Forty years ago we arrived, as newlyweds from London, to start work in Leeds and our married life in Harrogate. Abandoning the unpacking, we came looking for a pub supper.
In Montpellier we saw what looked like an old pub and wandered in; we had no idea it was the Harrogate institution that is the Drum and Monkey. I am sure the food was good but my abiding memory is of striking up a conversation with a charming elderly couple on the next table. By the time we had finished our supper they had invited us to dine with them the next evening and, knowing we came from down south, proudly served up a Barnsley Chop. From that moment I knew that Yorkshire was going to be welcoming and that Harrogate would be a great place to live.
We were regular visitors to the Drum for many years. William Fuller, who owned and ran it in the eighties and nineties, was the perfect host. He sold it in 2003 and, under the new proprietors, it gradually lost its charm. The prices went up, the new owners introduced dreadful piped music, and, without William, it lacked personality. So we stopped going; we were living in the country and it wasn’t worth the trouble of a trip into town.
We moved back into the centre of Harrogate last year and decided to give it another try. It’s back to its best. The piped music has gone and the atmosphere is back.
We’ve eaten there a couple of times in the last month; once on our own and once with friends. We enjoyed it a lot. The light still floods in through the large windows on to the white marble tables, with their starched linen napkins. Okay, it’s not the same flock wallpaper as when we first visited, but it’s still flock wallpaper; the Monkey is there, in the window, still banging his Drum, the wooden signs with the names of fish still hang on the curtain rods and the Victorian taxidermy fish cases are forever displayed on top of the bar.
On Saturday, when we went at lunchtime, we were reminded of our first visit; we saw an elderly couple, dressed up to the nines, chatting amicably to a very young couple, dressed in jeans, and sitting on the next table. It has that effect on you; it’s a club, but a club where everyone, young and old, feels, and is, welcome. The staff are friendly and hospitable, and the food (fish and seafood) though simple is very good. We had oysters, mussels, scallops, and trout. We looked on enviously at a couple eating lobster! The wine is excellent value; most wines are under £30 and a glass of champagne is £6.99 They serve Harrogate water, delicious brown bread, and, my recommendation for pudding, vanilla ice cream with raisons soaked in madeira.
It has to be Harrogate; and so “well done” to the Carter family, the present owners. You have revived a Harrogate gem. Back to its best!