Speeches were from Lord Patel, Sir David Wootton (the first Bradfordian to be Lord Mayor of London), businessman Ken Wootton (no relation but he and Sir David did both attend Bradford Grammar School), and Keith Madeley, MBE, chairman of the Yorkshire Society.

One of the mains reasons for the dinner was to mark the creation of a Yorkshire Society branch in London which will be chaired by Ken Wootton with Sir David Wootton taking on the role of President. Having a Yorkshire Society branch in London will not only provide a place of sanctuary for homesick Yorkshire folk but will also help to promote the interests of Yorkshire including its business and sporting achievements to a London audience, particularly to decision makers and influencers within government. As Lord Patel explained, if the Northern Powerhouse was to become a reality, there had to be a connection between the region and the Westminster village.

Now, and not forgetting my role here as a restaurant reviewer, I must turn my attention to the meal itself. This consisted of a three-course set meal starting with a double-baked cheese soufflé, followed by loin of venison with all the trimmings and then what was billed as a dark chocolate brûlée for dessert (it was closer to a chocolate mousse in reality – but still very enjoyable). Special diets were, of course, catered for and the vegetarians among us, me included, were presented with vegetable cannelloni. To finish, there was coffee and House of Lords truffles (the latter wrapped in little presentation boxes). Wine accompanied the meal and I’m pleased to report there was no stinting on the measures – which probably helped with the rather relaxed atmosphere and we were all in party mood as we left having had a truly marvellous evening in a splendid setting.

As we emerged into the late evening rain, my partner and I looked at each other and after some conferring, we agreed that we’d walk back to the hotel – no more expensive taxis for us. Well, we are from Yorkshire after all!

While dining at the House of Lords might require a specially organised event or a private invitation, you can enjoy a tour of Parliament and follow it with an afternoon tea on most Saturday afternoons throughout the year. See www.parliament.uk/afternoon-tea for more information.

Find out more about the Yorkshire Society at www.yorkshiresociety.org.uk or by emailing membership@yorkshiresociety.org.uk

In some secluded rendezvous; it was Cocktails for 2 at Create Café! (Actually, there were 48 of us).

This article first appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

If, ladies and gentlemen, you turn to your bookshelves and take down for a moment your copy of The Savoy Cocktail Book, you will be reminded (for I’m sure you already knew) that the term ‘cocktail’ has a somewhat cloudy and disputed etymology. It does seem likely, however, that the word has been in use for over two hundred years, which shows, if nothing else, the enduring popularity of the ‘mixed drink’.

There has been a definite resurgence of interest in cocktails in recent years, as I can testify! Regular readers of my articles will already be aware that I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the contents of a cocktail glass, so it was with a quickening pulse that I headed for Create Café recently to participate in a special event organised for members of Wakefield Civic Society’s Dining Club.

I’ve written in these pages before about the Society’s Dining Club, so I’ll keep the next bit short: the club was set up in 2010 and meets on the first Thursday evening of each month to sample the different eateries in and around Wakefield. At the end of each meal, members score their overall experience of the evening based on quality of the food and service, the value for money and the ambience, comfort and atmosphere of the establishment. At the end of the year, the Society awards its Restaurant of the Year Award to the place that was scored most highly by the members.

In November 2015, the Dining Club paid its first visit to Create Café, located on the lower ground floor of Wakefield One, the new civic building behind County Hall. By all accounts (sadly I missed it), they had a great time and there was something of a clamour from members to go back. Manager Shaun Mounsey proposed a rather special event for us – a Cocktail Master Class followed by a three-course meal, and all for just £25 per person. Needless to say, demand was high (we even had a few new members join the Dining Club!) and 48 people found themselves seated expectantly waiting for Shaun to dispense wisdom and cocktails in equal measure.

The event, which was exclusive for the Society’s Dining Club and guests as Create Café is not usually open on an evening, began at 6.30 pm and hush descended as Shaun began to explain the mysteries of the Citrus Squash, a vodka-based cocktail which made use of lime and lemon juice with a soda top. Shaun mixed a large glassful, poured over lots of ice (the trick, if serving your cocktail on the rocks, is to keep the drink chilled – use too little ice and it melts, diluting the drink). He gave that one to Dining Club organiser and Society treasurer Jean Broadbent to taste. Meanwhile, Shaun’s staff appeared with trays of quarter measure cocktails made to the same recipe for audience members to sample.

For his second cocktail, Shaun conjured up a Raspberrytini, a gin-based mix of raspberry purée, Chambord, lemon and sugar syrup. Again, the drink Shaun made was passed to a member of the audience (in this case, Angie de Courcy Bower, to mark a birthday) while everyone else was given a further quarter measure to taste.

The third cocktail, an Apple Core, was another vodka-based drink with, yes, apple purée, lemon, passion syrup and a lemonade top. The full measure was handed to a member of the audience (Kath Stringer, whose birthday was imminent, I think – by this time, I’d stopped paying complete attention!) while the rest of us tried our third quarter measure.

The final cocktail rustled up by our mixologist, was a rum-based Bajan Mojito. In addition to the rum, this contained, although not necessarily in this order, passion syrup, passion purée and lime juice, with a lemonade top. While audience members contented themselves with their fourth quarter measure sampler, Shaun handed me the Bajan Mojito he had made (fair’s fair: I also have birthdays and this research is thirsty work) and we adjourned to the dining tables set up for the meal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the room took on an even more convivial glow…..
Now, to serve 48 people reasonably quickly, some preparation had been required. Dining Club members had been asked to pre-order their food from a special set menu with a limited number of options. To start, there was a choice of tomato and herb soup, served with fresh bread, or chicken and thyme terrine with pea and mint dressing and pea shoots. Main courses were herb-crusted pork loin with fondant potato and red wine jus, or beef shin rilette with fondant potato and red wine jus, or a parsnip risotto with parsnip crisp and Italian hard cheese. For dessert, there was either caramelized lemon tart with lemon mascarpone and lemon crisp or a sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce.

The food had been cooking while we were learning about the cocktails, so everything was ready and it was just a matter of identifying who had ordered which choices. Drinks orders were taken (the capacity of some remains undiminished although drinks taken with the meal were not included in the headline price and were charged separately) and the food was served: quality and quantity were just right.

All in all, everyone had a really enjoyable evening and I’ve no doubt there’ll be a return visit at some point. As I explained, this was a special event laid on for the Society’s Dining Club but Shaun would be happy to discuss evening opening for groups, so do get in touch. The Café occupies a large area and can accommodate bigger groups than ours if required.

Of course, you don’t have to be part of an organised group to enjoy the food available at Create Café. Why not pop along during the day and sample anything from a coffee and a bun through to a cooked meal? It’s a busy, vibrant place and great for networking. Being based in the council’s building and not far from Westgate Station, there are people popping in and out all the time and you never know whom you might bump into! You might even see me with a coach party just setting off to explore Wakefield on one of my guided walks!

Call in any day of the week and there will be a warm welcome from Shaun and his front of house team, Jon and Jake, as well as from head chef James and Tim, the regular back of house team.

www.createcafewakefield.co.uk

Burton Street, Wakefield, WF1 2EB. (Enter either from Burton Street or Cliff Lane entrances to Wakefield One)

It was on the Isle of Capri that I found her…..

This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

Readers will, I am sure, be familiar with the 1934 tango The Isle of Capri (music by Wilhelm Grosz, also known as Hugh Williams, and lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy) that tells of a thwarted romantic liaison. It was a popular song of the period, made famous by the likes of Al Bowlly and Gracie Fields. Some of you may, like me, have visited the idyllic island (to which Gracie Fields eventually retired). Set in the blue Tyrrhenian Sea off the east coast of Italy with views across the water to Naples, Sorrento and Mount Vesuvius, it’s a great place to relax and savour the flavour of Italian cuisine.

Well, on a cold wintry night in Wakefield, the idea of Capri might seem a long way away – yet it’s somewhat closer than you might think…..

Drive out of Wakefield on the A642 towards Huddersfield and, where Coxley Beck meets Smithy Brook at Horbury Bridge, you’ll find the subject of my latest review – the Capri Restaurant and Wine Bar.

This very popular restaurant has been recommended to me so many times that I’m almost ashamed to say that this was my first visit. However, my dining companion and I were warmly greeted by co-owners Paymen Karimi and his daughter Natalie (the third partner in the business is Paymen’s son, Dominik but he was busy cooking in the kitchen when we arrived, although I did meet him later in the evening).

If you’ve not been before, the restaurant is deceiving when you first arrive. Back in the 1950s, this was the site of the Woodcock’s Café run by the Woodcock family for many years. When Paymen acquired the building some twenty years ago it was very neglected and needed a lot of work to get things up and running. As the restaurant has grown in popularity, it has also grown in size with several extensions having been added over the years to create a suite of rooms including an upstairs private function room available for hire, and spaces for private dining. The restaurant now has capacity for 240 diners and employs some 37 staff!

We visited on a Monday evening. Now you don’t expect to see many people dining out early in the week but the Capri was surprisingly busy; there were a couple of family birthday celebrations in progress (the restaurant is definitely child friendly), while couples and small groups added to the mix, giving the place a lively and animated feel. The mood is relaxed and informal with the décor adding a touch of class – glitzy chandeliers and smart grey paint.

The menu is typically and reassuringly Italian (Paymen hails from Sardinia after all) and aims to provide “Excellence in classical and innovative Italian cuisine, using exquisite produce, influenced strongly by healthy eating”. It boasts a good selection of traditional pasta and pizza meals as well as house specials featuring chicken, duck, veal, fish or beef dishes. There was also a satisfying range of vegetarian options from which to choose. Prices are very reasonable with starters ranging from just over £4 and mains from just over £6 but be prepared to pay up to £19/£20 for one of the fillet steaks. Wine starts at £12.95 a bottle for the Vino del Casa (also available by the glass).

So, what did we have? Well, we started with Bruschetta Al Pomodoro for me and Insalata Tricolore for my companion. We followed that with the vegetarian Lasagne and Ravioli respectively and finished off with Panna Cotta and Crème Brûlée. The food could not be faulted. Nicely presented and cooked to perfection with reasonable portions (we came away feeling full but not overloaded). As the driver in this relationship, I had to content myself with a fruit juice but my companion pushed the boat out somewhat and had a glass of the house red, which I’m told was very palatable. We rounded the meal off with coffee as you might expect.

Coffees quaffed, I had a chat with Paymen who showed me around and told me something about the restaurant. As a separate part of the business, there is a take-away counter and they even run the Capri Home Dining service – where you can have food, freshly cooked from the restaurant, delivered to your home.

In addition to their regular seven-day-a-week opening, the restaurant also hosts special tribute nights on the last Tuesday night of the month. These are hugely popular and really need to be booked in advance – Paymen told me he had 180 people booked in for the Music of Motown night due the day after my visit. Ranging from ‘Sinatra to Robbie Williams, Blues Brothers to Cher’, these nights have proven to be a roaring success and customers can expect entertainment and dancing: it’s not unheard of for customers and staff to strut their stuff…!

It’s obvious that Paymen, Natalie and Dominik have found the recipe for a successful business and it’s one they intend to build on. They recently acquired the Vine Tree pub at Newton Hill. If you’ve driven past there recently, you’ll know it’s undergoing a major refurbishment and extensive building work is underway to create a new extension. This will be Capri 2 (the exact name has still to be decided upon) and is due to open early in 2016. Paymen is very proud of this new venture and talked me through his plans. He’s promised me an invitation to the opening night – so watch out for a review of the new venue very soon!

A final word about the Isle of Capri. I asked Paymen why he’d chosen the name Capri for his restaurant. Given his Italian origins, I had a romantic notion that the island might have played some significant part in his personal history. Alas, the notion was doomed. Paymen said that, while he had indeed visited the island many times, when he first set the business up, he had run a competition to select the name and it was drawn out of a hat!

http://www.caprirestaurant.co.uk/

223 Bridge road, Horbury, Wakefield WF4 5QA

How Now, Brown Cow? The Brown Cow at Ackworth is under new management.

This article first appeared in the October 2015 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

When TopicUK editor Gill asked me to find somewhere outside Wakefield for my next review, I sought advice from friends at Pontefract Civic Society and the Brown Cow at Ackworth was high on the list of the recommendations I received back. I was vaguely familiar with the establishment having visited the place a number of times in my younger days, but it’s been a very long time since I was last there (a very, very long time, in fact), so a return visit was long overdue and I booked a table for lunch.

The pub sits on a prominent, slightly raised, position on the Pontefract Road in the heart of the village. As you drive through Ackworth from the Wakefield direction, it is impossible to miss, being right on a bend in the road so it’s directly ahead of you as you drive towards it. Pull in just after the pub to access the ample car park at the rear of the building.

The Brown Cow is now under new management with a bright and friendly young team having taken over just a few months ago. Business partners Adam Wrightson, Kirsty Gillies, Dean Conway and Julie Gillies have been managing the pub since June this year. They already have experience in the licensed trade as they have been running The Angel pub, also at Ackworth, for the last eighteen months. They now split their time between the two pubs with Kirsty and Adam living in at The Brown Cow while Dean and Julie concentrate more on The Angel.

On the day of my visit, it was barman Hedley Conway welcomed me with a big smile – he knew I was coming to do the review and seeing the copy of TopicUK I was carrying was enough to cause the penny to drop. When I telephoned the pub ahead of my visit to book my table, I had explained that my dining companion and I were vegetarians so it was a pleasure to be told that the chef had created a vegetarian special for us to sample – a Provençale Vegetable Stew with Grilled Goats’ Cheese served with an Asparagus and Carrot Salad enlivened with homemade French mustard and vinaigrette. The pub caters well for vegetarians and there are always options available, including vegetarian specials. They can also cater for other special diets on request as food is cooked to order.

We chose a table by the window, drinks were ordered and shortly afterwards, the food was served. It looked good enough to eat and it was! Beautifully prepared and cooked to perfection, there was enough to satisfy the hunger pangs without over-facing us, which was important as we had to leave room for dessert. I settled for the old school dinners favourite of apple crumble and custard while my companion had the sticky toffee pudding, which also came with custard. Nice comfort food but not too heavy. Rounding off the lunch with coffee and mint chocolates, we relaxed and observed the comings and goings of the other customers.

Adam and Hedley were certainly kept busy as a number of people had followed us. Two chaps in the corner having what looked like a business lunch – all mobile phones and notebooks between courses, and a number of ladies were lunching, as well as what looked like a family group. Meanwhile, over at the bar, some locals had arrived for a pint (or possibly two – I wasn’t counting, honest!). Given its location in a village setting, The Brown Cow is of course something of a focal point for local residents and it was good to see the new enterprise being so well supported, even though one or two were clearly surprised and intrigued when I went through my usual routine of taking photographs of my lunch from every angle before tucking in.

The new management are keen to ring some changes; with chef Callum Gillies (yes, as you might have gathered, this is something of a family business), new dishes are being introduced and the menu given a more cosmopolitan feel, pub grub with a twist, you might say, but traditional favourites are there as well and it was notable that a number of the other customers had selected fish and chips for their lunch. If you fancy something off the specials board, you could try the Roasted Belly Pork on a Bed of Grain Mustard Mash and Savoy Cabbage served with Seasonal Vegetables which comes in at a very reasonable £9.95. Or how about Venison Steak served medium rare and accompanied by Creamy Mash, Sweet Onion Gravy and Seasonal Vegetables for £12.50? If that doesn’t tempt you, why not try something off the Tapas board where prices run from £2.50 to £4.50.

After my meal, I spoke to Kirsty and Adam. Since moving in, they have been giving some thought to what they can do with the place and have been discussing some refurbishment options with the owners, Enterprise Inns. These will be introduced slowly; at the moment, Kirsty and Adam need to consolidate their position and secure a good reputation for the quality of their food, drink and service with the local community as well as with the passing trade. As well as making changes to the menu, they are also introducing new beers – they were very proud of their bar which looked rather empty when they took over but now has three hand-pulled beers, three lagers, two ciders plus a bitter and, of course, Guiness which is on a ‘surger’ (a device that uses sound waves to produce the familiar creamy head on when Guiness is poured from a can; who knew?). Their favourite is the Black Sheep bitter although they do have a Yorkshire Blonde on the bar as well. They are also looking to improve the range of wines they offer.

With my interest in history, I had to ask about the pub’s back story. Over the bar there is an old black and white photograph of how the pub used to look. It was originally three cottages knocked through to create a pub. At some point, it was rebuilt as the building that exists today when it was originally run as a hotel. Although I didn’t take a look myself, Kirsty told me that the building was very spacious upstairs having five guest bedrooms and a function room. However, there are no plans at present to re-open these to the public as the upstairs is currently Kirsty and Adam’s private living. They are quite keen to learn more about the history of the pub, however, and are working with Ackworth Heritage Group to discover more about the building’s past: Ackworth is itself an interesting and historic place to explore with lots of attractive old buildings, so a post-prandial stroll could prove worthwhile. By the way, I was told that the name Brown Cow comes from a cow of that colour kept by the monks at nearby St Cuthbert’s Church and who always had very good relations with the pub……..I think that might be a story for another day.

We enjoyed our visit to The Brown Cow; the food was good and the hospitality genial. The new team deserves to do well. Why not make a date to see for yourself?

The Brown Cow on FacebookThe Brown Cow on Facebook

Pontefract Road, Ackworth, Pontefract, WF7 7EL

Valentino’s Ristorante Italiano, Outwood – A little bit of Italy in the afternoon

This article first appeared in the February 2015 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

It was rather cold when my partner and I called into Valetino’s for lunch one Friday in the middle of January – in fact, so cold that there snow on the ground! So it was lovely to step inside and be met with a warm welcome from manager Sigita Pikturnaite. We’d only been to the restaurant once before, and that was on an evening when we had eaten a very good meal, so we were looking forward to seeing how it all came together at lunchtime.

For those of you who have not yet tried Valentino’s, the first surprise is just how deceptively large it is inside! The eye is immediately drawn to the large mural of the unmistakable Florentine skyline and its magnificent duomo. This mural completely covers the wall at the far end of the room and it was next to this that Sigita had reserved a table for my dining companion and me. Despite the cold weather, a number of people had ventured out to enjoy the lunchtime experience and it was nice to see this local restaurant being well supported.

Many of you will probably be familiar with this well-established restaurant, either because you’ve already eaten there or because you’ve passed it as you travel along the A61 Leeds Road between Outwood and Lofthouse. Opened some sixteen years ago by owners Afy Butt and Shahid Tarer, who wanted to provide locally-sourced food at affordable prices, the restaurant offers a comfortable environment in which to enjoy beautifully prepared food. The interior décor and furnishings certainly capture the look and feel of a typical Italian-style restaurant. To the left as you enter, there’s a well-stocked bar and seating area where people can relax and order a drink while they are waiting for their table at busy periods, and then, to the right is a spacious dining area with tables configurable for intimate dining à deux or for family and party groups.

Lunchtime opening is a relatively new facility in Valentino’s history, having been introduced only a couple of years ago. It is open Tuesday to Friday lunchtimes from 12 noon until 3 pm (last orders at 2.45 pm) and then re-opens at 5 pm until 10.00 pm for the evening service. At weekends, Valentino’s is open all afternoon from noon onwards ‘until late’. On Mondays, the restaurant is closed all day except for bank holidays when it is open as for weekends.

There are two main menus – a full à la carte menu which is available any time and a shorter lunchtime menu made up of lighter meals. Dishes on the lunchtime menu are very reasonably priced with starters costing around £3 to £4 and main courses from £4.95 to just over £8 with a selection of vegetables and salads available as side orders. Prices on the à la carte menu are a little higher, but with more generous portion size, but it’s still possible to have a three-course à la carte meal for around £20. You can, of course, choose courses from both menus if you wish. A children’s menu is also available. As you would expect, there is an extensive selection of wines and beers to choose from with bottles of wine starting at £13.95.

Not forgetting that we were there to sample the food, my partner and I agreed to try out both menus between us – my partner testing the lunch menu while I focused on the à la carte. I began with Warm Goats Cheese. This consisted of a flat cap mushroom topped with goats’ cheese and served with cherry tomatoes and basil dressing, one of my favourite dishes, and it was very good. My partner went for the simpler but no less appetising Insalata Caprese, a traditional dish of mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes and basil. To follow this, I plumped for the Porcini Ravioli while my partner had the Spinach and Ricotta Cheese Ravioli. Yes, you’ll notice we both had ravioli, but the dishes were very different as you might expect – my ravioli, from the à la carte menu was priced at £10.95, while my partner’s, ordered from the lunchtime menu, was just £5.65. There was no difference in quality but there was a difference in portion size and ingredients. However, we both professed ourselves very satisfied with our choices.
Actually, I had a wobbly moment just before my plate arrived! Making notes for this review, I spotted that, as well as a small ‘V’, there was also a small ‘H’ against my Porcini Ravioli on the menu. This apparently indicated that the dish would be hot and spicy – and I’m not keen on either hot or spicy! I went back and read the menu again and realised I should have paid more attention – the full description showed that I had just ordered “Pasta filled with porcini mushrooms with a creama truffle sauce – and chilli flakes”. In the end, I decided to stick with what I’d asked for and I’m pleased I did. Yes, I could taste the chilli, but it wasn’t so hot to be appreciable. I suppose that, had I wanted something truly hot and spicy, I could have been a tad disappointed so it might be worth discussing just how hot – or not – you want your pasta when you place your order.

To conclude our meal, we were tempted by the dessert menu (there’s one dessert menu, whichever menu you are eating your main courses from) with me choosing the Homemade Tiramisu and my partner the Crème Brûlée. Again, we both really enjoyed our choices. The Crème Brûlée was light and creamy, while the Tiramisu was rich and smooth. We rounded off with coffee, both in full agreement that the meal had been delicious.

Now, for those of you who like a bit of meat with your meal, both menus do, of course, offer a good range of meat and fish dishes, with the à la carte menu in particular providing a good selection of beef steaks as well as chicken dishes. The beef, we were told, is sourced from carefully selected farmers in the Yorkshire Dales, the Yorkshire Wolds, and The Vale of York, while the chicken comes from Harome, near Helmsley.

After our meal, I chatted to manager Sigita, who hails originally from Lithuania but has now been in the UK for ten years. With co-manager Lewis Jeffels, Sigita and her team want to provide a relaxed, welcoming environment for their customers and lunch can either be a leisurely affair or served a bit more quickly if you have to get back to work afterwards. Just make sure you tell the staff if you are short of time.

Sigita told me that the restaurant employs around 20 staff. While it is usually busiest in the evening, the decision to open at lunchtime was an obvious move for the owners; staff were working in the restaurant during the day anyway, prepping for the evening service, and they had the capacity to serve meals at lunchtime, taking advantage of the passing trade as well as providing somewhere to eat for the many local residents. Although about two and a half miles outside Wakefield city centre, the restaurant is easy to reach by car and public transport and there is ample free parking in front of the building.

If you’ve not tried Valentino’s yet, do give it a go – you’ll not be disappointed.

http://valentinoswakefield.co.uk

699 Leeds Road, Lofthouse Gate, Wakefield, WF3 3HJ