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