For a long time, The Spiced Pear in Hepworth was on my (somewhat very large) bucket list of Yorkshire food destinations, especially after their appearance in the 2015 Good Food Guide as readers restaurant of the year for the North East.
Unfortunately, during the early part of last year, chef Tim Bilton and his wife had to walk away from the business due to unforeseen and very personal reasons – The Spiced Pear now operating solely as a tea room.
At the same time, with little ones scuttling about in our house at the moment and for the foreseeable future, Cannon Hall Farm has always been a bit of a ‘go to’ when they start scuttling about too boisterously and you need to take them out before one or both of them is sent for a time out in the shed for an undefined period of time (Disclaimer: as much as I sometimes want to, I don’t lock my children in the shed for behavioural or any other reasons!).
So when I heard that Tim Bilson had teamed up with Cannon Hall for their weekly bistro nights, I didn’t need much more of an excuse than that of a child-free evening to go and visit.
Now, Cannon Hall has never really stood still in terms of investment and development during the good few years we’ve now been regular visitors. However, the last year or so has definitely seen wave of improvements. The farm shop has expanded beyond all recognition, as has the farm itself and the children’s indoor play area. Most recently, the cafe, which if I’m honest always used to have a whiff of school dinners about it, has been revamped into The White Bull, more country pub than cafeteria, and a much more appropriate setting to enjoy a meal straight from the farm.
The food didn’t disappoint. An unapologetically hearty meal focussing on the good and the great of the farm, rather than innovative and subtle flavours, the portions were definitely aimed at the hungrier side of Yorkshire (and as a born and bred hungry Yorkshireman, I can’t really complain!).
First course was a chicken and bacon terrine of behemoth proportions. If we’re honest, and planning on having three courses, it was too big for a starter (forgive me fellow Yorkshiremen) but the terrine was both parts tender meat and unctuous fatty jelly that fell away in the mouth, that you can forgive the portion sizes. This was accompanied by a number of well pickled vegetables to suit the aforementioned wobbly meat and a home-made piccalilli that had the kind of acidic kick that almost makes your gums recoil back over your teeth in shock (this is a good thing by the way!). Star of the show however were the little dots of duck liver parfait which, whilst soft, velvety and serene on the plate, were more than robust enough to stand up to anything else that was thrown at them on a plate of big, big flavour.
Mrs Hangry’s first course of heritage beetroot and goats cheese salad, whilst sounding subdued in comparison still managed to pack quite a punch all driven by the fair old slab of whipped goats cheese, with beetroot surrounding it in various different guises. Four different guises if I’m correct; pickled, roast, boiled and puree. Making up for it’s lack of dynamism in tried and tested flavour combinations done very well, it was a light, airy but robust and certainly welcome start to a meal.
Mains were equally substantial if a little more refined. The roast pheasant had a pungent croquet of forcemeat that I could probably have eaten half a dozen of on their own but the bed of creamed cabbage had a light touch to them, helped by the addition of roast chestnuts and little pockets of cranberries. Elsewhere, the roast pheasant was wrapped in bacon which kept the bird exceptionally moist, all coated in a game jus that I will have a jug of to go with my six croquets please! A wonderfully flavoured and probably most balanced dish of the evening.
A celebration of pork did exactly as it said on the tin; a dish for the carnivore in all of us! As suspected, the pork reared no more than 200 yards was of the best quality. The belly pork in particular, as the fine layer of fat gave way to the tastiest of meat, was exceptional. It was accompanied by a braised cheek, home-made black pudding and pigs in blankets (the best part of a Christmas dinner if ever there was one!). Roast potatoes, mustard sauce and a small sage leaf garnish were the only options on the plate apart from pig. When pig is cooked very well, its surely ok to eat this with such few garnishes right?*
And that dish probably sums up our evening at Cannon Hall – a lesson in lovingly reared and prepared meat with big flavour and little understatement. Ironically, the food reached a different level with the addition of creamed cabbage on the pheasant dish but it would be churlish to look beyond what was an excellent evening all told. For the special Christmas menu that we ordered from, two courses + drinks for two people came to approximately £60 – a not unreasonable price to pay for an evening full of flavour and skillful cookery. We will return again, trouble is now I’ve got to decide whether to stuff myself in the White Bull or leave enough room for one of their sublime pork pies for afterwards!
*NB after publishing Mrs Hangry reliably informed me that the pig dish did come with a side dish of mixed vegetables. I blame a heavy Christmas period for my distinctly average memory! It’s all about the meat though really isn’t it?!