Claudia Blake visits The George and Dragon at Hudswell
Yorkshire, as I’m sure readers will agree, is home to all the finest things Britain can offer. Our scenery, heritage and local produce are second to none – and the same, of course, goes for our hostelries. This last point was proved beyond doubt earlier this year when CAMRA awarded The George & Dragon at Hudswell the coveted title of National Pub of the Year.
The George & Dragon’s rise to nationwide acclaim is a tale of true Yorkshire grit. Back in 2008, when bankruptcy forced its closure, the modest village of Hudswell, just west of Richmond, seemed set to lose one of its few remaining facilities. But stubborn residents weren’t so easily thwarted. They clubbed together to buy the pub and relaunched it as a co-operative. Now The George & Dragon is a thriving community hub; this February HRH the Prince of Wales even popped in to give it the royal seal of approval.
Ale Right on the Night
Like the rest of Hudswell, The George & Dragon is perched on the lip of Swaledale. Beyond its terraced beer garden the ground tumbles into the valley, giving alfresco drinkers spectacular views across the wooded chasm. It’s a delightful spot to nurse a drink on a warm evening or weekend lunchtime.
Inside, as far as décor goes, The George & Dragon is a typical village pub: a few tasteful prints, photos of the village in bygone days, an assortment of vaguely characterful furniture. The surroundings may seem unremarkable, but the staff look as if they’ve come straight from a trendy metropolitan bistro. Kitted out in dark tops and smart aprons, they’re young, cheery and efficient. Everyone, locals and visitors alike, gets a warm welcome, and the place has a mellow, good-humoured buzz about it. As befits an inn feted by the Campaign for Real Ale, beer is something of an academic pursuit here, with a constantly changing selection of interesting tipples from local artisan breweries on tap. The folk behind the bar can talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about them, and each staff member has a peg that they clip to the label of their current favourite.
The George & Dragon’s printed menu has a distinctly minimal feel, opening with a gruff declaration of intent: “Pies. Our speciality. Only proper pies served.” Pie-averse diners in search of alternatives need to seek out the specials board for a wider selection of mains.
On the evening we visited there appeared to be no starters other than leek and potato soup, so that’s what we ordered. Cutlery and napkins arrived propped up in a colourful yeast tin. Bistro chic? Militant recycling? Or just a bit of fun? All of the above, perhaps, plus a cute way to underline the message that they bake their own bread on the premises. Sadly our rolls could have done with a pinch less salt and five minutes more in the oven. No problem with the soup, though, which was thick, well-textured and piping hot.
With pies taking top billing on The George & Dragon’s menu, it would have been churlish not to try at least one of the half-dozen varieties on offer. These included two vegetarian choices (Wensleydale cheese and onion; spinach, feta and sun-dried tomato) but we decided on the unrepentantly carnivorous option of steak and ale.
The menu had wooed us with the prospect of a ‘proper pie’. And what was delivered was indeed a splendid slice of nostalgia- inducing home baking: crisp, golden pastry atop a dark, succulent filling of generous chunks of meat and a deep, nourishing gravy. Extra gravy was served in a 1970s sauce jug; the crocks here are a cheery Postmodern jumble, perfectly in keeping with the relaxed informality of the place.
Our other main, from the specials board, was liver and bacon with onion sauce. To order liver is always to risk disappointment, even in high-ticket establishments. Cooking it right is a matter of hitting the sweet spot between underdone and bloody (a definite no-no) and overdone and rubbery (edible, but hardly enjoyable). The George & Dragon’s liver, fortunately, was spot on. Enlivened by the salty tang of bacon and lashings of rich sauce, it scored another unstinting thumbs-up.
Rather than sending everything out with a standard-issue bowl of veg, The George & Dragon lets you pick your own combination from a wide range of options. It’s a good system, and another highlight of our evening was the attractive, winsomely caramelised bowl of roasted root vegetables that we chose as one of our side-orders.
Also a hit was the luscious sticky toffee pudding that followed. Normally a meal of pie and chips would leave me struggling to even look at a pudding, but this one was so light and softly delicious that I could have eaten it twice over. Our other dessert was Yorkshire parkin. Not quite so light, perhaps, but majestically treacly, and suffused with warm, beguiling spices. Lovely silky ice cream with both, too – yum!
It’s easy to see why the CAMRA judges were wowed by The George & Dragon. It’s an honest-to-goodness rural hostelry in a scenic spot, with a choice selection of local beers and serving hearty, satisfying, down-to-earth grub that’s definitely a cut or two above the average pub fare. One more proof that Yorkshire is God’s Own County – and hopefully an inspirational model for other rural communities whose pubs are under threat of the axe.
For further information about The George & Dragon visit georgeanddragonhudswell.co.uk or call 01748 518373.
WHAT TO EXPECT
One of the most relaxed and welcoming rural pubs in the land, serving delicious, no-nonsense food.
Informal, easygoing and dog-friendly.
Order at the bar. Front of house and kitchen staff couldn’t be nicer or more helpful.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Three tasty, boot-filling courses cost us an eminently reasonable £18 each.
DOWN THE HATCH
There’s an eclectic selection of top-notch beers and ciders, plus wines and spirits, at prices that put more pretentious watering holes to shame.
On a sunny morning, why not work off the calories in advance by walking from Richmond to Hudswell on the banks of the Swale? Clamber up the flight of 327 steps and a grassy slope and you’re there! (Possibly a little short of breath.)