THE gentrification of North Yorkshire’s pubs and hotels must surely be complete.

Just as there can’t be a corner of London which hasn’t been colonised by the well-to-do and transformed into Hampstead, there can’t be many hostelries in this part of the world which have not had a visit from the style consultant armed with the Farrow and Ball Heritage paint chart, the Fired Earth catalogue, a large roll of hessian carpet and a lorry-load of shabby chic ephemeral bric-a-brac.

Now one of the last bastions of unreconstructed traditional North Yorkshire hospitality has fallen to the march of progress. The Golden Fleece at Thirsk re-opened six weeks ago after a £1m refurbishment and it is almost unrecognisable from its previous form.

Certainly, the characters who used to frequent the much-loved front bar of the Fleece, putting the world to rights while looking out over the market place in the days when it was giant lorry park, would not know where they were should they be alive to stumble over the threshold today.

The front bar is now a private dining room, the old dining room is now a huge bar, the banqueting suite is now the restaurant and the rear yard has been turned into a large outside eating area with a huge pizza oven. In this comprehensive remodelling, the only area of the hotel which hasn’t changed is the central reception area.

But this is no paen to the past. The Fleece in its previous guise was not exactly living up to its illustrious coaching inn past. It was, at best, tired and while the front bar remained popular it had long lost its reputation for reliable if plain food. The revamp was overdue.

The people spending the £1m are the Coaching Inn Group, the same small hotel chain responsible for the recent refurbishment of King’s Head Hotel in Richmond – a similar exercise in turning a place upside down and back to front.

And while there is something a little gastropub formulaic about the result, there’s no question that the new look has brought the old Fleece back to life. Last Saturday evening the hotel was buzzing in a way I can’t recall in years. If we had not taken the precaution of booking we would not have had a table in the new dining room with its chandeliers, leather banquette seating and muted colours.

Like the décor, the menu follows a familiar contemporary pattern. There are starters which feature the ubiquitous “grazing” plates to share and the mains are the sorts of dishes you will find just about anywhere. Those seeking novelty should go elsewhere.

From the grazing starters (£4 each if served singly) we selected three dishes (for £11): breads with dipping oil and balsamic vinegar, fish finger goujons and garlic mushrooms.

Each one would have made a perfectly adequate starter on its own so we were rather “over-faced” tackling three. The goujons in particular, being rather larger than fingers, and there were four of them, was a substantial portion.

They were excellent too. Firm fleshed and crispy batter coated, they were served with tartare sauce. The garlic mushrooms were certainly pungent but became something a bit special thanks to the Yorkshire Blue (from Shepherd’s Purse just down the road) used in the sauce. The bread (white crusty and sun-dried tomato) was just okay in comparison.

On to the mains and my hake supreme (£18), like the goujons, was good, fresh, and well-cooked fish. Perched on a bed of sea-salty samphire with new potatoes and tenderstem broccoli, it was nicely pulled together by an aromatic tarragon beurre blanc sauce.

Sylvia’s rump of lamb (£17) came with a warm salad of green beans, courgettes, new potatoes and mint oil. The slices of lamb were faintly pink, beautifully tender and well flavoured. She thought it would have been perfect with just a little jus drizzled over.

Sylvia finished her meal with strawberry ice cream (£3) – decent quality – and I succumbed to the temptation posed by a plateful of profiteroles (£5) arriving at an adjacent table.

These were light as the proverbial feather, filled with raspberry cream and lightly coated in a white chocolate sauce. Amazingly it wasn’t that sweet.

Apart from our bottle of Prosecco (£23) not being particularly cold when first served (it did chill down in the ice bucket) we were very well looked after by the Fleece’s deputy general manager Jo Richmond. I do love staff name badges.

Our three courses with wine cost £77 but a stone-baked pizza and a drink could cost as little as £15.

The new-look Fleece may upset some of the town’s traditionalists but it was good to see it so busy again after years of gentle decline.


The Golden Fleece, Market Place, Thirsk, YO7 1LL
Tel: 01845 423108 Web:
Restaurant open: noon to 9pm, seven days.
Disabled access. Vegetarian and dairy/gluten-free options

Ratings (Out of Ten): Food quality 8, Service 8, Surroundings 7, Value 7