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