A stately, gleaming white manor rises formidably from the main road serving Malton from York. Settled on a hill overlooking North Yorkshire’s Howardian Hills, a mélange of green fields dappled with bales of hay unfold just beyond its immaculately landscaped gardens. A wall separates its sandy gravelled entrance from the main road, bordered by a manicured flurry of purples, greens and yellows. Pristinely-kept beds of lavender fringe the base of its majestic façade, flanking a doorway above which two words are emblazoned in polished gold lettering. Talbot Hotel.
The allure of its famous Executive Chef, James Martin, may entice punters to the Talbot Hotel, but it’s its own grandeur that makes an unforgettable first impression. A grade II* listed building situated in sublime surroundings, the Talbot Hotel was built as a hunting lodge in the 1700s, before trading as an inn from 1740 onwards. After reportedly falling into a state of decline, it was taken over by The Fitzwilliam Estate in 2011, which refurbished it to the tune of £4million, restoring it to its former glory and re-imagining it as a foodie destination with James Martin at the helm.
Money well spent. It’s hard to imagine that the hotel was ever anything other than completely resplendent, and stepping inside made me temporarily forget that we’d come for a Sunday lunch, not a jaunt around a magnificent stately home. The hotel’s interior is bedecked with paraphernalia that positions the building’s historical significance, conjuring a bygone era that existed hundreds of years before ‘vintage’ was even a twinkle in interior design’s eye. Charming touches adorn every chintzily wallpapered wall, from framed antique Vanity Fair articles and faded maps of North Yorkshire, to giant paintings depicting traditional hunting scenes. Whether they’re genuine relics or convincing replicas, they each play their part in stirring hazy visions of the building’s 300 years of history. These adornments are a fitting accompaniment to Vivien Greenlock’s quintessentially English décor and furnishings, which are elegantly luxurious without being overly lavish or ostentatious.
After staring agog at our remarkable surroundings, we were led to the bar for an aperitif before our Sunday lunch. A cosy snug furnished with beautifully varnished dark wood and even more wistful relics, it boasted an impressive but overwhelming drinks menu that the waiters seemed only too happy to guide me through. I opted for a Caorunn gin and slimline tonic, a Scottish gin recommended to me on the basis of my preference for the likes of Hendricks and The Botanist. Moreishly smooth and well-balanced, it’s definitely one for the ever-growing list of gin favourites!
Thirst suitably quenched, we were taken through to our dining area, a spacious lair overlooking the Howardian Hills. Despite the majesty imposed by a gallery of huge equine portraits and white linen-draped tables, the dining room radiated a casual and relaxed ambience that erred away from pretension or intimidation.
The stage was most certainly set, so what about the food? Despite dubious past experiences at restaurants when the celebrity chef association does NOT result in a befitting culinary experience (watery risotto at Jamie’s Italian, anyone?), the James Martin effect is a very good one indeed. Born and bred in Malton, James has immersed himself in his hometown’s culinary offerings to seek out the very best local produce for his dishes. The menu reads like a culinary map of North Yorkshire, and the hotel’s website proudly cites a range of partnerships with local suppliers, from farms and butchers to jam suppliers and gluten-free product specialists. The hotel even has its own smokehouse, as well as growing its own fruit, vegetables and herbs.
It’s not a menu that shocks or pushes boundaries, but this isn’t what it’s trying to do. In his role as the Talbot Hotel’s Executive Chef, James has crafted an exquisite menu that revels in the splendour of classic combinations, simply cooked using stunning ingredients from the cornucopia at his disposal throughout North Yorkshire.
With just four options per course, my decision was made for me and I started with the only vegetarian choice of Yellison’s Farm Crowdie Mousse. Beautifully presented, a divine quinelle of whipped, airy goats cheese rested on an oozy layer of syrupy sour beet juice. This was accompanied by beetroot served as crunchy, wafer-thin medallions alongside thicker, more tender discs, with further bite added via a sprinkle of pine nuts and a slither of toasted bread trickled with fruity olive oil. Beetroot and goats cheese may be a tried and tested combination, but exceptional ingredients turn this well-heeled classic into a regal, gratifying dish.
The same can most certainly be said of the vegetarian main, Butternut Squash Risotto. A silky purée of butternut squash clung to perfectly al dente grains of arborio rice, flecked with tender cubes of squash and a squeeze of lemon. Topped with crispy whole and shredded sage leaves, and finished with peppery pea shoots, it was simplicity at its rich and decadent best.
To accompany my risotto, I chose a glass of Mâcon-Lugny, produced by Domaine Louis Latour in Burgundy. Although I chose the wine out of personal preference rather than to match it with my dish, it turned out to be an impeccable match, with the creamy yet citrus notes complementing the comparable elements of the risotto wonderfully. Happy coincidence? Or the result of a well-constructed selection of wines by the glass?
At the carnivorous end of my table there was equal adulation. The Home Cured Organic Salmon was another jubilant incarnation of an English classic, comprising a generous cut of salmon cured on the hotel’s own grounds, served with a smattering of dill, pickled ginger, charred cucumber and spring onions.
For the main, the Sirloin of Waterford Farm Beef paid a wonderful homage to the beloved Yorkshire Sunday roast, with a fantastically tender sirloin that melted on the tongue (so I was told)! Playing an exceptional supporting role were cylindrical roast potatoes, wonderfully cooked with crispy exteriors and fluffy, creamy centres. The seasonal courgette made an appearance along with florets of broccoli and shredded greens, all drizzled with a sharp cooking sauce that bound everything together. And of course, doing the County proud was a gargantuan Yorkshire pudding, crunchy to the touch with a spongy centre.
A few minor snags such as tepid bottled water and a lengthy wait to attract the waitress’s attention when settling our bill weren’t enough to mar an otherwise exceptional experience. I can’t recall dining in a grander setting than the Talbot Hotel, a transportative setting that renders the outside world irrelevant for the duration of your meal. Yet as unquestionably imperial as it is, it has managed to cultivate a tranquil, unpretentious atmosphere in which you won’t feel out of place if you’re not donning your Sunday best. No mean feat in such glorious surroundings. And at just £20 per head for a two course Sunday lunch, the Talbot Hotel stays true to its Yorkshire roots, offering exceptional value that’s as accessible as possible. A celebratory emporium of North Yorkshire’s culinary attributes, the Talbot Hotel is undoubtedly a triumph for James Martin and Malton.
Have you visited the Talbot Hotel?