Lunching at The Castle – Sandal, Wakefield

This article first appeared in the October 2013 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

There’s something rather civilised about having a good lunch in elegant surroundings. I’ve been a frequent practitioner in my day, taking time out whenever the opportunity presents itself to meet up with friends and colleagues for three courses of scintillating conversation, sparkling repartee and a dollop of witty banter, interspersed with fine food and something liquid in a nice glass. No wonder Miss Otis regretted…….

I decided it was time to do a lunchtime review for my column and so, accompanied by three hungry companions, I made the short trip along Barnsley Road to visit The Castle at Sandal, a long-established venue which claims on its website to be “a fabulous village pub and restaurant serving up tasty, top-notch food alongside an eclectic range of wines and cask ales in cosy, stylish surroundings”.

Although the building dates back to the 1820s, it has been much extended and altered and, on entering, you do get the feel of walking into a cosy country house. There’s a comfortable lounge area with open fireplaces and then the bar area itself; the restaurant is to the back of the pub overlooking the garden. The whole place is tastefully fitted out in a mix of traditional and contemporary furnishings that give little hint that The Castle is actually part of a larger chain – one of 40 pubs across the country that make up Mitchells and Butlers ‘Village Pub and Kitchen’ brand.

I have been to The Castle before, of course, so had some idea of what to expect. It was voted one of Wakefield Civic Society’s ‘Restaurants of the Year’ in 2010 by members of the Society’s Dining Club. Booking a table is strongly recommended at The Castle, especially on Friday evenings and at the weekend, as it gets very busy. You can do this on-line via their website or by phone. I had booked the table a few days before and, on arrival, my companions and I were shown to our table straightaway by our waitress, Ruth, who then took our drinks orders while we perused the menu.

The drinks menu is probably worthy of a special menu in itself being a 26-page booklet that tells you all about the wines, bottled beers and ciders, soft drinks and post-prandial beverages that are available. You can download a copy from their website and study it in advance if you want to avoid a lull in the conversation over the meal while you read through it! Prices start at a fairly typical £12.95 for a bottle of Cabernet or Chardonnay but work their way up to a rather sobering £79.95 for a Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Morgeot. The pub also specialises in cask ales and is Cask Marque accredited.

For the food, there are two menus, the main, anytime à la carte menu and a shorter, daytime, menu of “lighter bites”. There is also a separate desserts menu.

For my starter, I chose the Sautéed Portobello and Oyster Mushrooms in a Marsala cream sauce on toasted ciabatta (£4.95) from the à la carte menu and what an excellent choice this turned out to be: light, delicious and beautifully prepared! It was the envy of my companions, two of whom had opted for the Baked Chilli and Garlic flat Mushrooms from the daytime menu. These were very well presented and looked good on the plate but, although regular eaters of the hot and spicy, my companions were a little surprised by the strength of the Chilli. They got used to it though.

For mains, I stayed with the à la carte menu to order the Crispy Potato, Squash, Olive and Truffle Oil Cake with globe artichoke, roasted beetroot and home-made salsa verde (£10.95). This was very pleasant and one of three main dishes suitable for vegetarians on the à la carte menu; the beetroot was lovely and sweet. Two of my companions joined me on the à la carte menu meanwhile, one enjoying the Grilled Sirloin Steak served with chunky chips, confit tomato, mushroom and watercress (£16.50) while the other tucked into the Slow-cooked Pork Belly and Seared Fresh King Scallops served with black pudding, mashed potato, a Braeburn apple fritter, green beans and a sticky Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer glaze (£17.50). They both expressed themselves very content with their choices. My third companion ordered a Baked Macaroni Cheese Tart served with roasted onion puree and a caramelised onion and wild rocket salad. Again, he was satisfied with his choice and at £7.95 from the daytime menu, it represented good value for money.

We all managed to order desserts – well, you have to, don’t you? However, I have to confess that my rather generous but very agreeable Apple and Summer Fruit Crumble served with a small jug of custard (£5.50) proved my undoing and I had to draw a line with some left uneaten in the dish. My companions had no such problems and variously polished off a Strawberry Tart with fresh strawberries, strawberry coulis and chopped nuts (£4.95); a Salted Caramel and Chocolate in a Pastry Pot with caramel sauce and Chantilly cream (£6.25); and a Vanilla & Peach Crème Brûlée with poached raspberries (£5.75).

Now, a restaurant reviewer’s life is not just about eating a hearty meal and then knocking out a thousand words or so to impress the readers. Research has to be done as well. So, hardly waiting for the digestive juices to do their work, I sought out The Castle’s manager, Neil Grant, for a chat and to fire off some questions: I know my readers like background!

Neil told me that the establishment employs between 18 and 25 people throughout the year, depending on the season (all these eating establishments in Wakefield must be making a significant contribution collectively to job opportunities across the city). Neil has been there nearly two years himself now but is to move off shortly to another position in the company: assistant manager Chris Chew will be taking over the reigns as manager when Neil leaves.

Neil ran me through the weekly programme at The Castle: from Retro Dining Nights on Monday and Tuesday, Ladies Night (open to men as well, or course!) on Wednesdays, Tastefully Social Night on Thursday, and Fin and Fizz on Friday (that’s fish and bubbly, by the way), there is something for everyone here. Saturday specials offer freshly prepared premium meals while Sunday is the day for the traditional Sunday lunch, which can be served on platters made for sharing.

The Castle has a lot going for it. Good food, nice surroundings, friendly staff, a large car park and a beer garden. If you are looking to entertain a client, have lunch with a colleague, or meet up with friends and family, this place is certainly worth a try. You can relax in an armchair over a bar meal with waiter service or have the full dining experience in the restaurant. There’s no need to rush your meal – the pace can be as relaxed as you like and the restaurant serves food all afternoon – they don’t close after lunch as some pubs do. And if you find you’ve over-indulged, you can always go for a walk around Wakefield’s other castle which is just a short stroll away…..

343 Barnsley Road, Wakefield, WF2 6AS

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