Malcolm Warne finds the newly-opened The Willow Beck, at Northallerton, still has a few rough edges

JUST like London buses, you wait ages for Northallerton restaurant openings and then three come along at once.

2016 has seen a positive orgy of new eating offerings in the county town, a community which has hitherto struggled to support anything remotely innovative for those seeking to dine out after six.

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First came Tejanoes, the Tex Mex on the High Street (pretty good), then Casa Rustica Grande in Friarage Street (fair to middling) and now The Willow Beck, a pub/restaurant on the old Sparkprint factory site at the North end of town.

It’s not the most attractive spot. On one side is Wickes, on the other the undeveloped bit of the Sparkprint site and, across the new car park, Barkers Home, which as furniture stores go is very handsome but is, ultimately, just a big glass and steel shed.

We were an office party – five of us – who paid a visit on the Thursday of its first week. It had opened its doors the previous weekend.

Normally, I would give a new establishment a few weeks to bed in, to surmount the inevitable teething problems. But on this occasion, given that the Willow Beck is a formula pub, courtesy of Marston’s Inns, I thought I wouldn’t cut them so much slack.

Now when I say formula, I didn’t believe a concept could be so rigidly followed until I checked out the Marston’s Inns website and discovered there’s a Marston’s Inn at Whitby called the Penny Hedge which is absolutely identical down to the very last course of brick and lead flashing. An object lesson in how to save on architects’ fees.

The architects might describe the style as North Yorkshire vernacular but it looks like it’s been thrown up on a Hollywood film set. Inside, the decor is contemporary pseudo-rustic – and very smart.

I’ve nothing against formulaic eating places. You know exactly what you’ll get and sometimes a Pizza Express Margherita, or a Nando’s peri-peri chicken is the only thing that will do. There’s much to be said for consistency and that’s largely what you get.

But that’s not what is on offer at the Willow Beck right now. Maybe it will in the future but on this particular lunchtime it was spectacularly dire.

On arrival, the car park was full and inside it was very busy. There were no tables in the restaurant so we found ourselves a spot in the bar. That’s no big deal because the two kind of merge into one another. We were also told food orders were taking half an hour and we thought that’s good, they’re being upfront and telling it how it is.

The menu was predictably extensive covering steaks and grills (seven of them), burgers (eight of them), salads (four), curries (three) plus pub classics (ham and eggs, steak ale pie – seven of them) and sharing platters (another seven). Oh, and we nearly forgot the “signature” rotisserie chicken selection. That’s a whole (£12.55) or half (£7.95) bird served with a choice of six sauces, and a further choice of two from ten possible side dishes.

I gave the chicken the go, as did Laura. We agreed that what we expected (and indeed if you look on the Marston’s Inns website you’ll see a picture of what we had) was chicken that was moist and juicy from the constant revolutions on the spit with a crisp, well browned skin.

What was put in front of us may well have been Red Tractor assured but in every other respect it was a miserable, travesty of a piece of poultry. Anaemic, flaccid and greasy, it didn’t look as if it had been anywhere near a rotisserie. A microwave seemed a more likely option.

The chosen sauces – a hot Sriracha for me and piri piri for Laura – had just been spooned across the cooked chicken. The chips – billed as skin-on fries – were colourless, tasteless and the skin-on bits were like scabs at the chip ends. My Asian slaw was some chopped carrot in a tepid swamp of soy sauce.

It wasn’t all bad. Matt thought his BBQ Beef Brisket Burnt Ends (£9.95) was passable as did Kate and her Two-way Piri Piri Buttermilk Chicken burger (£9.75).

Alex struggled with her Club Sandwich (£6.45). The filling – chicken, bacon, Little Gem lettuce, bacon and mayo – was fine. The problem was the two doorsteps of bloomer bread which were simply cut too thickly.

She comforted herself with a dairy-free apple pie (£3.75) which was possibly the best dish of the meal. We all had a bit.

There was one other problem. That half-hour wait was actually 50 minutes which for a working lunchtime was pretty poor. Clearly the kitchen was under great pressure which probably explained some of the shortcomings with the chicken.

Leaving aside the 50-minute wait, service was friendly and helpful. There are clearly some young and inexperienced members of the team but they smiled and tried hard. There was little they could do about the problems in the kitchen.

The Willow Beck

Finkills Way, Northallerton DL7 8UF

Tel: 01609 810090 Web: willowbeck.northallerton@marstons.co.uk

Disabled access

Vegetarian, vegan and dairy-free options available

Ratings:

Food quality: 2/5

Service: 3/5

Surroundings: 3/5

Value: 3/5