WE all have crosses to bear, don’t we?

The Blue Lion at East Witton has long laboured under the onerous burden of being “that place in the Dales where James Bond used to visit”.

While Daniel Craig could never have been described as a regular, there was a period when he first came to prominence as the new Bond when he was spotted on a number of occasions in the bar, friends of his having a Dales bolthole nearby. Apparently, his preferred tipple was a Bloody Mary, not a shaken not stirred vodka martini.

Other celebs reported to have darkened its doors include Kate Winslet, Lulu and Jamie Oliver. Prince Charles has also been among its guests.

I only mention this because Paul and Helen Klein, who have owned and run the multi-award-winning Blue Lion for more than 20 years, could be forgiven for resting on their laurels a little and rely on their stellar celebrity endorsements to sustain the business.

Hitherto there’s been no sign of that. We have dined there many times over the years and consistency has been the thing. We can’t recall a poor meal there.

However, we had never sampled the Sunday lunch offering. And we had never eaten in the bar - a source of regret for me but not for Sylvia.

To call the front bar of the Blue Lion characterful is rather like saying Stonehenge is getting on a bit. If you took away the optics, it looks as if it hasn’t been touched for hundreds of years. The stone-flagged floor, the stout country furniture and the open fire that seems as if it’s been burning forever make for an ambience that couldn’t be recreated by even the most resourceful and imaginative interior designer.

It reeks of history which has always been a bit of problem for Sylvia who has found the pungent aroma of woodsmoke not conducive to eating which is why we have previously always made for the formal dining room.

But that wasn’t an option on this particular Sunday and we took our place on some bench seating away from the gently smouldering fire but near the door. Which was a bit noisy but at least Sylvia got a blast of sweet Dales air every now and again.

And what a Sunday lunch we had. The 28-day-aged sirloin was the pinnacle for me. Beef roasted to pink perfection and sliced super thin, it was so tender you could cut it with a fork. I know this is not to everyone’s taste but the rim of yellowed, crisp-edged fat was just heavenly.

Writing this I’m savouring all over again a mouthful of that gossamer meat-fat combo, lifted from its puddle of the beefiest gravy, daubed with horseradish and washed down with a gulp of the deepest red Negroamaro wine.

Sylvia was enthusiastic about her rump of lamb too (a fine substitute for the braised shoulder on the menu) which came with its own lamb gravy.

The vegetables were top notch. Large, crisp roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese with a bit of crunch to it, braised red cabbage, green beans, mange tout and leeks made a fine line-up.

My Yorkshire pudding was impressive to look at, was certainly huge and crisp but perhaps it had been hanging around in a very low oven for a little too long.

We also had enjoyed our starters – a thick and savoury pea and ham soup for Sylvia and some subtly-smoky Morteau sausage for me, served with a poached egg, celeriac puree, garlic croutes and salad. Warm bread rolls came with lots of butter which only could be faulted for its origin in Gloucestershire.

Rather surprisingly, we managed something after the roasts – a light and fresh strawberry cheesecake, served with a strawberry puree and vanilla cream, and an historic cheeseboard. Two locals in the shape of the noble Blue Wensleydale from Hawes, the creamy soft Old York from Shepherd’s Purse at Thirsk and, from further afield, an earthy raw cow’s milk Baron Bigod from Suffolk’s Fen Farm Diary. Not experienced it before but will definitely seek it out in the future.

We were looked after royally by a really sharp maitre d’ and team who had that precious sixth sense of knowing when their attention was required – while also, incidentally, dealing with the distraction of serving lunch to the boss, his family and friends. We might have been dining in the bar but crisp white napery and sparkling glassware was the order of the day.

The Blue Lion’s Sunday lunch is £22.50 for two courses and £27.50 for three. Considering that posh hotels hereabouts routinely charge £30 plus for three courses, that’s very good value in our book.

The total bill with wine (a carafe of pinot grigio and the glass of Italian red) was £79.75.


The Blue Lion, East Witton, near Leyburn, DL8 4SN

Tel: 01969 624273

Web: thebluelion.co.uk

Sunday lunch served: noon-6pm

Disabled access. Some vegetarian options.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality: 10, Service 9, Surroundings 10, Value 9