By Tom Hay
Drive out of Harrogate’s Waitrose car park and there’s a restaurant looking back at you. It’s had a few incarnations over the years, the last being the short-lived Alfie’s Place.
The site’s not hard to reach, but the flow of humans through town does it no favours. The conference visitors who prop up the busy cluster of restaurants near the International Centre will barely know it exists.
What new occupier The Food & Wine Place needs, then, is a unique selling point. Fortunately, it has one.
Two, actually: its dishes change by the month to keep pace with the season, and the wine matching is extremely good.
The latter is the headline grabber. The place is run by Catherine Ward-Brown, winner of a high profile amateur sommelier contest in 2011 – the final stage of which involved picking a meal’s ideal wines from a 50 page Michelin-starred list. Scary.
So each dish on menu has a recommended wine by the glass. And while you’ll find some matched wines in most restaurants, I can’t think of many in Harrogate where the pairing is so extensive.
Or quite so good. If you get sniffy at a sommelier who began as a hobbyist, you need better taste buds. Take some of Ward-Brown’s – she has talent to spare.
A starter of mackerel and chilli-hinted salsa (£5.95) sings alongside a zesty Riesling (£5.75), lime notes adding to the fish and lychee flavours bouncing off the chilli. And a whisper of oak in a beautiful Languedoc-Roussillon Chardonnay (£4.75) nurtures the gentle earthiness of a mushroom terrine (£5.95).
A celeriac risotto special (£10.95) needs more bite if it’s going on the main menu but the zippy north Italian white (Bastianich ‘Vespa’ Bianco, £6) it’s matched with is a blinder. The cooking of a top quality ribeye (£21.95) is good and the steak has room to shine against a smooth, uninvasive Côtes du Rhône (£5.25) – although the chips could be crisper. The pudding matches impress too, like the sumptuously fruity Moscato D’Asti (£3) served beside blood orange in lightly creamy sabayon (£4.95).
The message, then: if you’re interested in wine, try this place out. As for the location – well, being out of the way is fine if your customers keep coming back. The Food & Wine Place delivers on its headline promise, so I hope they will.
l The Food & Wine Place, 9 Victoria Avenue, Harrogate. www.thefoodandwineplace.co.uk