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Judges Hotel
Eat and Drink
March 2015
Reading time 3

It turns out that the Michelin and the AA inspectors know their business

You know that place you’ve passed a thousand times but never stopped to take a closer look? For me that place is Judges Country House Hotel in Yarm. I’ve seen it so many times, heard people recommending it, yet for some reason it never dawned on me to visit. Until last week.

I went for Sunday lunch with my wife, having deposited our children with my wife’s parents – the Conservatory Restaurant at Judges has three AA Rosettes and is recommended in the Michelin Guide 2015, which is the kind of experience best enjoyed sans toddlers. 

We couldn’t have chosen a better time to visit – the gardens and hotel were snow-covered and looked gorgeous. The hotel is in Kirklevington Hall, which has a very interesting history. Built as a home in 1881, it was requisitioned during World War II by the army, who felt renovation was needed, so added a huge underground bunker that housed a command centre.

Another interesting bit of the building’s history is that it was used as accommodation for circuit judges in the 1970s, which is how it got its name, before it was bought by the Downs family in 1989 and turned into a hotel.

So that’s the credentials. I should also mention the food. We were shown to the lounge, where we sat on a settee in front of the fire (regularly stoked). We had a couple of orange juices from the bar, then Shiraz, while other diners sat nearby (husbands reading papers while ignoring wives – the usual). I’m guessing a few of them were regulars as they were familiar with the staff. 

After ordering, we were shown to the Conservatory, where it became obvious everything is done properly here: neat linen, sparkling glasses, perfectly cleaned windows. Staff take care of this place. I expect the regulars demand it. The waiter placed our drinks and offered us a choice of bread. You can tell a lot by a restaurant’s bread; this bread was superb. 

I’ll get this out of the way: the food blew our socks off. My starter was ham hock and crackling salad, and my wife had beetroot and goat’s cheese salad – both were perfectly presented, with impeccable ingredients and clever textures. For some reason I’d expected the food to be a little old-fashioned, but it was vibrant and confident. Just brilliant. 

‘The food blew our socks off. My starter was ham hock and crackling salad, and my wife had beetroot and goat’s cheese salad – both were perfectly presented, with impeccable ingredients and clever textures’

For my main I had venison with red cabbage and a little boudin noir – basically black pudding the waiter explained. I boringly ordered the venison medium rare, but it was still wonderfully succulent. My wife had beef with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and vegetables. I tried the beef, just to get a taste, then I tried it again, and again, before she got annoyed and moved the Yorkshire pudding to a safe zone. A very good roastie was less well protected and did not survive the attack.

The waiter asked if we’d enjoyed everything, and we did that cheesy thing where you laugh and point out the crumbless plate. He seemed pleased. For dessert my wife had a delicious chocolate fondant with hazelnut ice cream. I ordered cheese, which came with piccalilli, chutney, walnut bread, crackers and other bits and bobs. In the snowy garden a squirrel checked its stash. It would have liked my walnut bread, but I ate it all.

Finally, we returned to the lounge for coffee and petits fours. ‘Not a bad way to spend a Sunday,’ I said to my wife. ‘Can we stay?’ she replied. She was ready to kick off her boots and lie down on the settee. It’s a hotel, so we could have stayed, but we’d already pushed our luck – the in-laws would undoubtedly be starting to struggle with our unruly spawn. I poured some more coffee regardless. This isn’t an experience you give up easily.
 01642 789000

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