Food The Box Tree, Ilkley (and TNs on interesting wine matches)

How often do you get a perfect meal?

It happened yesterday at The Box Tree in Ilkley. Not a single bum note throughout. Not even anything I could think "might have been improved if they'd just ..."

Utterly impeccable in all respects.

Canapés served in the bar:
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Left to right: smoked eel & apple, squid ink wafer with lemon emulsion, smoked salmon & cream cheese macarons.

There's a good value 3-course table d'hôte, a fixed price 3-course à la carte, and a 5-course Menu Gourmand. While today's table d'hôte was actually really appealing to me, being greedy, we naturally ended up with the Gourmand, although we asked if it would be possible to swap the fillet of beef that was on the Gourmand with a venison dish (both were on the à la carte): "no problem."

Excellent bread, the onion bread (the round one) in particular had not only a beautiful flavour, but also a delightfully thin, almost glassy crust.
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Making butter into roses doesn't make the butter taste any better, but it's indicative of the skills and attention to detail here.
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Amuse:
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A pea mousse-cum-velouté with parmesan curds and mint oil. Delightful, and a brilliant amuse.

A simply perfect duck terrine, with cured duck breast that was almost like prosciutto, sour cherry sorbet and chocolate brioche.
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Excellent, if rather small portion of turbot came with grapes (peeled, of course) that had been poached in champagne, a purée of purple sprouting broccoli, brown shrimps & brown butter that had the flavour of potted shrimps, though I'm pretty sure the shrimps hadn't been potted - they had too fresh a taste for that.
While the portion of fish seemed a little small at the time, by the end of the meal, we were pleasantly satiated, so - as with everything else at this meal - the portion size was actually spot on.
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Loin of venison had great flavour, perfectly cooked. Accompanied by carrots, carrot purée, potatoes, a whirly potato crisp thing and a large slice of excellent black pudding with sultanas - they make the black pudding themselves, and I have to say it was vastly superior even to my preferred RS Ireland of Haslingden black puddings. A couple of slices of lightly pickled punchy ginger (the red in the photograph) and an excellent sauce rounded off a superb main course.

Pre-dessert:
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Elderflower & strawberry espuma, crème fraîche ice cream & crumbs.
Foams and espumas get a lot of stick, largely because of their ubiquitous and not always appropriate overuse a few years back, but in my view, they have their place, being able to deliver flavours, without the weight and body on the plate (and the palate). The result in this case was like a super-light strawberry cheesecake.

Final course was a soufflé, bettered only in my experience by Pierre Koffmann's legendary soufflé aux pistaches.
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Granny Smith soufflé with calvados sauce. A really good apple flavour, even without the fabulous sauce.

Excellent coffee comes with an unchanging selection of accomplished chocolates, served from the restaurant's old humidor.
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Clockwise from the top: the gold balls are filled with ganache, the cocoa-dusted balls are filled with a liquid salted caramel, then there's chocolate-dipped ginger and orange peel. Even the orange peel was perfectly cooked.

I think I've used up my limit for photographs, so some notes on the wines to follow in the next post.
 
The Box Tree has always had a good wine list, with plenty of mature bottles, though few bargains, although I've never felt stung by the prices, but that has needed careful selection. On more than one occasion in the past, I've also been steered away from my first choice, to a significantly cheaper, and probably much more interesting wine. I have to admire restaurants and sommeliers who like to lead customers through the more unfamiliar reaches of their wine lists.

On this occasion, we went with the wine flight, though, with a nod to the increase in random breath-testing, we opted out of the dessert wine (a muscat de Beaumes de Venise).

The really knowledgeable sommelier introduced each wine in depth and at length - probably greater depth than he might with most customers, having sussed out he was dealing with a wino. It was an interesting selection of wines, and certainly not the normal go-to selection of wines by the glass that many restaurants have, and try to convince you they've picked to go with your particular dish.

With the duck terrine, a Gascon rosé was spot on, also coping, enhancing, and being enhanced by the sweeter cherry elements of the dish.
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2015 Domaine de Pellehaut, Harmonie de Gascogne Rosé, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne
Mid, reddish pink.
The first, immediate impression on the nose is of fresh and stewed strawberries. Lots and lots of strawberry. But there's also some cherry, and just a general very fresh, summery feel.
Lovely palate: very, very drinkable. Light and fresh with good balance. Quite a creamy texture and a really good structure for a rosé. .Eminently drinkable.
90/100


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2013 Chateau Ka Source Blanche, Bekaa Valley
The nose was clearly redolent of fresh grassy sauvignon, even before the sommelier explained the blend (Sauvignon Blanc 42%, Viognier 28%, Muscat 23%, Chardonnay 7%). Fresh, grassy, green herbs, with a bit of a buttery note.
Lovely rounded, open palate. A little bit of scent (viognier?), a creamy texture and some white pepper spice.
Cracking wine, though it sort of feels a shame there are no native Lebanese grapes in the blend. But that probably makes it an easier sell than the Musar White that they also have on the list here.
A spot-on match with the turbot.
91/100

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2011 Bessa Valley Winery Enira, Bulgaria
Blimey. Bulgarian. Apart from a few tasted at things like SITT or LIWF, I've not had a Bulgarian wine for years. Decades even.
Rich black fruit, blackcurrants and a certain meaty bloodiness on the nose.
Rich, velvety textured palate. Big full, black fruits with a hint of woody spice. Very full and mouthfilling, but it actually manages to maintain an elegant lightness. I'm very impressed by this wine.
A perfect match with the gamey-meaty-sweet mix of the venison dish, though it would be great with most furred game, I think.
92/100
 
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Andrew
We went about 3 weeks ago and had the tasting menu.
I have to say that I can't remember such a relaxed and enjoyable meal in a "fancy" restaurant.
The staff were just so friendly and accommodating, in particular the sommelier who is a lovely gentleman-knowledgable and with plenty of time to chat.
Food was faultless-good cooking without slipping into the nerdery and fussiness that sometimes spoils starred establishments when they are trying to hard
We too were persuaded (against my initial judgement I have to confess) to try the Bulgarian Bessa valley-it reminded me of good Grand Cru St Emilion in its early phase of maturity (but at a 1/4 of the price). The Sommelier told me they had bought 25 cases after he had tasted it!.
John
 
Living fairly locally, we've been to The Box Tree quite a few times, but on our most recent visit the whole experience had clearly gone up a notch - as you say, the attention to detail is now exemplary, but it wasn't just the "extras" (important though they are) - it was the actual main dishes themselves that were on a new level. We tend to go a la carte, but order completely different dishes to each other and then swap tastes. Everything was exquisite.
 
Living fairly locally, we've been to The Box Tree quite a few times, but on our most recent visit the whole experience had clearly gone up a notch - as you say, the attention to detail is now exemplary, but it wasn't just the "extras" (important though they are) - it was the actual main dishes themselves that were on a new level. We tend to go a la carte, but order completely different dishes to each other and then swap tastes. Everything was exquisite.

Including the wine being "presented" on a cushion!:)
 
Always enjoyed our trips there, the last was three of four years ago. Is Simon Gueller still there?
Yes, still owned by Simon & Rena Gueller. Not sure what day to day involvement he has in the kitchen.

I think the head chef changed at the end of 2015, with Lawrence Yates moving to some pub near Huddersfield. Don't think I know who replaced him.
 
Visited again yesterday - this time we just had the "cheap" set lunch (£35 for 3 courses, each with a choice of 2 dishes), but again pretty much everything was faultless. A few years ago, this was very much a 2 tier operation (i.e. you were very aware you were eating the cheap lunch menu) but not any more.

Canapés in the lounge were interesting and tasty, starter was a fun take on duck a l'orange - a quenelle of duck liver parfait with orange jelly and an outstanding marmalade puree. Main was loin of iberico pork with glorious pomme puree and a light but tasty cream sauce. Dessert an absolutely stunning passion fruit soufflé with coconut ice cream - easily the highlight. Good coffee and a generous plate of chocolates to finish.

Drinks wise, after our aperitifs we had a delicate and floral Gerard Metz vielles vignes Pinot Gris (£36) and a ripe but fresh Brunel Crozes Hermitage (£39).

Just a lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
 
I was on the next table to Richard's rowdy mob yesterday ;)
Not quite up to the sublime nature of the meal in August. Let down particularly by some (throat) sweetbreads (which I thought the menu implied were veal, but could equally have been lamb) that it seemed nobody had thought to prep ahead of service.
But it didn't spoil the meal at all, and the Box Tree remains for me one of the best restaurants in the north, as it just exudes pure class, and has the food to match. In terms of the whole experience, it's one of the closest I can think of that comes close to Le Gavroche or The Waterside.
 
Christmas lunch at The Box Tree yesterday.

Canapes were good - a crab and lemon wafer and a ham hock croquette. We all accompanied these with Romero Aurora Manzanilla.
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Festive set menu was £40 for 3 courses, choice of 3 starters, 3 mains and 2 desserts. Bread was decent but I was slightly disappointed in that there was no choice, only white sourdough.

For starter I had confit duck rillettes served with beetroot 3 ways and orange gel. This looked beautiful and the beetroot was all excellent, but the duck was seriously under seasoned, which left the dish rather flat:
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Vicki had the ballotine of salmon, which was lovely and fresh, served with a very good pickled fennel salad and a not quite fiery enough horseradish creme fraiche:
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Main was absolutely sublime - daube of beef with pomme puree and sauce Bordelais. Rich and sticky with great depth of flavour, the sauce in particular was exceptional. This is the kind of dish that The Box Tree does as well as anywhere you will ever eat:


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Dessert is simple in The Box Tree- you always get the souffle. Yesterday's souffle was Prune and Armagnac served with sauce Anglais. Texturally superb with a great brandy and brown butter flavour:
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Again Vicki deviated from the rest of us with her dessert of white chocolate mousse, passion fruit curd and coconut ice cream. This she said was easily her favourite course:
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Wine wise, we had 2 excellent bottles, both of which were great value too - a honeyed but still fresh 2003 Gerard Metz Riesling GC Muenchberg (£42) and a fabulously rich and deep 2010 Chateau Famaey Cahors (£37), which matched the daube perfectly.

All in all a really lovely way to kick start my festive break.
 
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In yet another twist, it has just been announced that Samira Effa has left The Box Tree as head chef, with immediate effect.

"Professional differences" with Simon Guellar, apparently.
 
Visited for lunch yesterday for the first time since it lost it's star.

In short, it was better than it's ever been.

The menu dishes are more polished and technically better, but still recognisably in The Box Tree style. Service was as sleek as ever, but warmer and less rigid. But it is the extras and peripherals that have really gone up - the bread was sensational - amongst the best I've had anywhere - whole small white sourdough loaves, so good that we bought 3 more to take home with us! Far more care and effort had clearly gone into the canapes and amuses. Even the coffee was superb.

IMO this place should never have lost it's star, but if this is the result, it seems to be the best thing that could have happened!

Absolutely brilliant.
 
Seared scallop, ham hock beignets, celeriac puree, apple and truffle:
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King crab Parmesan cannelloni, heritage tomatoes, birch sap sorbet:
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Duck breast, confit leg, black garlic puree,
turnips and alliums. The 5 spice infused sauce on this was sensational:
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Beef fillet, marrow crusted cheek, celeriac fondant, mushroom puree, savoy:
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Strawberry souffle, clotted cream ice cream, pickled green strawberries and crumble:
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Absolutely flippin' fabulous looking. I must make the effort to get there some day. BTW, I haveto say the chocolates that end the meal at Per Se are possibly the best chocolates I have ever tasted (and they gave me a box to take away with me!) :)
 
Visited for lunch yesterday for the first time since it lost it's star.

In short, it was better than it's ever been.

The menu dishes are more polished and technically better, but still recognisably in The Box Tree style. Service was as sleek as ever, but warmer and less rigid. But it is the extras and peripherals that have really gone up - the bread was sensational - amongst the best I've had anywhere - whole small white sourdough loaves, so good that we bought 3 more to take home with us! Far more care and effort had clearly gone into the canapes and amuses. Even the coffee was superb.

IMO this place should never have lost it's star, but if this is the result, it seems to be the best thing that could have happened!

Absolutely brilliant.

I agree with most of that, Richard, apart from the bread, which I didn't like at all when I went at the end of April. Then it was all crust with no interior, singularly failing in the main task of restaurant bread, which is to mop up sauces. For me, the loaves were too small, and I longed for previous versions of the bread. I also thought the trademark butter rose wasn't up to the former standard set by Andrew Pratt, though that will no doubt improve with practice.

Absolutely flippin' fabulous looking. I must make the effort to get there some day. BTW, I have to say the chocolates that end the meal at Per Se are possibly the best chocolates I have ever tasted (and they gave me a box to take away with me!) :)
It's a proper classical restaurant, Tom, with all the standards of service, napery, glassware, etc that we're always being told aren't important for the dining public these days (but damn well important to me!), with excellent, proper three or four course menus to go with it.
Like the Gavroche or the Waterside, the Box Tree sails serenely on. There is still aftershave in the gents, the chintz still looks out over the hushed rooms, much of the wine list seems to have been inherited from previous owners, and there is still soufflé for dessert.
 
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The loaves were a good size I thought, with just the right ratio of crust to fluff. Each loaf was around the size of a hedgehog.

The soufflé was as good as they always have been.
 
The picture (beef course) looks pretty much in line? But I can easily forgive that - it looks fabulous!

I think the perspective is slightly distorted on the picture, Alex - the loaves were oval rather than round, I think you are looking at the narrow width on that snap. They were bigger than they look, hence a better crust to fluff ratio!
 
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