Food & Drink: Punch Bowl back in good hands

The Punch Bowl at Marton cum Grafton.
The Punch Bowl at Marton cum Grafton.

Review by Tom Hay

The Punch Bowl’s in good hands again. The old coaching inn in the gorgeous village of Marton cum Grafton has a famously wobbly recent past, after actor Neil Morrissey and chef Richard Fox took the reins in 2008 and a Channel 4 series charted their progress.

Once the cameras stopped rolling and the celebrations dissolved into the day to day running of a village pub, things went south.

In late 2009, the venture went into liquidation with more than £750,000 in debt.

Why? Some say the celebrity trappings put the locals off, Fox claimed the place was on its last legs already, and later Morrissey told The Mirror of “a certain amount of managerial neglect” (although he was talking about his other pub and hotel business, which collapsed with a debt of £2.5m a few months earlier).

Whatever the truth, the The Punch Bowl Inn survived. A couple took it on for a year or so and then handed over to Provenance Inns in 2011, an expanding North Yorkshire chain which adapts nice pubs in pretty places according to the template of its first, the Durham Ox in Crayke.

That means plush, cosy, historically sympathetic decors, Yorkshire beers and approachably gastro menus.

The Punch Bowl’s knot of little rooms blossoms under this treatment, with its dark furniture, red and white walls and thick ceiling beams, all divided naturally into small dining areas. Photos of its early history hang on the walls, and there’s more than one fireplace.

We sat down beside one, the crackling logs numbing the sting from the sharp winter air outside, on a nippy Saturday lunchtime.

The menu’s quite broad, adding toasts, sandwiches and platters to the traditional courses and pub classics. Cheddar cheese soufflé (£6.50) started things off well, arriving with a moat of gently mustardy cheese sauce; and Yorkshire partridge rillette (£6.50) was good, too, according to my co-diner The Carnivore – a good, roughly-textured game pâté with salad and crisp melba toast.

Mains stumbled. Pork ribs (£14.95) were short on the essential salt and sugar, leaving the normally-sweet sticky sauce merely astringent and the sparsely-seasoned meat beneath lacking clout. Still, a bowl of homemade spicy beans was a nice touch.

Meanwhile, a feta and spinach tart (£11.95) had a slightly nondescript filling and its walnut topping was burned at the edges – though it came with a beautiful square of garlicky gratin dauphinois, lovely butternut squash purée and delicious dabs of sloe gin syrup.

But as the logs glowed their last in the fireplace, the puddings pulled it back.

A beautifully spiced apple and cinnamon tarte tatin (£5.95) had everything except the crispy caramelised crust of the French classic, and some gorgeous clotted cream ice cream and sweet toffee sauce added richness and indulgence to a chunk of pear and frangipane tart (£5.95).

A nice note to end on, then – and aside from the mains, I only have good things to say.

A village pub with an uncertain future and a brief brush with infamy, rescued by the loving arms of a company with a keen eye for a classic.

Provenance’s latest venture – the shuttered West Park Hotel in Harrogate – will be one to watch when it opens in June.

l The Punch Bowl Inn, Marton cum Grafton, 01423 322 519,