Lockwoods Restaurant and Ripon
Any visitor to North Yorkshire would be well advised to spend a day in Ripon, a small city of tremendous beauty and charm – not to mention some fascinating attractions, and excellent places to eat. The glorious Cathedral. Here treasures abound plentifully – not least the wonderful mediaeval wooden carvings (including an elephant and castle, and rabbits disappearing down holes – said to be an inspiration for Lewis Carroll); a Harrison organ with pipes of a pitch too low to be heard by the human ear and thus for vibration only, and a crypt dating back to 672AD, which has the most remarkable atmosphere. Once one’s architectural and spiritual hungers have been assuaged, move on to the three museums. Start, perhaps, with the small Courthouse Museum, which presents an impressive Georgian courthouse exactly as it was (albeit without the public gallery which has sadly been converted into council offices). One is encouraged to live history a little by placing oneself in the dock or witness box (items for dressing up appropriately are provided!). Then move on to the Prison and Police Museum, which contains many original items of punishment and order-keeping, as well as the original prison cells. Finally, on to the largest and perhaps most engaging museum, the Workhouse, in which one can view the yards, outbuildings and the garden – which has been “restored” and planted by volunteers with original varieties of vegetable that would have been grown – as well as the main building itself. Here, we find the “boardroom” upstairs – large and airy and imposing, with an original vast Ordnance Survey map showing the area in tremendous detail, whilst downstairs the workhouse part has been faithfully recreated, all with original items: cells for the “vagrants” who were allowed a bed and meal in return for a day’s work; baths in which they would have been washed; fumigators for fumigating their clothes; a herb room where women would have made remedies with herbs; a schoolroom; and outside the rocks which the men would have had to break down into small chippings for making roads etc., along with a measuring device to ensure the chippings were small enough. All intriguing, and enough to fill a whole day’s visit.
When feet begin to ache and the body flags a little, turn to award-winning Lockwoods for a splendid meal – and also because the vegetables used here are all those grown in the Workhouse Museum garden. The restaurant, situated near the museums in this compact city, has a welcoming exterior with a verandah decked in greenery. The dark green /grey colour and clear branding give the impression of an establishment smart and modern yet not off-puttingly trendy; whilst the pendant lights hanging in the window, the comfortable arm-chair style seating and circular cafe-style tables with tea lights look inviting. The interior combines modern with rustic – bare brick walls and partitions of unsmoothed wood like railway sleepers, with metal bars leading up a ramp – the first part of the restaurant is on a slope, with tables in little walled terraces either side of the ramp. The colour scheme continues the dark, almost greeny, grey colour, while on the window sills are plants, hurricane-style lanterns and pillar candles. Seating is at large wooden tables, bare of linen, on dark green banquettes and comfortable looking chairs. Walls are adorned with prints of animals and a large skylight above the first section of the restaurant allows light in. A second part of the restaurant is hidden away behind the serving area, tiled white and with coffee machines and various other sleek-looking pieces of equipment. There is a good feeling in the restaurant – an upbeat and lively ambience; friendly and vibrant, that made one feel particularly pleased to be there.
On my visit, I was immediately impressed by the fact that our table had been laid with not just a highchair, but baby bowl, plate and cutlery for young Tristan. Staff were fairly informally dressed in t-shirts, yet were so professional – polite yet friendly – that this did not detract too much. Little blackboards all over the place – on windowsills and hanging on the walls – gave recommendations and listed specials.
We were seated at a table half way up the ramp on one of the terraces, and were at once offered drinks and brought menus. These were just slightly tatty pieces of paper on clipboards but they offered an extremely temping array of food; and a large blackboard of specials was also brought for us to view. There were interesting-sounding snacks, six or seven starters (of which I could easily have gone for any number – broccoli with poached duck, charcuterie plates and suchlike); then a goodly range of main courses, focusing pretty heavily on meats and fish, with an extra section for grills – in which the saddleback pork was a close second choice for both my husband and myself. The children’s menu was more extensive and more inventive than usual, with the items being homemade (e.g. homemade fish fingers, rather than the Birds Eye one typically encounters). The wine list was short and succinct, yet good, with rather more unusual countries featured and options than usual – none of your typical French clarets, but tending more towards Hispanic countries for the reds, and with a few interesting roses and sparklings as well. We asked for a recommendation and were given three – of these we chose the Portuguese option: a Herdade de Sao Miguel 2013. This is made in South Portugal using local grape varieties, and had a good deep ruby colour with purple tinge and nose of ripe fruits and spice. On the palate were plenty of forest fruits – blackberries and blackcurrants, providing a good sweet / bitter balance. Very full bodied with a long, dry finish of ash and a huge amount of spice – black pepper and a hint of chilli – this was a very characterful wine, and we were pleased with the recommendation.
I think that Mr Marshall-Luck probably chose the best starter (and so requisitioned parts of it accordingly!). He went for the bacon and quails’ egg salad; here, the bacon was deliciously salty and gloriously flavoursome, and was complemented perfectly by the soft-boiled quails’ eggs, which added a rich creaminess to the dish. The bread that accompanied it was very lightly toasted, thus giving it enough bite to enable it to make its presence felt whilst keeping it enough in the background for it not to dominate. I had opted for the goats’ cheese curd with beetroot and pumpkin seeds. The curd itself I found slightly disappointing – too delicately flavoured for my taste and with a slightly firmer, chewier texture than the soft creamy clouds I was expecting. The seeds and beetroot went well with the curd, although again I found the beetroot a little lacking in punch.
The rack of lamb was my choice for the main course. My two cutlets were perfectly cooked– I had asked for medium to well done and they were presented with no hint of raw redness but not yet browned. The meat was very succulent and tender, and came accompanied by fondant potato, ratatouille – made of very finely chopped vegetables and with a slightly tart flavour which cut through the richness of the meat very well indeed – and some spinach, which was also a good complement. The best item of all, however, was the braised shoulder of lamb which was gorgeously rich, sweet and flavoursome, immensely tender and ever so moreish.
My husband’s hanger steak was deemed just a little on the retiring side for a 32-day-aged steak; however, the meat itself was beautifully tender and was cooked to perfection – the accompanying garlic butter (presented as a solid slice which gradually melted, providing an exquisite ooze!) was also very well-judged in terms of intensity of flavour. Served alongside was a deliciously clean-tasting salad of lettuce with a creamy dressing.
As usual, cheeses tempted me over desserts, especially since Lockwoods offers an excellent list of cheeses. I opted for two goats’ cheeses – Ribblesdale and Tovey – and Ossau-Iraty. Of the goats’ cheeses, one was hard and the other semi-hard (I was slightly disappointed there were no lovely soft, creamy goats’ cheese). Both, however – and the Ossau-Iraty – were very characterful and full-flavoured, and came served with sweet crumbling oat cakes, fruit bread, grapes, celery and chutney – a good selection and all nicely presented.
Mr Marshall-Luck’s afogatto was a really wonderful dessert: a beautifully intense flavour to the ice cream – bursting with the taste of vanilla pods – which was enhanced by the dark richness of the espresso. It was served with tiny amaretto biscuits that added an extra dimension of texture and flavour without being in any sense overpowering. Overall, a light and wholly satisfying close to the meal.
It was in Tristan’s dessert that we really put the staff of Lockwoods to the test. Given that he had shared our starters and mains, we couldn’t resist allowing him a dessert of his own, and rather foodhardily went for the chocolate pot (which came with a shortbread so sweet and delicious that I’m afraid I commandeered it all). This he demolished with utter delight, and with utter chaos, spreading chocolate absolutely everywhere (including all over himself and us). The staff were perfectly patient and wonderful about this; with not an eye-lid batted or raised eyebrow of censure.
We slunk out of the restaurant, greatly impressed by what had been an excellent meal; with superb food and service in a pleasant ambience and environment – and having learnt a valuable lesson about toddlers and chocolate pots.
Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine Critic