MATT Westcott and his wife find a hotel in the Yorkshire Dales where the message is always a positive one

The Northern Echo:

I ALWAYS find a 'visitors' book' is a good judge of the standard of a place, as people will often write within its pages what they wouldn't say to the proprietor's face.

If the owner of the Wensleydale Heifer is reading this and beginning to sweat a little, don't worry David, it's all good. This place is a hidden gem.

In West Witton in the Yorkshire Dales, a stone's throw away from the market town of Leyburn, the boutique hotel and restaurant has a well-deserved and hard-earned reputation for excellence. It's the kind of place where you leave your troubles at the door, kick back and relax.

And I'm not alone in this opinion. 'Great food! Great staff! Great Room!' shouts one entry, while another states 'Amazing, passionate, perfect'. There are many, many more, often from repeat visitors, and I could just end the review here with the addition of an address and contact number, but I'll let you know what we thought.

We arrived a little tired, our journey not helped by the harshness of the ride of the sports car I happen to be testing. David instantly knows exactly what we need and a pint of Black Sheep and a glass of wine are brought to us as we slump in a sumptuous sofa in the lounge.

He's the kind of chap who will talk to anyone, has a story for every occasion and whose heart is firmly in the right place. He clearly doesn't suffer fools though, and demands a lot from his staff, but the fact that many have been with the business a long time is testament to his working practices.

All who work there appear to have bought into this ethos. While efficient and professional, they are also knowledgeable and personable. Take Vince Bako. The restaurant manager from Hungary is a positive fount of knowledge, particularly when it comes to wine. I must confess to being something of a wine dullard, but Vince answers many of my more idiotic questions with enthusiastic good grace and imparted a huge amount of knowledge in our wine-tasting session. I pledge to do my best to spread the word on the grapevine, so to speak.

With an hour or two before dinner we retired to our room. The Heifer's bedrooms are talking pieces in themselves. With names ranging from Shooters, James Herriot, Chocolate, James Bond and a Night at the Movies, they make choosing one an event in itself. We were booked into the Champagne room, with original features complemented by the modern touches. In keeping with the other rooms, there are unique little touches wherever you look.

The main reason for visiting the Heifer, though, is for the food. Even if you cannot stretch to an overnight stay, you should find time to sample the fare. "Giving pleasure through the food is one of the most important parts of our business," the Heifer proclaims and if that pleasure is measured in satisfied smiles and a need for a larger pair of trousers then it's certainly no idle boast.

Head chef Craig Keenan fills his menu with an eclectic range of dishes that tempt the tastebuds of both veteran and novice foodie alike. Steak and fish lead the way, but flourishes here and there ensure that they are far from your average culinary offerings.

Generally, I like to play safe, but even I was tempted to challenge myself a little with my choice of Maple Roast Lobster Salad - officially described as the Heifer's 'most controversial dish'.

My wife opted for a melt-in-the-mouth steak, her empty plate testament to the success of her choice.

It would be criminal not to leave space for one of Craig's exquisite desserts - or perhaps, like us, all of them in miniature. Described in detail by one of our hosts, it was almost a shame to dive in and our efforts to dispatch every last one brought amusement from within the kitchen, with at least one member of staff peeping around the door to see how we were getting on.

The following morning, overnight banquet digested and with bags packed, we added our names to those in the guestbook. Four words sufficed: "We will be back".


The Wensleydale Heifer Hotel and Restaurant West Witton, Leyburn North Yorkshire DL8 4LS

T: 01969 622 322



Rooms are £120 to £250 depending on day of week and type of room. All include breakfast. There are monthly deals which include dinner, bed and breakfast