Claudia Blake visits Gilroy’s Restaurant at The Morritt Hotel
There has been a coaching inn on the east bank of the River Greta since the 1750s, named after the local family that built it. Recently, though, changes of ownership have blurred its identity. For locals it has always been, and always will be, ‘The Morritt Arms’. When I last visited on a restaurant review it had been rebranded as ‘The Morritt’, seemingly under the impression that the clipped version sounded more hip. Now the name has been lengthened again, but this time to ‘The Morritt Hotel’. Name notwithstanding, it’s still the same splendid lump of a building, plonked in a delightful riverside location just off the A66. Inside the Dickens Bar is the same mural by John Gilroy – painter of the classic 1920s Guinness posters – celebrating Charles Dickens’ fleeting visit. In the lounge are the same puffy red leather sofas, comfy but difficult to extract yourself from in a hurry. What’s not the same, I’m relieved to say, is the dining room. On our last visit, this venerable space had been plastered with gaudy fabrics, mostly in gruesome shades of red, transforming it into a nightmare vision of a Victorian opium den. Those fabrics have now been binned, and it’s a relaxing, civilised room once again. The parquet flooring and oak panelling make it feel somewhat austere – and the spotlights needed toning down – but it’s just a few pots of trailing plants short of being the perfect spot to chow down.
GOOD LOOKING COOKING
As soon as our starters appeared, we knew we were in for a treat. Stylish presentation? Yes indeed. Especially The Morritt’s meltingly soft home-cured salmon, curled in the middle of an on-trend black plate and orbited by wafer-thin beetroot discs, comets of tangy citrus gel and a constellation of dotted horseradish cream. Handsome good looks, terrific taste combos, job done!
Our other starter was a Cheddar cheese soufflé. Here there’s a limit to how high the imagination can soar, presentation-wise, because the mechanics of the thing demand that it comes in a bowl surrounded by creamy sauce. In this case, however, the cleverness was just out of sight: a piquant tomato relish concealed underneath the soufflé itself. You know how cheese soufflé can sometimes be, well… just too rich? Not this one. The sharpness of the relish cut across the cloyingness and boosted this one into the stratosphere. Next to the mains, and ‘Taste of Suckling Pig’. And it’s not so much the bits and bobs of deconstructed pig that I want to talk about – mouthwatering though they were – but the accompaniments. In particular a wad of what I presume was sweet potato, since that’s what the menu promised. I hate sweet potato, so Chef had achieved a minor miracle by transmuting it into something both tasty and ethereal. Apparently by ribboning it, pressing it into a mould and then… well, I’m not quite sure. For me it was the highlight of the meal. If you’re reading this, Chef, do send us the recipe. No, really, please do.
Our other main, roast pollock on braised pearl barley, was equally impressive. The barley, cooked in stock and studded with leek, lardons and cubed potato, could easily have stood up as a complete dish on its own. Topped with soft, judiciously cooked fish it made the ultimate in sophisticated comfort food.
The only minor wobble of the evening was a side-dish described as ‘panache of vegetables’. ‘Panache’ is defined as ‘elegant, swaggering self-confidence’, so what kind of devilishly exciting veg would we get, we wondered? Disappointingly, the ‘panache’ turned out to be a small bowl of not-even-slightly swaggering boiled carrot, broccoli and cauliflower. Plus what I believe was celeriac, but which was too hard to cut, let alone eat. Win some, lose some. Bar the ‘panache’, Chef had put in a flawless performance thus far. Desserts too were flawless, albeit marginally less knock-your-socks-off stellar than what came before. Following in the menu-writing tradition of ‘Taste of Suckling Pig’ came ‘Taste of Peaches’, to wit: peach segments, peach curd, peach gel, and peaches-and-cream ice cream. Light, pleasant and restorative, it slipped down nicely, but there’s not much else I can say.
More memorable was the Yorkshire rhubarb with scorched mandarin orange and white chocolate ice cream. The perky pink rhubarb stalks were tricky to wrangle with a spoon, but they were soft and refreshingly sharp. The white chocolate ice cream had enough sweetness to balance the rhubarb, and a friendly, nubbly texture. An enjoyable conclusion to one of the very best meals I have had for some while. I can’t say I approve of The Morritt’s name changes; the place has ‘The Morritt Arms’ chiselled in stone above its doorway, for heaven’s sake, and you simply can’t argue with that. Or with centuries of history. But I do wholeheartedly approve of this establishment’s excellent food – whatever name they choose to sell it under.
For further information about The Morritt Hotel visit themorritt.co.uk or call 01833 627232.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Gorgeous food, prepared with precision and presented with panache (apart from the panache).
A grand old coaching inn, with a nicely maintained garden.
Quietly professional, efficient
THE BOTTOM LINE
Three courses cost a set £35 per head. Two courses are £28.
DOWN THE HATCH
There’s a decent selection of wines by the glass. Nobody showed us the wine list, so I can’t comment on prices.
The Dickens Bar has a generally pubbier menu. Cod and chips, burgers and so on.
GRETA MOVE ON
The walk upriver from The Morritt makes a very pleasant excursion.