Malcolm Warne tries out some stately fare at Crathorne Hall Hotel’s The Leven Restaurant

IT was our first return to Crathorne Hall since the Great Fire of 2014. The Edwardian pile betwixt Yarm and Osmotherley has been fully restored since the blaze gutted a significant chunk of the grand house, which lays justifiable claim to be the last truly stately home to be built in England.

As great fires in stately homes go, it actually wasn’t that big. The blaze was confined to one wing and all the main rooms escaped unscathed. Which is no doubt why we found the hotel’s Leven Restaurant pretty much as remembered it – luxuriously grand but in a modestly restrained way.

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There’s lots of oak panelling, a beautiful gilt ceiling and massive portraits of the Dugdale family, who built the hall in 1903 before moving out in the 1970s to more modestly-proportioned and easier to heat homes on the estate. The present Lord Crathorne – Jamie – once told your reviewer (excuse the shameless name-dropping here) while doing a bit of pre-Christmas shopping in Yarm Sainsbury’s of the family’s latter days living in the big house and largely occupying just one room in winter to keep warm.

Happily, keeping warm was not an issue on an Indian summer’s evening. Through the floor to ceiling windows of the restaurant the last rays of sunlight were lighting up the woodlands of the Leven Valley beyond the billiard-table lawns of the hall. It was a sylvan scene.

The table d’hote menu was easy on the eye too, an inventive-looking line-up of five starters, mains and desserts. Rather like the decor of the room, the emphasis is on quality ingredients prepared in a simple, restrained way. Flights of fancy are kept to the minimum.

Choosing was made much easier by a most appealing basket of freshly-baked bread rolls wrapped in immaculate linen and accompanied by lots of salty butter and some canapés. Polishing it off was very tempting but resisted in the interests of what was to come. I started with some plainly grilled red mullet served with vanilla cucumber and wilted spinach tomato gel.

Forget the cucumber. I always do, cucumber being the most useless waste of space on a plate, even with the addition of vanilla. The spinach/gel thing was rather more memorable but the fish was superb – buttery, delicate and also quite meaty – red mullet is so underrated. It was cooked perfectly.

Sylvia’s poached rabbit loin was served with juliennes of summer vegetables and all bathed in the most fragrant and subtle rabbit consommé. The rabbit pieces were tiny but meltingly tender. Beautiful. We skipped the proffered sorbets and went straight on to our mains.

My duck breast was a plump bundle of sweet and savoury moistness with no hint of chewiness. It came with classically slow-roasted and sticky boulangere potatoes, fine green beans and creamy butternut squash.

Sylvia’s ribeye steak was as handsome and juicy a piece of beef anyone could wish for, well flavoured and seared to a T. It came with fair dinkum chunky chips, mushroom, tomato and some nicely caramelised charred onions.

Even though we had exercised some discretion with the bread at the beginning of the meal, we struggled to contemplate desserts. We settled on sharing a cheese plate which came with lots of celery, grapes, chutney and savoury biscuits. The selection was not spelled out for us but there was something blue (Wensleydale possibly), something slightly chewy (Provolone perhaps?) and a strong cheddar.

We were looked after rather well after some initial misunderstanding about whether we were hotel residents or walk-ins and what menu we were entitled to choose from.

There was also quite a long delay after we were first seated but once the bread rolls and our bottle of a crisp and steely Soave Classico (£30) arrived things flowed at a steady pace. The Leven is not the venue for a quick bite. The Crathorne style is leisurely and, given the surroundings, diners should be prepared to sit back and savour what’s on the plate and around them.

The bill was bang-on £100 including the wine. The three-course table d’hote, including the canapés and sorbets, is £39 – they knocked something off our bill for the single dessert. A special place for special occasions – like a wedding anniversary.

FOOD FACTS

The Leven Restaurant, Crathorne Hall Hotel, Yarm TS15 0AR

Tel: 01642-706606 Web: handpickedhotels.co.uk/crathornehall

Dinner servedL 7-9pm

Diabled access. Vegetarians and gluten-free diets catered for

Food quality: 4/5

Service: 4/5

Surrounding: 5/5

Value: 3/4