Well you are not 55 every day of the week, so as a special treat my wife had booked for a family birthday (Sunday) lunch with the kids at The Box Tree restaurant in Ilkley.
I’d been here twice before once thirty years ago when I worked for a marketing agency with clients and again about a six years ago for an anniversary when it still held a Michelin star and had found it a bit lacking in atmosphere and stuffy although the food was great.
I was intrigued what I was going to find now the restaurant had opened again with social distancing having been closed during the height of covid.
Before I talk about my experience, it is worth a mention of The Box Tree’s history. Based in an old farmhouse dating back to 1720, the building was bought by a local businessman and in the late 1800’s the box trees which give the building its name were planted in the front garden.
It became a tea room before eventually becoming the fine dining restaurant we know today. The restaurant opened in the 1960’s and quickly became one of the North’s most famous restaurants. Renowned chefs Michael Truelove and Edward Denny both worked there but the Box Tree is perhaps best known for when enfant terrible celebrity Marco Pierre White was Head Chef, when his more contemporary cooking won The Box Tree two Michelin stars.
The restaurant is now run by executive Chef Simon Gueller and his wife Rena who are working hard to regain their Michelin star and with Three AA Rosettes and highly placed in Hardens UK Top 100 Restaurants it still has a strong reputation for its fine dining.
So back to our Sunday lunch experience. We arrived and were met with a friendly welcome and shown to our table. Whilst the tables were spaced out for social distancing it did not feel empty and the old building, antique decorations and low ceilings made it feel cosy.
The last time I had been years ago it was silent and couples whispered whist over attentive staff had asked how everything was every two minutes even if I was in the middle of a conversation. Thankfully there was none of this to contend with as there was some gentle background music and the staff were all helpful, professional and friendly without being over bearing.
The Sunday lunch menu was a 3 course meal plus tea or coffee and chocolates for £45 per head. There was a great choice and whilst it was limited, I could have easily plumped for everything on the menu.
After ordering drinks we were brought a delicious smoked eel canape. As we had brought my 20 year old son and 18 year old daughter, we were met with a comment of “oh no, it going to be like I’m a Celebrity get me out of here!”. But they tried it and enjoyed it. I didn’t ask the waiter to pass on my son’s advice to Simon Gueller “that it would have been nice with a bit of siracha sauce”.
Next up was warm sourdough bread with a plain butter and a marmite butter. Like marmite I loved the marmite butter but my daughter didn’t.
For starters I ordered the Salt baked crapaudine of beetroot. It was really tasty and being served with toasted walnuts and goats cheese really added to the dish. The kids both had the Slow cooked pork belly with fresh peas. It looked great and my daughter saved me a mouthful so I can testify it tasted as good as it looked.
For our main course we had all ordered The Roast Signature Beef Sirloin, with pomme anna, Yorkshire pudding, caramalised shallot and a red wine jus. It was brought to the table and looked wonderful – the Yorkshire Pudding looking like something you would see at Brimham Rocks! We had ordered some posh mash too (Box Tree pomme puree) which was tasty. The beef was cooked to perfection, pink inside and really tender and the three hour slow cooked carrot complimented the dish too.
I went for the cheese cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert. It was lovely but not quite the wow factor I expected. I did wish that I had ordered the Raspberry Souffle which my son had which not only looked great and from the spoonful I sampled tasted great.
I had a great full bodied Shiraz with the meal and then some interesting flavoured chocolates and pomegranate jelly with my after meal coffee to finish.
Overall it was a lovely couple of hours and the food was well prepared and looked great. The staff were great throughout, giving you the space to enjoy a family meal but being aware of our needs when required. As a Sunday lunch experience it was memorable and the theatre of the food made it a step above your standard gastro pub lunch.
I really hope that The Box Tree continues to thrive and wins its Michelin Star back to add to the present 7 Michelin starred restaurants we have in Yorkshire. With today’s meal I do not think it will be long.
To find out more visit The Box Tree website - https://www.restaurantji.co.uk/west-yorkshire/ilkley/the-box-tree-restaurant-/