Hotel restaurants can be stultifyingly dull. Either they’re over-involved and over-eager to please, twisting themselves in knots trying to prove that their restaurant’s not like all those other places; or, they actually are all those other places, with their pre-cut frozen chips, their remorseless use of the word ‘hearty fayre’, and the kind of apologetic, half-cocked, over-sugared, under-seasoned pasta plates which would have Aldo Zilli smashing the place up with a pasta ladle.
West Park, on the other hand, is neither. Outside, you’ve got the kind of briskly handsome, continental poised frontage which is rather Harrogate’s thing, not to mention the sweep of West Park itself. Inside, it’s a swish, retro-modern kind of space, with gold-and-turquoise Art Deco flourishes and a faintly American Hustle-ish sense of glitziness.
Of course, that’d mean nothing if there weren’t any decent food. To start with, there were some almightily malty breads and breadsticks so good I’d have been happy to take one of them home and raise it as my son. ‘Look at my boy,’ I’d tell my friends. ‘He is crunchy, and light, and delicious, and he’s already polished off the Biff, Chip and Kipper books.’
Then, for starters proper, there was an engorged Scotch egg – I’m not an ornithologist by trade, but I’d take a punt on it having been laid by a chicken roughly the size of a Renault Espace – with puckeringly salt-sour piccalilli and massive pork scratchings about half a foot long. Deep-fried pig skin’s not really my cup of cholesterol, but the Scotch egg was mightily impressive. Dense, lightly spiced sausage meat mingled with not-quite-set yolk, and with a blob of piccalilli on top pretty much every part of my tongue was having its own private rave.
The main, a pork loin with mashed potato, carrot purée and caramelised apple, came in just-so little cuboids, their ends butting against each other like carb-laden buses stopped at traffic lights, waiting for upended carrot wedges to cross the road. For all the modishness of the presentation, pork, apple and potato is as traditionally British as it’s possible for a meal to get without serving it with a Dansette playing a seven-inch of Land Of Hope And Glory, though that didn’t mean there was any room for complacency. Thankfully, the whole thing was well-balanced, and the pork had clearly been delicately treated in the kitchen too. Then, to finish, one of those hollow chocolatey balls onto which molten caramel is poured, so you get the satisfaction of watching the crown of the bauble slowly melt and drip into itself. Dreamy.
So, it’s far from the hotel restaurant of popular nightmare. In fact, given the jumble of parties who dined at the same time as I did – a pack of yuppie types at the start of their Saturday night out, old friends catching up over wine, five or six sets of youngish parents all trying valiantly to keep their offspring from launching themselves to freedom – it looks like it’s become a fixture on Harrogate’s restaurant scene for pretty much everyone.
What we expected:
Solid British classics and a chilled vibe.
What we got:
Upscale sideways takes at traditional plates.
What we wish we’d tried:
Anything from the charcoal grill – the sea bream with sea veg appealed.
The West Park Hotel
19 West Park, Harrogate HG1 1BJ