Malcolm Warne visits a grand old hotel which is newly, and successfully, made over

TWO good things happened last year for folk who want a good meal in Richmond.

Firstly, Barratts opened its doors in Rosemary Lane in the Spring and was very favourably reviewed here shortly afterwards.

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Around about the same time the finishing touches were being applied in a £1m refurbishment of that grand old lady of the Market Place, the King’s Head Hotel – for many years a magnificent building which never offered more than middling food and service.

The refurbishment was courtesy of its new owners The Coaching Inn Group, which as its name implies specialises in historic market town inns just like the King’s Head. It has been buying them up at a rate of knots and the portfolio of 13 also includes the Golden Fleece at Thirsk and the Feathers at Helmsley.

Much of the money has been spent on completely remodelling the ground floor. The bar has taken the place of the reception area and is the fulcrum for the other areas. The bar is now a lounge and what was the lounge is now the main dining area. Hotel reception is now upstairs which makes more sense than you might initially think.

What the new owners have set out to achieve is a more immediately welcoming environment and that is reflected in the hotel’s new, somewhat clumsy, full name which is the King’s Head Hotel, Eaterie and Coffee House.

The concept is that whether you are after a quick pint, a coffee and cake, a bar snack or full meal, the King’s Head will fit the bill, whereas previously most customers saw it as a place where you primarily went to stay. The business sense of this is obvious, making it work entirely successfully less so perhaps.

The new style is more than acceptable, blending the contemporary with the traditional Georgian structures. Neutral earth tones abound in the furnishings, there’s a fair bit of tweedy/chintz upholstery plus some touches of bling to sex it up a bit. It all works rather well although Sylvia thought the three chandeliers above the bar a little OTT. It certainly helps when checking your change.

It was Sunday and we had booked for 2pm and the bar, lounge and dining room were all busy.

There is an all-day main menu designed to provide sustenance options from noon until 9pm, so along with conventional starters and mains there are grazing and sharing platters, a sandwich menu available until 5pm, plus afternoon tea.

And, on Sundays, there is traditional lunch offering of two roasts (pork and beef) plus a nut roast all costing £11.

Sylvia went traditional, starting with a more than adequate leek and potato soup (£5) – a huge bowlful served with chunky, warm bread and butter – followed by a nigh-on perfect loin of pork.

To get a lean loin this moist was very impressive and the flavour was good too. It came with all the trimmings – crackling, a thick well-made gravy and a lot of vegetables (tenderstem broccoli, green beans, carrots, super-creamy mashed potato and decent, nicely browned roast potatoes too). A good-looking Yorkshire pudding had been proferred but declined.

They had run out of my first-choice starter – a smoked haddock, leek and mascarpone tart (£6) – and initially thought they were also fresh out of my second choice of smoked trout pate (£7) but then they found some and I’m glad they did because it was creamily-refreshing and delicately flavoured, served with warm toast, pea shoots and little cubes of horseradish jelly which seemed a novel touch but in fact added little to the dish.

My main course goulash (£16) was a faithful version of the Hungarian classic – tender braised beef (chuck probably) in a tomato, peppery, paprika-infused sauce-verging-on-soup which was eagerly sucked up by the same top-notch mash Sylvia was enjoying with her roast. There was also lots of the tenderstem broccoli.

I chose Yorkshire curd tart (£6) from a concise list of desserts (six including a cheese plate) which was served with spiced plums. The tart was somewhat dull, dry, past its best and onloy rescued by the addition of a couple of scoops of Brymor clotted cream ice cream (£2 for a kid’s portion).

Sylvia had a latte and with two soft drinks and two small glasses of a particularly floral Reisling the bill was a shade under £60.

The service team was youthful and willing and at times a little stretched covering the three serving areas. There was a feeling that there was nobody really in charge and alert to all the customers’ needs. We arrived at 2pm and didn’t emerge until 4.20pm. Happily, we weren’t in a hurry.

One final thing. ‘Elf an’ safety is taken very seriously which, of course, is a thoroughly good thing. The menu has a complex coding system alerting diners to every conceivable allergen, including eggs, fish, sesame seed and (this was a new one on me) sulphur dioxide.

And when Sylvia asked for bits of her pork to be parcelled up for the dog, the embarrassed waiter said that wasn’t possible because staff could not prepare food to be eaten off the premises or something. But he could bring some foil to the table so we could make up our own little parcel, which we duly did. Madness.

Kings Head, Market Place, Richmond, DL10 4HS

Tel: 01748 850220

Web: www.kingsheadrichmond.com

Disabled access (at the rear), allergies catered for

Ratings:

Food quality: 4/5

Service: 3/5

Surroundings: 5/5

Value for money: 3/5