One of the great joys of being a restaurant critic is stumbling across a hitherto hidden gem, where the food is so sublime, the atmosphere so welcoming and the owners so charismatic that you know – you absolutely know – that the place will be a rip-roaring success. And so it was with The Bay Tree at Stillington, that well-heeled village between York and Helmsley in the Vale of York, which has been crying out for a quality restaurant for more years than most residents care to remember.
Owners Ed Allen and Harriet Scott only took over The Bay Tree, previously an ailing hostelry, earlier this year. Ed, formerly of the Michelin-starred Pipe and Glass near Beverley, is a magnificent chef, whilst Harriet turned down a promising career in the law to help her partner Ed create one of the finest restaurants in North Yorkshire. Both in their mid-twenties, they have made a superb start to realising their dream.
Ed’s two great strengths as a chef, apart from his innate ability, are confidence and imagination. Take the starters, for example. My black pudding with poached egg, crispy bacon and devilled sauce (£6) was not any tough old black pudding with an egg tossed carelessly on top, but an explosion of gorgeous complementary flavours, underpinned by the piquant devilled sauce. It was outrageously good. My companion Henry, meanwhile, was in raptures about his Black Sheep rarebit with runner bean pickle and herb salad (£6).
This standard was maintained by our main courses. Henry’s Bavette steak (£16), a sophisticated, well-hung cross between a sirloin and a fillet, was cooked to perfection, with tomatoes, chips, onion rings and garlic and parsley butter providing support. My lemon sole with brown shrimps (£16), filleted by Ed, was delicious, with the chef making a virtue of the simplicity of the dish.
To the puddings, and where to begin? Well, there’s always The Bay Tree Chocolate Tasting Plate (£10), which will send your tastebuds into ecstasy. The trifle was excellent too, with Ed once again proving he is the master of both flavour and texture. Henry, a cheese junkie, delighted in a series of serious cheeses including Little Imp, Oxford Isis and Coleeney, at £6 for three and £10 for five, very reasonably priced.
Henry loves his wine and thoroughly enjoyed a few glasses (I was driving), including a refreshing Taringi, a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand and a Malbec Reserva from Argentina. The wine list, supplied by Yorkshire wine merchants Bon Coeur, changes regularly to suit both Ed’s menus and the shifting moods o the seasons.
It is never easy to establish and maintain the delicate balance between a pub and a restaurant in a traditional village such as Stillington. Many a ‘gastropub’ has crashed and burned because it was either too gastro or too pub. Sometimes thirsty customers don’t understand that their pub is now primarily a restaurant. There is no such problem at the Bay Tree, where Harriet has ensured her establishment enjoys an excellent relationship with the White Bear, the pub down the road.
This clarity of vision, coupled with a strong work ethic, gives The Bay Tree a head start. But it is Ed Allen’s technical excellence and imagination in the kitchen, allied to Harriet’s charisma front of house, which marks this new restaurant out as very special indeed. Word about this culinary heaven is spreading fast, so I recommend paying a visit as soon as you can. This ‘tree’, having firmly established its roots, is now flourishing.
The Bay Tree, Main Street,
York YO61 1JU