Good Design Rules!

Design is my theme and I’d like to ask you to consider the subject from the perspective of four different quotes that I shall introduce to you shortly. For me, there is a difference between matters of design, which I think it is possible to assess using objective criteria – design rules, if you like – and matters of taste, for which there’s really no accounting! We often talk about our favourite books, music, food, colours, cars, holiday destinations and so on but when it comes to favourites, these are matters of personal taste. Good design might in some cases have led to something being a favourite, and, indeed a favourite of many, but taste and design are not the same thing.

Before I start, I should make clear that I really writing this for fellow civic society members. I’m not an architect or designer but, like many lay people who volunteer their time to serve on the committees of civic societies, I often find myself drawn into debates about good design. For civic society readers, it is the design of the built environment that will be your main priority, but when it comes to design, some rules are universal in their application.

Let me frame this article by reference to four quotes I’ve selected (not quite a random) from the internet:

Quote 1: “Form ever follows function, and this is the law” Louis Sullivan

Sullivan (1856-1924) was an American architect sometimes referred to as “father of skyscrapers”. The design of any item should take account of its function – there is no point in designing something, no matter how beautiful, if it doesn’t work well. The stylish shoes that give you bunions; the smart alarm clock that is so quiet when it goes off that you have to be awake already to hear it; the  boutique hotel room so over-designed that you can’t find the light switch – I could go on….. The same considerations must surely apply to buildings and to public spaces. Is a building ‘legible’ – as you walk up to it, can you tell where the entrance is? Is its purpose obvious – or do you have to work out what it is from the written signs? Are streets safe for pedestrians as well as vehicles to use? Do buildings have active and interesting street fronts that make them pleasant places to walk by? Are public spaces laid out in such a way that they invite people to tarry and wander, or are they unpleasant places that make you want to scurry through as fast as you can?

Quote 2: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” Eliel Saarinen

People often criticize new buildings because the design doesn’t “fit in”. The concern here is that the new development takes no account of context. I remember someone telling me (although I can’t remember who it was) that when the designs for St Pancras Station in London were first put forward, there were people who complained the new building wouldn’t fit in. Arguably, it still doesn’t but it is majestic enough not to need to fit in: it makes a statement of its own that is aesthetically appealing and a delight to see. There will be times when new buildings will work better if they blend in, but there will be occasions when gateway, or landmark, buildings are required to stand out, to make a statement and to shout about local distinctiveness. Which is right will depend on … er … context.   

Quote 3: “Decisions on artwork by committee end up being made on the premise of not turning people off rather than turning people on.” Paul Attwood

For ‘artwork’ in the above quote, you can also read ‘design’. The planning sub-committee of my own society met a while back to look at a new proposal. We were happy enough with the concept but it was rather ‘safe’. We felt that for what was quite a prominent site in the city centre, something a bit more exciting would be better. We went to see the architect and explained how we thought the design could be improved. He listened patiently then reached for a folder from which he removed his original drawings for the site. Guess what, they were almost exactly what we were looking for! We asked why he’d toned down his original scheme for the rather bland design that had been submitted for planning. He said he had compromised because his clients had made some changes and then the council’s planning officers had asked for further changes to be made.

In effect the vision of the architect had been watered down by a committee of first the clients and then the planning officers. This must have been frustrating for the architect but it also short-changed the people of Wakefield who are perhaps more willing to embrace bold new designs than the planners allow. As a civic society, we sometimes have to campaign for innovative design, something that might just upset the applecart, and developers and planners, as well as members of the public, are sometimes surprised about how adventurous we’re prepared to be.

Quote 4: “We are all designers, the difference is that only a few of us do it full-time.” Sabo Tercero

And this probably sums up why we, both as individuals and organisations, are so often dissatisfied with the new developments going on around us. Rather like when it comes to questions of how to run the county, we all have a view – and we all think we could do better!

When I lead guided walks around Wakefield, the design of the Hepworth gallery often crops up. Some people love it, others hate it. Having met the architect, David Chipperfield, and heard him speak about the design and how he arrived at it, I think it is quite an exceptional piece of architecture and one that is perfect for its purpose.

When people criticise it, I offer to give them a piece of paper and a pencil and ask them to draw me the gallery they would have designed. It would have to allow light into rooms that could be controlled to avoid direct sunlight falling on some rather valuable artworks. It would have to provide hanging space for paintings and floor space for sculpture and circulation space. You’d have to avoid lots of pillars as they obstruct sight lines, prevent free movement and make it more difficult to place and exhibit work. Rooms and openings would have to be high to allow for larger works. And you want people to flow through the gallery without having to double back on themselves to reach the exit. Oh, and if you are going to build it next to a river that sometimes overflows its banks, take account of the potential for flooding in your design. Finally, have some regard to context, please, whether that be the adjacent buildings – do you want to stand out or blend in – or topography and landscape – do you level the ground or work within its contours?

Interestingly, no one has yet accepted my challenge! But what if they did? Would they come up with anything radically different, bearing in mind there would also be budget limitations to work within? In fact, if I press people a bit harder about what they don’t like about the Hepworth, it often boils down to the colour of the external walls: they don’t like grey! (“Which colour would you paint it then?”) In other words, we’ve distilled the argument down to one of personal taste rather than whether the gallery is a good design, which is where I came in.

Design is a fascinating subject: for an easy-to-read but thought-provoking study, I’d like to conclude by recommending a book by Matthew Frederick – 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School.

Corarima – the true taste of Abyssinia comes to Wakefield

For my last review of 2018, and continuing my circumgyration of world foods (without leaving my home city …), I visited Corarima, a new Abyssinian-style restaurant in Cross Street, Wakefield which offers an exclusively vegetarian and vegan menu.

We’re all being encouraged to heat a healthy diet these days. ‘Diet and exercise’ is the mantra of the moment as well as being put forward as the cure-all for all ills. As a vegetarian of over 30 years who likes to keep fit, it’s sometimes hard to resist the ‘told you so’ refrain….

One advantage of this focus on healthy eating is that it has become easier than ever to follow a vegetarian, or even a vegan, diet and still eat out enjoying good food. Gone are the days (mostly) when you’d be lucky to find even one ‘choice’ of vegetarian dish on the menu of your local restaurant. Today, you should find most restaurants worthy of your consideration will offer a choice of dish. And there’s also much more awareness now of the needs of people who have to follow special diets for medical reasons, such as the gluten-free diet, and chefs worthy of their salt will rise to any challenge. Meanwhile, vegetarian and vegan diets are seen as being good for the planet as they help people to reduce their carbon footprint.

This emphasis on healthy (or healthier) eating has also seen the rise of the ‘flexitarian’, someone who chooses to eat less meat and to experiment with the vegetarian and/or vegan diet on at least a part-time basis. 

Imagine then my deep joy then when I saw that Wakefield was to get its first ‘vegetarian restaurant’! Yes, Wakefield can now boast it has a restaurant that is dedicated to serving healthy vegetarian, vegan and gluten free food. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Corarima – not only Wakefield’s first exclusively vegetarian and vegan restaurant but also our first-ever Abyssinian eatery.

Corarima is a brand new venture set up by husband and wife team Asamnew Asres and Rahel Bein together with their friend Bizunesh Kebede. Their mission is to offer customers the opportunity to taste “the sensational flavours of Abyssinian cuisine – lovingly prepared by Ethiopian and Eritrean chefs who know how to conjure up the authentic taste of Abyssinia”. Having now had the chance to sample some of their dishes myself, I can report mission accomplished.

Transforming what had been an empty shop unit in a 1970s office block, the trio have created a little oasis of calm and tranquillity where you are assured of both a very friendly welcome and delicious food. My partner and I were greeted by Asamnew who showed us to our table – it didn’t take much finding: with a capacity for just 24 or 25 customers at any one time, you also get very personal service at Corarima.

The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol (but, if you book in advance, you can take your own bottle of wine which they will serve to you for a very modest corkage fee of just £1.50), so we chose our drinks from a list of smoothies and juices. Asamnew recommended we try the Telba and the Beso, so we ordered one of each. (Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and be daringly experimental!) Telba, it turned out, was a creamy and refreshing drink made of toasted and ground flax seeds while the Beso was another creamy drink but this time made of barley and honey. Both, we were assured, were very healthy and good for us!

Now, I don’t profess to have any prior knowledge of Abyssinian cuisine so I had a steep learning curve to follow but Asamnew proved to be a worthy and expert coach as he explained the menu and helped us to choose our food. We opted for the milder dishes – if you don’t want hot and spicy, do say so, as recipes can be adjusted to taste.

Having ordered our food, more of which shortly, Asamnew brought us something to nibble on – crudités with homemade hummus – while we listened to his story.

Back in Eritrea, he was a structural engineer, running his own company which employed 15 staff. However, in 2007, he and Rahel and their three children found themselves fleeing their country and in the UK as asylum seekers. They were ‘allocated’ to Wakefield where, Asamnew said, they were made to feel welcome and helped to settle in. Over the years, they have come to regard Wakefield as their home. Asamnew found work in his profession in Leeds and Wakefield but meanwhile, Rahel’s passion to open a restaurant burned deep inside. Earlier this year, Asamnew gave up his job to work on the restaurant project full-time and the result is Corarima. As Asamnew explained, they wanted to open their business in Wakefield, the city that had taken them in; they wanted to give something back.

Corarima takes its name from the Ethiopian spice korarima (corarima), also known as Ethiopian cardamom, or false cardamom, one of the ginger family.

We were now ready for our main courses, delivered to us with a flourish by Asamnew and Rahel. I had opted for the Aubergine Stew (fresh aubergine cooked with onion, tomato and rich flavoured spicy herbs) while my partner had ordered the Mushroom Stew (mushroom cooked with garlic and seasoned with assorted spice). We also ordered side salads. Both dishes came with injera, a flatbread made from teff flour (teff, we discovered was high in fibre, iron, protein and calcium and being a very small grain, is easy to cook). The bread had a slightly spongy texture but was an ideal accompaniment to the stews which were spicy but not too hot (I speak as someone who has never acquired the taste for hot and spicy dishes!).

Lurking at the back of the table we saw a couple of stuffed chilli peppers. I regarded these somewhat suspiciously – I’ve been caught out before! But after some prompting from Asamnew, I took a small forkful – and moved a little further along the learning curve: it was deliciously sweet!

We finished the meal with coffee and small chickpea biscuits topped with sesame seeds and honey – they don’t do puddings – but it was the perfect end to a really enjoyable evening. All that was left was to take some photos and to gather up my notes as we said our farewells. I have a feeling that we’ll be going back. We still have lots to learn!

Finally, if you’re in Wakefield at lunchtime, you can eat in or you can try the Corarima Lunchbox. For just £3, you can pick up a lunch box between 12:00 noon and 2:00pm each day containing the chef’s selection of vegetable and pulse stews served with rice or injera bread. 

Open Monday to Saturday from 12 noon to 9 pm

Kevin and his partner dined as guests of the restaurant.

Corarima – 10 Cross Street, Wakefield, WF1 3BW

Website: www.corarima.co.uk

Tel: 01924 695713

The Corarima Crew – From left to right: Bizunesh – Rahel – Asaminew

Banking on Success: Bar Biccari in Horbury

In July 2018, my partner and I took a short trip over to Horbury to sample the treats on offer at Bar Biccari on behalf of TopicUK magazine. Read my review below.

OK, there are going to be some changes around here! Now that TopicUK magazine has a Yorkshire-wide distribution, I’ll need to explore what’s on offer in other towns and cities around the county. But with a whole region available for me to pick from, the choices of where to go next are dizzying so I’m open to suggestions! If you’d like your restaurant, gastro-pub or diner to be covered in these pages, do get in touch.

I’m going to start my wider investigation of Yorkshire’s eateries with an Italian restaurant and bar in the centre of Horbury: yes, I know, it’s still part of the Wakefield metropolitan district, but, baby steps and all that: I have to begin somewhere!

The written history of Horbury appears to start with the Domesday Book of 1086 in which it is recorded as Orberie. The fact that the settlement already existed to merit an entry in Domesday suggests, of course, that the town’s history goes back even further. The name derives from the Old English word ‘horu’ which means dirty or muddy land and ‘burh’, or burg, which means a fortified settlement or habitation. So, Horbury can be said to indicate some form of stronghold on muddy land. Its proximity to the River Calder probably attests to its strategic and etymological origins – it was possibly a place where the river could be forded before bridges were built.

Today, Horbury is a busy town of around 10,000 inhabitants with an interesting and eclectic mix of buildings dating from medieval to modern times and with some fine Georgian and Victorian properties, including the handsome St Peter and St Leonard’s Church by John Carr (1723-1807), often referred to as ‘John Carr of York’ (where he was to become Lord Mayor in 1770 and again in 1785) but who was actually a son of Horbury.

Bar Biccari is one of the more prominent buildings on the town’s High Street, not least because this former bank building is situated in a commanding position on the junction of Highfield Road and Westfield Road. Boasting an imposing domed tower and oculus window, the building, in brick and stone with leaded windows featuring stained glass, dates from 1910 when it was built for the United Counties Bank (absorbed by Barclays in 1916). When the bank moved out, the building became a pub for a while but was transformed once more some eight years ago when Bar Biccari opened its doors for the first time.

The business is owned by David and Judith Rayner together with Lindsay Dawson. On a day-to-day basis, it is managed by general manager Wil Frost who looked after my partner and me on the night of our visit one pleasant summer’s evening in July (just a week before Wil’s wedding to David and Judith’s daughter!).

We were greeted by bar man Eddie who quickly made us feel at home as we ordered some drinks and perused menus while we waited for our table. The restaurant was already throbbing – all the tables were either occupied or reserved (so take a hint and book early if you don’t want to be disappointed!). Meanwhile, a garlic-and-tomato pizza bread helped to stave off the hunger pangs and a few minutes later head waiter Massimo was showing us to our seats and taking our orders.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest dishes that satisfy and my partner began with an Insalata Caprese (buffalo mozzarella, fresh beef tomatoes with balsamic reduction, fresh basil and green oil) while I had Bruschetta ai Pomodorini (toasted slices of altamura bread topped with vine cherry tomato, garlic and finished with basil oil). Both were fresh and light, getting us off to a very good start.

For mains, we moved on to sample a vegetarian Pasta Forno (slowly baked penne pasta with mushrooms to ‘nonna’s secret recipe’ – also available with meat!) and a Gnocchi Ortolano (baked roast vegetable gnocchi with crumbled goats’ cheese). Again, both perfectly cooked by head chef Gianluca Chiarelli and his team.

Gianluca hails from Settimello, a little village seven miles from Florence. He trained in Florence and gained experience working in restaurants in Italy and on board a cruise ship where Gianlucca met his English partner. In England, Gianlucca has worked in a number of successful restaurants, including Gordon Ramsey’s in Chelsea, The Box Tree in Ilkley with Simon Gueller and Oulton Hall in Rothwell. This led him to open his own café bistro which he ran for 4 years before taking up his current position at Bar Biccari.

By now we were beginning to feel the pull on our waistbands but couldn’t resist the desserts – a classic Tiramisu for my partner and Italian Gelato for me. Coffees to finish the meal and we were replete. All that was left was to speak to Wil about the restaurant to get some more background on the restaurant and the family.

First the name: Bar Biccari takes its name from Biccari, a town in southeast Italy where, it turns out, David Rayner’s mother comes from, so Biccari is a place with which the Rayner family (and now Wil) are very familiar, so it is no surprise that they wanted to recreate something of the feel of Italy in their restaurant. Wil explained that they would like to open an Italian-style deli counter within the restaurant from where they can sell imported Italian foods to local residents. He feels there would be a demand for quality Italian foodstuffs, and I’m sure he’s right.

Until then, customers will just have to make do with having their meals cooked for them in the restaurant which can accommodate 50 diners at a time and is open evenings Tuesday to Sunday and lunchtimes Thursday to Saturday. There’s an à la carte menu, a mid-week menu (with two courses for £12.95 or three for £15.95) and a specials board.

If you’re just looking for a drink and light nibbles, there is a spacious upstairs Prosecco Bar with an outside terrace, where a range of drinks, antipasti and pizzas can be enjoyed. There are also special event nights – have a look at the website for details.

So there you are. Bar Biccari was a real treat and we enjoyed our visit. If you’re looking for good food and a friendly welcome, try Bar Biccari. I’m sure that you too will love it. In fact, you can bank on it!

My partner and I dined as guests of Bar Biccari.

Bar Biccari, 2 Highfield Road, Horbury, WF4 5LU

Website: www.barbiccari.co.uk Telephone: 01924 263626

With Cream on Top: afternoon tea at Wakefield café Mocca Moocho

Always something to tempt at Mocca Moocho!

In June 2018, I had something to celebrate – and Mags and Jamie Blackshaw, owners Wakefield café Mocca Moocho invited me and my partner in as guests to help make the occasion even more memorable. I wrote up my experience with a review for TopicUK magazine – and you can read it here.

There’s something quintessentially British about the idea of ‘afternoon tea’. It conjures up images of delicate finger sandwiches, fancy cakes and scones with jam and cream, all served on fine chinaware in a lovely sunny setting on a summer’s day or cosily by the fireside in the deep of winter: lashings of hot tea, the chink of cup against saucer and the sound of sparkling conversation.

Historically, our notions of afternoon tea can be traced back to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who is reputed to have started the trend back in 1840. Apparently, she felt a bit peckish one afternoon and asked her staff to bring her something light to eat with a pot of tea. This became a habit and she started inviting friends in to join her. (In those days, dinner at the finest houses was served around 8 pm, so they needed something in between lunch and dinner).

Before you could say ‘cream scone’, the habit had become a tradition – and a fashionable one at that. By the 1880s, the refined ladies and gentlemen of high society were dressing in their elegant clothes to share tea, sandwiches and cakes at formal afternoon teas served at around four o’clock each day.

Now, of course, most of us are too busy to take a formal afternoon tea every day so the words ‘afternoon tea’ have become synonymous with refinement and elegance and perhaps most of all they hint hint at something that’s a touch special. The best china, the tiered cake stands and the fanciest of cakes are brought together to create a moment of calm when friends and family can indulge a love of cake while catching up with each other on their latest news.

There’s an afternoon tea for every budget and, however mouth-watering the food, some of the prices charged by the poshest hotels can perhaps best be described as, well, eye-watering! But, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy a quality afternoon tea! I’ve found somewhere where it’s possible to sample some delightful sandwiches, some delicious cakes and the fruitiest of scones, all served with tea or coffee, for under £10! Where, I hear you ask, is such incredible value available?

Well, right in the centre of Wakefield is the answer. Yes, at the long-established and well-known café Mocca Moocho, it’s possible to enjoy a lovely afternoon tea for just £9.95 per person. If you want to add a bit of fizz, and you can afford it at these prices, you can spoil yourself with a glass of sparkling Rosé wine for just £5 extra – and what a treat you will have!

My partner and I enjoyed such a treat one afternoon in early May when we called in to see proprietors Mags and Jamie Blackshaw who opened the business some ten years ago (they won a Wakefield Civic Society Design Award back in 2009 for their premises) and now employ 15 staff, a number that goes up to around 20 during the summer months to meet the extra demand.

Some readers may remember Mags and Jamie running August Day in the Ridings Centre and before that when they ran Colonel Mustard in Wood Street. Altogether, they’ve been part of the Wakefield catering scene for some 30 years but they first came together a couple of years before that while working for a large national retailer, something they’d been doing for many years. They discovered a shared a dream of running a business of their own. Mags took a catering management degree course to prepare and they found their niche in Wakefield in the coffee and café trade. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, their fully licensed café in Cross Square is a hive of activity with business people dropping in for a coffee and a chat with colleagues, shoppers resting their feet and their bags over a cuppa, and visitors to the city perhaps having a breather from sight-seeing.  Whether you’re looking for breakfast or lunch, or just a coffee and a bun, there’s plenty of seating in the café – there’s a large upstairs space as well as the seating on the ground floor, and, of course, you can sit out front where you can people watch from under the awning. Whether you’re there to chat or to work, there’s free wi-fi available. Should you venture upstairs, look out for Jamie’s bookshelves from which he offers second-hand books for sale from his personal collection of hand-bound Folio Society editions.

The café is open from 8 am until 4.30 pm Mondays to Saturdays and from 9 am until 4 pm on Sundays. Group bookings are possible, both during opening hours and for special events outside these times – just get in touch to enquire.

So, what was out afternoon tea like? Well, it was, of course, truly scrumptious. We were there as guests of Mags and Jamie but as it was part of a personal celebration too, we just had to have that glass of Rosé to get things started. Yes, we had the tiered cake stands, which always add a touch of style, and, believe me, they came fully laden! In fact, we were defeated and ended up asking for the proverbial doggie bag to take some of the cakes home with us for later. All in all, it was a very enjoyable afternoon and I think the Mocca Moocho afternoon tea must be one of the best-value treats in Wakefield!

If you fancy experiencing a Mocca Moocho afternoon tea for yourself, please note that you will usually need to book at least 2 days in advance. You can do this by telephone or via the café’s Facebook page.

Mocca Moocho, 10 Cross Square, Wakefield, WF1 1PH.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/moccamoocho/

Telephone: 01924 361755

Start your afternoon tea in style!
A stack of tasty treats!

These scones take some beating!

The New Inn at Walton is a thriving pub and restaurant at the heart of a very old village

The New Inn at night

In March 2018, I visited the New Inn at Walton on behalf of TopicUK magazine. This is my review.

There was a time when you could have reached The New Inn at Walton by land or by sea. OK, that last part might be a bit of a stretch, but Wakefield was once an inland port, navigable to (and from) the sea, and the canal system enabled boats to reach just about anywhere inland. The Barnsley Canal, dug in the late 1790s used to connect Barnsley and Wakefield and passed close by the pub until the canal was closed in 1953. Although the canal has long gone with some sections filled in and even built on, there is a group, The Barnsley, Dearne & Dove Canals Trust, who are campaigning to get the canal re-opened. Until that lucky day, though, the only way to get to The New Inn is by road.

The name ‘New Inn’ seems a misnomer for such an old building although it must, of course, have been new once upon a time. Walton is known to have been settled in Anglo-Saxon times (when it was known as known as Weala-tun, meaning ‘village of the Welshmen’) and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Waleton.

Records show that there were at least six licensed houses in Walton at one time. As well as The New Inn, there were The Cross Keys, The Star Inn, The Rose and Crown, The Boot and Shoe and an apparently unnamed beer house on Greenside, not to mention numerous other unlicensed ones.(1) That there were so many thriving pubs in the past can probably be attributed to the fact that many navvies came to the area to help with building the canals and later the railways, adding to the number of agricultural labourers and coal miners already working in there.

Today, though, The New Inn is the only pub in the village and is run by husband and wife team Ria Brooks-Bell and Iain Bell. They bought the property in November 2011 and invested heavily in the premises and the business to create a thriving village pub and restaurant that offers visitors a warm welcome in comfortable surroundings.

Ria, who is a native of the village, and Iain each have a background in the licensed trade and were both working for the Slug and Lettuce chain when they first met ten years ago – Ria was employed in sales and marketing while Iain ran one of the chain’s pubs in Leeds.

Having ‘teamed up’ the couple took on responsibility for running the Slug and Lettuce in Deansgate, Manchester, but then, around seven years ago, Ria’s father, Adrian, drew their attention to the fact that The New Inn was being offered for sale and, with a bit of help from the bank of mum and dad, the couple decided to make an offer, which was accepted.

The pub is today very much a family affair; Ria’s father and two brothers help to keep the business running (if mostly by doing their socialising in the bar) while Ria’s mother, Jacqui, does the office work, allowing Ria to focus on running the pub and Iain to lead in the kitchen where he is head chef. It is perhaps a mark of their success that the pub now employs some 28 staff: it was certainly very busy when my partner and I dined there one Wednesday evening at the end of March as guests of the establishment.

As I’ve mentioned before, the life of a restaurant reviewer is not without its challenges. To do the job right, you have to work your way through three courses and so it was that we set about ordering our meals. For a starter, I opted for Salt and Pepper Halloumi Slices in batter. These come with a salad garnish and chilli chutney (although I had mine with ketchup!). I followed this with a Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie served with ‘seasonal vegetables’ and then topped it all off with Caramel Apple Pie and custard. Had I been paying, that would have set me back £21.65, which is not at all bad for a three-course meal and typical of what you can expect to pay there.

Meanwhile, my partner chose dishes from the specials menu. He started with a Bread-Crumbed Brie Wedge, with mixed salad leaves, and for mains chose the Penne Pasta with Pesto, topped with rocket leaves and parmesan shavings. For dessert, he went with the ice cream. Again, the meal would have cost around the £20 mark. The specials’ menu is changed daily while the standard menu is refreshed every six months (so by the time you are reading this, the summer menus will be in use – you can check the menus on the pub’s website).

Should you be visiting at lunchtime, there is the option of a main course from a lunchtime specials menu for just £6.95 and even the offer of a sandwich, chips and a soft drink at the same price. No wonder the place does good business. Or how about an afternoon tea – you have to order these at least a day in advance but at just £12.95 per person (£17.95 if you want it with Prosecco), it certainly looks like good value.

The New Inn can cater for groups in the main restaurant area or there’s the option to book a private room – the Chef’s Table, which seats up to eight people for a private dining experience. Or try the upstairs dining room, Lock Eleven, named after the Eleventh Lock on the afore-mentioned Barnsley Canal which was closest to the pub, where you have the choice of dining inside and experiencing the cosy surroundings, or outside on the open air terrace enjoying views of the surrounding countryside. Lock Eleven can be booked for private groups of up to 20 people.

The New Inn is open from 12 noon until late, seven days a week, and food is served until 9 pm. There’s an extensive garden area with lots of seating and a large car park, there’s plenty of room for everyone. Taking the dog for a walk? Well, provided your pooch is well behaved, you’ll find your four-legged friend is even allowed into the tap room!

So, there you are. If you’ve not yet sampled The New Inn for yourself, there’s really no excuse. The service is friendly, the food is good and the price is right. The canal may no longer be there, but the road still leads to Walton….. Why not follow it there?

My partner and I dined as guests of the New Inn.

(1) Source: A History of Walton by Peter Wright Published in 1985 by Countryside Publications.

The New Inn, 144 Shay Lane, Walton, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF2 6LA

Website: http://www.thenewinnwalton.co.uk/

Telephone: Tel. 01924 255447


With the opening of Robatary, Wakefield’s reputation for stylish new restaurants goes up another notch

A stylish interior creates atmosphere

In January 2018, I was asked to review Robatary, then Wakefield’s newest restaurant, on behalf of TopicUK magazine. Here’s what I wrote at the time (and I have been back several times since!).

You may already be familiar with 25-27 Northgate in Wakefield. For many years the premises operated as the popular, if unassuming, Qubana Restaurant and Grill – but the building fell quiet when Qubana picked up its skirts and moved across town to the spacious former Barclays Bank building at the end of Wood Street just over a year ago.

Since then, the Northgate premises have lain empty and were even boarded up for a while as work started on a major refurbishment project. The only clue to what was happening was the mysterious word ‘Robatary’ etched across the front. The business is still owned by Jenny Thompson and Matthew Burton, who also own the new Qubana, but they needed a different brand for their ‘old’ restaurant, and Wakefield’s bon vivants waited with breath abated to see what would emerge.  

Finally, the shuttering was removed and all was revealed. Just a week before Christmas 2017, the new place opened its doors to the paying public. And that word ‘Robatary’? It turns out to be the name of the restaurant!

The word actually has a Japanese origin (although that is the only connection the restaurant has with that country – the food is British, albeit with a twist). Apparently, a robata is a sort of charcoal grill used to prepare food in Japan. Robatayaki is a form of cooking in which food is cooked over hot charcoal, rather like a barbecue but, in the case, indoors. The charred taste that the hot coals infuse into the food, be it meat, fish or vegetables, brings the flavours to life.

Keen as ever to sample something new, I booked a table for two and my partner and I went along to see what it was like.

From the moment you step inside, it’s obvious that everything has changed! In fact, the only carry-over from the old Qubana is manager Gareth Quinn whose task it was to look after us as we sampled the food and I spoke to the customers and generally wandered around the place with my camera aloft.

Gareth brought us menus and took our orders. For a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was nicely busy, despite it being a very wintry night. (Honestly it was! Snow was falling outside as we arrived and not even in Wakefield were people taking advantage of the outdoor seating!), Seating inside is a mix of open plan and private booths (we had a booth, giving us a slightly raised vantage point to see what was going on) and, when the weather turns warmer, the glass doors facing onto the street can be opened up in the European manner.

One thing that Jenny and Matthew do well is style. Visitors to the new Qubana have been very impressed with what has been achieved with the old bank but here at Robatary, the more modern building needed something contemporary. There’s a mix of textures, wood, (faux) concrete – one wall reminded me of the Hepworth!, ceramic tiles, glass, chrome, and steel, giving off a slightly industrial vibe, but reined back and softened with velvet and leather upholstery and fluffy cushions. Carefully chosen background music adds a touch of class and even a slightly sultry mood.

But of course, we were there to sample the food, not just ogle the soft furnishings. The menu was still slightly experimental at the time of our visit and was being updated after the pre-Christmas opening. The intention is that the menu, devised by executive chef Craig England, will follow the seasons and will be updated throughout the year.

To begin your meal, you can select from a number of nibbles, breads and charcuterie dishes or go straight to the starters. Although a ‘grill’, the restaurant caters well for vegetarians. The main courses are listed under three headings – Land, Sea and Earth (for which read meat, fish and vegetable) – and there’s a fourth section offering a variety of steaks. All can be ordered with side dishes and sauces.  There’s a handful of desserts (or ‘treats’ as they are listed) from which to select to finish off your meal.  Prices are £5 – £7.50 for starters (nibbles range from £3 to £4.50), and mains run from £12 to £17 – but be prepared to pay more for a steak! Sides and accompaniments are charged extra.  Desserts are all priced at £5.

As regular readers would expect, my partner and I opted for the vegetarian dishes. For starters, I had the grilled spiced courgette skewers (the spiciness dialled right down which, for me, was good) while my partner had the goat’s curd (which looks and tasted better than it perhaps sounds!). These were both light and beautifully presented, setting us up well for the main courses: wood-roasted aubergine in my case and homemade gnocchi for my partner. For desserts (sorry, treats), we had Key lime tart, served with clotted cream, (me) and wood-roasted rhubarb, served with ice cream. These were served ‘deconstructed’ and again very artistically arranged. The cost of our meal would come in at a little over £20 per person plus drinks, which is very reasonable.

So, what did we think? Well, in terms of style, the friendliness of the service, food quality and overall presentation, Robatary comes out very well indeed; it will certainly give some of the local competition a run for their money. And that wasn’t just our verdict. Chatting to some of the other customers, they also thought very highly of the establishment.

The restaurant is conveniently located and is at the heart of the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene. It is open daily from 12 noon (until late) and small groups can be catered for but, as Gareth pointed out, the restaurant is really designed to provide for a more intimate dining experience.

Gareth also told me that his ambition is to make Robatary the best restaurant in Wakefield. On the basis of our evening there, he’s well on the way to achieving that goal.

My partner and I dined as guests of Robatary.

Robatary, 25-27 Northgate, Wakefield, WF1 3BJ. Tel: 01924 211904.

Website: www.robatary.co.uk