Possibly the perfect chips - and strawberry stroganoff
IT'S taken a long, long time for us Brits to get our heads round the concept of salad.
After years when a typical British effort was a limp lettuce leaf, half a boiled egg, a tomato, maybe some grated carrot to add a touch of exotica, and some salad cream to dress it, we have discovered the delights of fresh, crunchy greenery, appropriately dressed.
But then, being British, we found a way to get it all wrong again - in the interests of convenience and efficiency. I am talking about bagged salad - the pre-prepared and selected mixed leaves of widely-varying varieties and combinations supermarkets now sell in their millions.
By definition, this salad cannot be truly fresh. It's been sorted, sliced and stuck in a plastic bag many hours and probably days before it finds its way into your trolley. It is the very antithesis of what a good salad should be.
But that convenience is very tempting, not just for us but for small country pubs which don't have a huge turnover and want to keep their wastage to minimum.
So it proved to be the case at the Grange Arms at Hornby, the outof- the-way village betwixt Northallerton and Darlington, where an otherwise excellent meal was spoiled - only very, very slightly it has to be pointed out - by some tired mixed salad which found its way on to the plate of both my starter and main course.
Compensation came in the form of chips which were very, very good.
They may be the best chips we have eaten for years but that's a very vague statement and the memory's not what it was. But they could not be found wanting in any way. They were not so fashionably chunky so as to become flabby, and made with the right type of potato (Maris Piper, we reckoned). They were fried to just-crisp-but-stillslightly- soft-inside perfection.
There was nothing to complain about on my plate of mixed salamis, pancetta and chorizo (£5.99) - apart from that salad and the slightly miserly drizzle of balsamic dressing.
The double Barnsley chop and black pudding served with an onion and cranberry marmalade - and that damned salad - (£13.99) which followed was a plateful fit for a hod carrier but it was also well cooked, the chop being a fine piece of lamb, the black pudding lightly fried and the marmalade adding a sweet-ish note.
Sylvia thought her Thai fish cakes with a sweet chilli dressing (£5.49) very generous and nicely spicy, although they too had the seemingly obligatory handful of those mixed leaves to keep them company.
Her main course beef stroganoff with scented rice (£15.99) was an excellent rendition of a classic dish. Tender beef simmered in a slightly peppery sauce sat on wellcooked, separate rice. She thought it very good indeed.
Side vegetables were OK too and included new potatoes, broccoli, carrots and those heaven-sent chips.
The dessert menu was quite novel in that it didn't feature sticky toffee pudding, chocolate brownie or creme brulee. I like them all. Indeed, creme brulee is a bit of a party trick in the Warne household since the gift of a culinary blow torch last Christmas, but when you eat out more often than you should (it's a tough job) it is a pleasant surprise when it is not on the menu.
Strawberry stroganoff (£4.50) is a Grange Arms' speciality created by chef Ray Cash featuring a granary bread base dusted with icing sugar and a "sauce" of sautéed, slightly macerated, strawberries finished with cream, pepper, more sugar and brandy.
Although not the most attractive looking dessert, it was certainly delicious.
After our meal and having paid the £47 bill, and as we were the last diners, the pub's engaging owners, Pam Cash, and husband/ chef Ray, joined us briefly to discuss strawberry stroganoff (mutual admiration), bagged salad (we agreed to differ), the challenge of running a country pub (it's not getting any easier) and sat nav.
Sat nav cropped up because it has proved to be a bit of a boon to the Grange Arms. Although nominally off the beaten track, vehicle sat nav systems often direct drivers past its door, taking a short cut from the Northallerton road towards Teesside. Ray said it was a like motorway sometimes outside their door - and I don't think he was complaining.
The couple have owned it, with son David, for almost two years after moving from the Midlands.
On the night we were there Pam was front of house and David pretty much single-handed in the kitchen They've not made major changes and that's not a bad thing, for the Grange Arms is a comfortingly understated traditional country inn. It doesn't need to be mucked about with.
It's also a free house so independent brewery Copper Dragon from Skipton gets a look in with its very acceptable IPA. There's also a fruity Golden Pippin ale from the same brewery and John Smith's.
We ate from the main menu served from 7pm-9pm but there is also a slightly cheaper and limited choice "early doors" menu served between 5pm