Claudia Blake visits Thirteen in Leyburn
There’s a certain smug satisfaction that comes of sitting at your restaurant table – booked well in advance – watching less forward- thinking prospective diners being turned away for lack of space. It’s not something that usually happens midweek, but Thirteen in Leyburn appears to be an exception to the rule. Why? Well for one thing it’s small: just two modest rooms facing onto Railway Street. For another, the husband-and-wife team that run it have evidently worked hard to develop an enthusiastic local following. As befits a modest space, the décor at Thirteen is understated: paint and fabric colours are restful, muted greys and aubergines, and wall clutter has been kept to a minimum. The overall effect is modern, smart and cosy. The welcome we received sounded a corresponding note of friendly efficiency. Thirteen’s menu carried six or seven options for both starters and mains, the general theme being British cuisine with a friendly nod to our Continental cousins. The wine list is small but well-judged, with enthusiastic descriptions and a decent selection of wines by the glass. For starters we chose Pavé of Smoked Salmon, and Earl Grey Tea Home-Smoked Duck. In case you were wondering, ‘pavé’ is just a posh, cheffy word for slab, so it’s not an especially informative term. Given that most diners are more interested in what the dish they order will be composed of than what shape it is, I can’t help wondering why chefs persist in using it.
Anyway, this particular slab turned out to be a slice of a terrine made of smoked salmon mousse layered with smoked salmon. Very rich, very tasty. It was served with a smudge of caviar crème fraîche, pea shoots, and what the menu described as ‘potato skins’. If the latter conjures up visions of hefty dollops of carb, think again; these were tiny, filmy disks scarcely a single potato molecule thick. A relief for me (I like my starters light and delicate) but if you’ve just landed the lead role in Michelin Man: The Movie you might want to fill your boots elsewhere. The duck arrived with a definite whiff of smoke, neatly arranged on a slate. Slates are, in general, best left on the roof, but this one did at least provide a nice dark background to showcase the neatly sliced duck breast and its colourful accompaniments. The succulent meat was packed with earthy, smoky flavours, and these were nicely balanced by the flavours of orange and raspberry – not just fresh fruit but also a zingy orange gel and a scattering of pert maroon cubes compounded from raspberry by some arcane alchemical process in Chef’s secret laboratory.
On to mains, starting with Twice-Cooked Yorkshire Pork Belly. The pork was clearly a top-notch piece of meat, and the crisp kale, black pudding, and potato and sage dumplings that came with it were delicious. The overall effect, however, was a touch on the dry side. Also present on the plate was an ‘apple pressing’ – a translucent rectangle of apple jelly – but to my mind this was a bit too firmly set to do its job properly. A more melting version would have released its flavour more readily, helping to counteract the richness of the meat. Along with a spoonful or two more of jus, this would have transformed a decent plateful into something genuinely luscious.
“Would we like to see the dessert menu? You bet we would!”
No shortfall in the lusciousness department, though, in our other main: Oven-Roasted Rump of Yorkshire Lamb. The emphasis here was on Mediterranean flavours, with aubergine purée, tomatoes, red pepper, anchovies and a basil jus all pulling their weight and adding depth and subtlety to the mix. Gorgeous meat, perfectly cooked and a heady mélange of classic flavours – heaven on a plate! Would we like to see the dessert menu? You bet we would! The Vanilla Panna Cotta was a no-brainer for me. This Italian classic is one of my favourite desserts, and Thirteen’s version was a very decent version. It was set pretty much right – neither too sloppy nor too firm – and generously studded with vanilla seeds. Roasted almonds, a roasted peach and a splash of raspberry purée complemented the cool, wobbly cream confection perfectly. Our other dessert choice was Glazed Lemon Meringue, which was basically a bijou little slab (yes, that’s right, a pavé) of lemon meringue pie without the pastry, made extra-zingy with a splash of lime gel. It was served with a ripping, intensely-flavoured gin and tonic sorbet. The plateful slipped down all too quickly, a joyful conclusion to the meal. It’s good to see the Wensleydale fine dining scene continuing to develop and expand, and especially heartening to have new chef-proprietor outfits like Thirteen driving things forward by adding their own unique characters to the mix. Here’s wishing them all the best. Thirteen… yes, it’s definitely lucky for some. Especially those who remember to book ahead. Thirteen is at 13 Railway Street, Leyburn. For further information call 01969 622951 or visit thirteenatleyburn.co.uk
WHAT TO EXPECT
Yorkshire produce, sunny Mediterranean flavours, clever cooking.
A calm, comfy refuge a stone’s throw from the bustle of Leyburn marketplace.
Friendly, unpretentious, efficient.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Three courses cost us around £29 each, excluding drinks.
Cosy family get-togethers.
Chef certainly knows how to make a plate look good.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I wonder what they called Railway Street before the railway came along?