Review: Is this Harrogate' best restaurant?

From Murray Wilson's tasting menu at Horto - Eel with beetroot, charcoal and fennel seed.(1611225AM1)
From Murray Wilson's tasting menu at Horto - Eel with beetroot, charcoal and fennel seed.(1611225AM1)
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Without much of a fuss or any hype, word has spread beyond Rudding Park of a dining experience rather out of the ordinary.

In the space of just six months chef Murray Wilson has built on the reputation he forged previously at Norse in Harrogate and the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill by turning his pop-up restaurant Horto into what looks set to be a permanent fixture.

Horto's head chef Murray Wilson.  (1611225AM4)

Horto's head chef Murray Wilson. (1611225AM4)

Latin for kitchen garden, Horto may be located – at the moment – in the top floor of Rudding Park golf clubhouse and boast arty graffiti and trendy steel gantries but this is true fine dining.

The Murray Wilson formula is simple even if his dishes can be complex.

The aim is deconstruct what we already know or dispense with formulas altogether.

There is ambition there. Three - or above - AA Rosettes are clearly on the menu for the future and, whisper it, just perhaps a coveted Michelin star at some point.

But what the talented Wilson offers at Horto ultimately is food that sounds ground-breaking but in reality is deliciously easy to eat.

Working from a kitchen that features more hi-tech pieces of apparatus than a science lab, the care and attention to detail shines through in everything Murray Wilson’s team plates up.

And at this point I should probably throw in descriptions like “brave” and “daring” and “imaginative”.

All three adjectives would be appropriate enough.

But what makes Horto truly different in the rareified air it attempts to operate in is that it’s a lot fun.

Artistry never arrived in surroundings less formal or more relaxed than these.

There’s a real buzz in the packed room, a hub bub of happy chatter.

For the full experience, it’s best to put aside the a la carte for the specially formulated tasting menu.

It also pays to go ‘blind’ and place yourself in the hands of the chef as he presents each of the six courses – the oyster and caviar; the 100-day-old beef and rye; the eel with beetroot, charcoal and fennel seed, the celeriac with truffle and crème fraiche, the goose in a taco with chanterelle mushroom, parsnips and elderberry; bergamot yuzu with white chocolate and rice and apple with caraway, brown butter and rum.

Every mouthful overturns expectations. Delightful surprises abound.

Things that sound unusual on paper taste delicious in practice.

Even the drinks menu is full of unusual but tasty choices while the cheeseboard offers the best selection I’ve ever tasted.

All the time, the staff and Murray himself are darting around, explaining this and explaining that.

The beauty of it all, however, lies beyond the food’s provenance or the incredible skill and techniques on show.

Even the fact much of the menu’s ingredients were sourced from Rudding Park’s own kitchen garden 100 yards or so away doesn’t really matter.

Neither, really, do the passion and knowledge displayed by all and sundry.

I once asked Murray why he hadn’t exploited his runner-up success in the final of Masterchef a few years back like anyone else would have done.

“All I care about is creating great food,” he replied simply.

In plain-speaking Yorkshire that would be tantamount to a confession of pretentiousness if Murray Wilson didn’t live up to those words so wonderfully.

After its quick success, Horto is set to end its ‘pop up; status and go legit by moving to Rudding Park’s new £9.5 million spa development next May.

If I was you, however, I would pay Horto a visit well before then.