Exclusive - inside Harrogate's new (and adventurous) restaurant
Prepare to be surprised. Horto may be based in Harrogate but this new pop-up restaurant in the luxurious Rudding Park Hotel is set to offer that rarest of local phenomena for its summer run - food as theatre.
Sitting in the shadow of this brand new establishment’s boldly graffiti-covered sheet metal wall, I’m just about to put my first question to its award-winning head chef Murray Wilson when in walks Adrian Reeve with a box of veg laden with fresh beetroot, baby fennel and lots of other nice ingredients.
It’s all been handpicked from Rudding Park’s kitchen garden with its 53 raised beds which lies just a hundred yards away.
Despite the almost palpable sense of fun at this exciting new establishment based upstairs in the club house of Rudding’s golf course, it’s a very serious proposition run by one of the country’s most dedicated chefs.
And what Murray Wilson is dedicated to is shaking up anything stale about the concept of dining out.
“There has to be a middle ground between places where diners feel they have to whisper all the time and places that go too far,” Murray says.
“At Horto I’m going to be offering a five-course tasting which will change on a regular basis. I couldn’t do that if it was a la carte.
“It allows us to be more creative and up the variety and quality of our food and cater to diners’ dietary requirements.”
The last ten years have seen Murray develop and prosper at home and abroad, from well-known local names such as The Yorke Arms in Ramsgill, and Harrogate’s Hotel du Vin and, most recently, Norse, to name establishments further afield such as the Atelier in Ottawa in Canada to Gordon Ramsay’s Claridge’s in London.
Always learning, always changing, the measure of this inspirational culinary master can be judged by his reaction to a question I ask him about his success in Masterchef in 2008 when he was a finalist.
The contestants always say afterwards that Masterchef changed their lives, I proffer as golfers pass below the pop-up restaurant’s window. Did it change yours?
“No” is the simple reply from this former St Aidan’s High School student, “It could have done but I refused to let it. I prefer to be cooking great food to being on TV.”
As a man who loves fish, it’s no surprise the dish he cooked in the Masterchef final in front of Michel Roux Jr and Gregg Wallace was pan-fried, diver-caught scallops with cauliflower puree and vegetable a la greque.
He’s happy to admit his piscine preference but quickly adds “I do have a big steak myself every now and again. I like to test myself sometimes by cooking with ingredients I don’t personally like.”
Sure enough, a tour round the kitchen at Horto reveals he’s currently prepping an ingredient he is unusually averse to – tomatoes.
As befits this adventurous but delicately precise chef, whose stellar reputation is based on never losing the flavour amid the spirit of daring, his kitchen combines exactly what any visitor would expect to see in any kitchen - plus a few hi-tech gizmos straight from a science lab.
Expect the unexpected is the message at Horto which will be making the most of seasonal ingredients from the kitchen garden.
Murray will be cooking, serving and sharing the story of each dish throughout each evening. It's that relaxed and that personal.
Anyone who doubts he can pull off all his ambition should take note of his very last project for his previous Harrogate restaurant Norse – a 50 course meal as part of Leeds Indie Food Festival.
“It was the most hard work ever. We were doing a fresh course every three minutes. After only ten courses we realised we were already 15 minutes behind.
“We had to start plating three courses at the same time. But we soon caught up. The customers loved it. Doing high quality work at speed is what I do. It’s really good fun.”
Horto @ Rudding Park Hotel is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday.