Following a £4m revamp by the Fitzwilliam estate, the Talbot Hotel re-opened its doors with celebrity chef and local boy James Martin in charge of the restaurant. Janie Manzoori-Stamford pays a visit
The Talbot Hotel in Malton is a beautiful Grade I-listed Yorkstone country house hotel nestled on the outskirts of the North Yorkshire town. Owned by the Fitzwilliam family, it is also home, rather appropriately, to a James Martin restaurant as Martin grew up just five miles away on the Castle Howard estate, where his father reared pigs and cattle.
Martin's career to date is evidence that the Saturday Kitchen presenter is in no way averse to a challenge - he headed the restaurant at the first Hotel du Vin in Winchester aged just 22, and later capitalised on his popularity as a housewives' favourite with a pretty successful turn on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing - but returning to his hood is an altogether different type of pressure.
"Your biggest critic is your family. And in Yorkshire they'll tell you exactly what they think. If they think it's rubbish, they'll tell you," he says. "To have a restaurant on the doorstep of where I was brought up is amazing but daunting."
With a profile as high as Martin's, it's not just the locals he needs to worry about, with critics - both professional and armchair - no doubt poised to give their view. But with The Observer's Jay Rayner describing one dish on the menu as this year's best so far, and another four out of five score from Christopher Hirst in The Independent, the efforts of Martin and his head chef Craig Atchinson are certainly paying off.
Given the local connection, not to mention his farming background, it is little surprise that Martin's menu is laden with produce from local suppliers, such as W Fletcher & Sons Butchers, Hodgson Fish and Sand Hutton Asparagus.
Martin says: "Not being in London, you have to look at a variety of suppliers. It's a two-way thing, though. Our veg supplier is Dales in the centre of Malton, and if we run out of anything, we've got it in our kitchen within five minutes. There's much more of an instant rapport. He'll tell the people that go into his shop that he supplies the Talbot, and then we might get added customers as well. I think it's important."
He describes the menu at the 40-cover restaurant as a collaboration with Atchinson, with both parties bringing plenty to the table, offering great value, modern techniques and a proper hearty meal that is both refined and elegant.
Take Rayner's star dish. Beef cheeks, reared just five miles away, are quartered, sealed and braised in Riggwelter beer for 12 to 16 hours before being cooled and trimmed. The liquor is reduced to make the sauce and the dish is individually vacuum packed, ready to be finished off in a sous vide. It's served with a pearl barley risotto made with Castle Howard wild garlic, malted onions, salsify and warm cubes of beer jelly.
Ahead of the unctuous comfort of the beef cheeks, diners can choose from a list of starters that includes home-cured organic salmon, pickled ginger, charred cucumber, ketchup and spring onions or new season Vale of York asparagus, slow-cooked hen's egg, maple syrup, brioche crumbs and hazelnuts.
Leading the charge on Martin's desserts list is a white chocolate and whisky croissant butter pudding accompanied by vanilla ice-cream and cinder toffee foam - a returning favourite from the chef's now closed Leeds Kitchen restaurant.
A kitchen brigade of eight serves around 100 covers a day across lunch and dinner with an average spend of £20 and £50 per person respectively.
"We've tried to offer the best of what we can do and the value that people can afford to build up local custom," says Martin. "I think we're going in the right direction."
At this point, it looks like his audience agrees.
Sample dishes from the menu
£33 for two courses,
£39 for three courses,
£3 for tea, coffee & fudge
The Talbot hotel
North Yorkshire YO17 7AJ