A real gem of a village pub
One day I’ll return in daylight to Gilling East for a gentle stroll around what I am assured is a very pretty village, nestling in the prime walking territory of the Howardian Hills and just a few miles from the historic market town of Helmsley.
But on this occasion, having arrived late, dishevelled and in total darkness after a roadworks-plagued drive, I can only deliver a verdict on the village pub… and it’s a bit of a gem, new to me but obviously not to the readers of the newspaper who rated The Fairfax Arms the third finest in Yorkshire.
There’s obviously some stiff competition out there but it did not take long to discover why so many people have taken this smart, tucked-away tavern to their hearts.
For starters it’s a proper pub, which means that while it may win accolades for its AA rosette winning food (more on which to follow shortly) and its 12 individually styled bedrooms, it is still a friendly, understated sort of place where local drinkers are treated with equal importance as out-of-town diners.
This was a point made by my old friend Heather as we acquainted ourselves with the menus in a comfortable lounge area just around the corner from the bar.
“It’s really nice to still be able to hear the chatter from the bar and not feel cut off from what’s going on,” she said. I couldn’t agree more.
Real fires and wooden beams are the order of the day here, but while the design may be old-style cosiness, the menu is rather more ambitious with a winning blend of comfort food staples and classic dishes with a fine dining flourish.
For starters we opted for a seafood sharing platter (£8.25 per person) and came up trumps with a glorious selection of smoked salmon, prawn cocktail, haddock goujons and baked queenie scallops. Everything was sparkling fresh, the haddock and scallops were cooked to perfection, and the salmon was salty, slightly sweet and flaky.
Standards were maintained with two highly delicious and expertly cooked main courses. I stayed on the seafood track with a generous slab of red wine poached halibut, served on a parsnip rosti with pickled wild mushrooms and fish stock jus. The fish was still moist and breaking into it, revealing the pure white flesh beneath the wine darkened coating, was a nice moment of food theatre.
Across the table, Heather was revelling in a duo of Yorkshire duck (£18.95) – pan seared breast and confit leg boulanger – with pumpkin mash and blue cheese sauce. Served pink with charred skin, the richness of the meat combined with the sweet mash and sharp sauce to create a well-balanced plate.
Side dishes were perhaps a little greedy but the seasonal vegetables (£2.50) were fresh and skinny fries (£2.50) as crisp and indulgent as they should be.
For dessert the simple Italian classic affogato (£4.95), a single espresso with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, was made memorable by the sheer quality of the ingredients, and in this case by the addition of an exceptional, slightly chewy home-made biscotti. Lemon meringue glaze (£5.95), a sundae glass filled with lemon curd, Chantilly cream, lemon ice cream and glazed meringue, was light and tangy.
There was plenty of food for thought on the way home, not least the fact that The Fairfax Arms was only voted third in that competition. If there really are two better pubs Yorkshire they must be pretty spectacular.
Fairfax Arms, Main Street, Gilling East, York, YO62 4JH
Tel: 01439 788212