Bread or sweet is the daunting choice for Malcolm Warne at Counstable Burton’s The Wyvill Arms

A COUPLE of years ago fellow Times food writer Giles Coren wrote a highly entertaining book about eating out full of questionable advice and robust language.

A chapter of How to Eat Out was devoted to the evils of eating the bread. Why, argued Gilesy, spoil what you are probably about to spend a lot of money on by filling up on the artisan-baked sun-dried tomato and walnut cob? Why insult the chef by blunting one’s tastebuds? Why eat it just because, in most instances, it is free?

I love it, but it is the devil’s work for someone who eats out regularly. After writing this column pretty much every week for 14 years, I know that tucking in before the starters arrive makes it highly unlikely that I’ll be able to tackle a dessert, and because for the most part Sylvia doesn’t do puddings, that means no running the rule over what I know many of you value the most – the sweet course.

But it’s tough when you are hungry and some really splendid home-baked rustic wholemeal arrives with a trough of oil and balsamic for dipping.

Which was the case at the Wyvill Arms, one of the prettiest of Dales country pubs on the rise westwards out of one the prettiest of Dales country villages. And we were sitting in a very pretty dining room, all deep red walls, big mirrors and fairy lights – it’s a lovely, intimate atmosphere

With steely resolve, I resisted temptation. Sylvia, knowing she was not going to be eating dessert crumbled – a bit – but our starters arrived mercifully quickly.

My pigeon breast (£7.45) was served on some wild mushrooms with a light and slightly sweet madeira sauce. The pigeon breast was super rare. I could almost see it still beating but it was velvety tender and delicately flavoured.

Sylvia’s prawns (£6.95), battered, deep fried and served with bitter sweet onions and a hot chilli dip stretched the definition of “tiger” somewhat but the batter was light, very crispy and the bitter sweet onions exactly as described.

My Moroccan lamb main (£15.35) was that gastropub staple, a shank, cooked long and slow until meat was falling off the bone. The sauce was a sticky fruit melange including dates, dried apricots, raisins heavily infused with cinnamon. The shank and sauce sat on a bed of couscous.

The separate elements of the dish were perfect but I didn’t get any of that spicy, fruity flavour from the lamb which made me think they had been cooked separately and brought together at plating up.

Sylvia had opted from one of the steaks chargrilled on the Wyvill’s lava rock grill. The meat is locally-reared Aberdeen Angus/Limousin cross and her 12oz plain fillet was buttery soft under the knife but without a sauce (her choice) it became progressively less moist as she ate it. Perhaps the slicing of the steak before it was brought to the table didn’t help.

It was served with a simple rocket leaves salad garnish and some very good, chunky chips.

My reward for skipping that lovely bread at the beginning of the meal was having room for a lemon meringue roulade (£5.95) – a very large slice of super-sweet creaminess. It was gorgous but I think it could have been improved with a little more meringue and less cream filling.

Service was fairly good, apart from a little hiccup at the beginning when we spent five minutes looking at the menu discussing what we might have. Puzzlement led to minor irritation that we were each talking about items that weren’t on the other’s menu. It turned out I had the 2015 version of the menu and Sylvia had the 2016.

What that confusion revealed was the Wyvill menu doesn’t change a great deal. Certain popular dishes are virtual fixtures. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

Our meal cost £66.90 including small glasses of Rioja and Pinot Grigio plus two soft drinks and while we have been a bit picky over one or two aspects it was an enjoyable experience and the surroundings played a large part in that. We were in the cosy restaurant but there is also a long eating area – the bistro - at the front next to the bar which is equally attractive.

The bread was superb, I’m told.


The Wyvill Arms, Constable Burton, Leyburn, North Yorkshire, DL8 5LH

Tel: 01677-450581


Open: Mon-Sun 11am-2.30 and 6-11.45pm

Disabled access. Vegetarian and gluten-free options


Food quality 8/10

Surroundings 9/10

Service 7/10

Value 7/10