THERE’S been a quiet foodie revolution underway in Stokesley over the last few years.
From a situation where options were pretty limited there’s been a steady growth in eating places.
The west end of the town centre now hosts not one deli/bistro but three, and there are a multitude of serious evening dining options.
The town now even has its own annual food week in October thanks to the enterprising parish council and some of the key hospitality businesses.
Stokesley’s foodie awakening was initiated more than 30 years ago by the late Alan Thompson when he started his Chapters restaurant in Bridge Road and then moved it around the corner to the High Street where it has been ever since, burgeoning into a boutique hotel along the way.
One of Alan’s many regular and devoted customers was Stephen Bell who wanted something to invest in following the sale of the family Bells Stores to Sainsbury’s. He bought Chapters Hotel and Restaurant from Alan who concentrated his energies on the separate deli and bistro of the same name in the Market Place. Confusing, I know, but stay with me.
Under the Bell ownership Chapters Hotel and Restaurant evolved into the nearest thing Stokesley has had to a fine dining establishment and during one particularly hot streak was Restaurant of the Year in the Flavours of Hambleton food awards four years on the trot. Impressive.
Now Chapters has been sold again and is being run by Michels & Taylor, a “hotel asset management consultancy” – a concept I’d not come across before. After a cursory examination of Michels and Taylor’s website - “More profit for hotel owners” it gleefully announces on the home page - I got the jist. These are the guys you call in when you want to sweat the asset. Not so much The Hotel Inspector as The Bean Counter.
When we arrived last Saturday night, it appeared HR had already wielded the Sabatier knife. Just four staff appeared to be looking after the bar and the 40-cover restaurant. One was a callow rookie who tried desperately to look busy and useful while the guy running the show, Neil, turned out to have been drafted in at short notice from the George at Piercebridge, near Darlington, another Michels Taylor operation. It was Neil’s first visit. We know this place better than you I thought.
To be fair they coped very well with what must have been a difficult situation. Our waitress Ashley was very attentive and engaging without being pushy and Neil, who justifiably looked as if he been dealt a very bum deal that evening, progressively relaxed as service progressed and the disaster he clearly thought was imminent didn’t materialise.
Their cause was helped immeasurably by the kitchen which proved to be more than competent at turning out dishes from a menu which will never win any prizes for originality or creativity but cleverly didn’t require Michelin star skillsets to master. I guess that’s why you hire hotel asset management specialists.
We kicked off with some bread and marinated olives (£4) – top notch balsamic and olive oil for dipping – while we waited for our starters, a soy and ginger infused duck breast (£6.50) for Sylvia and roulade of chicken for me (£6.50).
The duck, served with an oriental salad and sesame and sweet chilli dressing, had Sylvia very excited. The sliced duck was knife-through-butter tender and pink, the thin layer of fat stickily sweet. The dressing added just the right amount of heat and piquancy.
My roulade was almost as good. The chicken was wrapped in prosciutto, tightly rolled round some slightly blackened roasted peppers and, I think, some cream cheese with a balsamic and basil pesto reduction drizzled over it.
Sylvia’s main course haddock and chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce (£11.50) featured a dreamily-light and crispy, golden-gleaming beer batter and super-fresh firm-fleshed fish. The chips were okay, the tartare sauce a bit dull.
My rump of lamb (£16.95) was last year’s season and strongly flavoured, almost hoggety, but was an ideal combo with its accompanying black pudding (my favourite - Doreen’s produced by Arthur Haigh at Dalton) and an individual timbale of ratatouille – the classic French combination of aubergine, courgette, tomato, pepper, onion and lots of garlic. The ratatouille was particularly well done: so often it turns out a slushy mush of a vegetable stew but here every component retained its identity. We shared a white chocolate and mascarpone cheesecake (£6) – nice, crunchy base and very creamy top served with some soft fruit and a strawberry coulis.
The bill was £77 and a chunk of that was a £25.95 for a top-drawer Prosecco (La Altane – beautifully creamy mousse).
It might not be Alan Thompson’s idea of what a restaurant should be but the new Chapters is perfectly serviceable. The new owner can be proud of his “asset”. It’s sweating nicely.
Market Bar and Grill, Chapters Hotel and Restaurant, 27 High Street, Stokesley, TS9 5AD
Tel: 01642 711888
Food served: Monday to Saturday lunch noon-2.30pm, Sunday noon-4pm; Monday to Thursday 5.30-8.30, Friday and Saturday 6-9pm
Disabled access. Vegetarian and gluten free options.
Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9, Service 7, Surroundings 7, Value 7