Sunday, 21 February 2010

A Lancastrian in Yorkshire; The Bull at Broughton

After our morning spent discovering the secrets of the rhubarb triangle in Yorkshire last weekend I felt the need to redress the balance in favour of my Lancastrian roots. Now even I can't pretend that Skipton, gateway to the Yorkshire Dales and all that, is firmly entrenched in the Red Rose County. However, much to my delight it would seem that this part of Yorkshire has been invaded…. by a Lancastrian.

The Bull at Broughton, just outside Skipton, is the latest addition to Nigel Howarth & Craig Bancroft's Lancashire-based "Ribble Valley Inns" pub company. It joins The Three Fishes at Mitton, The Highwayman near Kirkby Lonsdale and The Clog & Billycock at Pleasington, nr Blackburn.
The RVI venture is part of the wider Northcote group of companies, which also includes the Michelin Starred Northcote Manor in Langho, and the group is co-owned by the two Lancastrians. Nigel Howarth is the chef behind the food and is now known nationally for his appearance and success on BBC 2's Great British Menu. His Lancashire hotpot was the winning main course in the last series and is probably the dish for which he is now best renowned and indeed typifies what he is all about - British classics perfectly executed with a modern twist.

Having visited both the Three Fishes and The Highwayman before, we knew roughly what to expect from The Bull; the same formula has been applied to all of the RVI pubs. I do not mean this in the typically naff generic chain pub sense, as each venue still manages to retain its own identity, but there is definitely a common premise that runs through them all. They are not billed as 'gastro pubs' but a more a modern day version of a ‘local’, serving great food and ale in a hospitable and relaxed environment. The philosophy behind each is to source the best ingredients from local artisan suppliers and to create a seasonal menu inspired by genuinely regional specialties. Add to that a good range of local ales and present it all immaculately in a building full of atmosphere & character. From the trademark spacious layouts, the extensive use of wood, bare flagged floors, solid wood furniture and real fires to the neutral modern décor and pictures of suppliers that adorn the walls and table mats, the pubs make the perfect informal and welcoming modern country inn.

The difference with the Bull is the location and therefore the emphases on Yorkshire dishes and produce. As usual the suppliers are all name-checked on a map on the back of the menu, which is littered with references to Yorkshire produce. There were 4 local cask ales on offer – including offerings from Copper Dragon & Dark Horse Breweries, both just down the road in Skipton, and Ilkley Best from the Ilkley Brewery.

I could happily eat anything from this menu but opted to start with William Hunter’s deep fried parsnip fritters with cumin dip - chunks of parsnip deep fried in a crisp batter, the insides had a lovely soft texture and the fragrant slightly sweet flavor of the parsnips was complimented perfectly by the warm hint of cumin in the creamy dip.

Dave went for the Gloucester old spot chipolatas (Cumberland, pork & black pudding), served with an English mustard relish, and assured me they were great sausages.
Both starters were served with cocktail sticks to pick with, almost like a bar snack or finger food and proved the perfect way to start a pub meal.

For mains it was a difficult choice, I was torn between one of the mutton dishes and the English rose veal escalope with capers, nut brown butter and Pearce’s organic fried egg. In the end we both went for mutton, a largely ignored and underrated meat in Britain these days it is nice to see it making an appearance on restaurant menus. I had the Herdwick mutton pudding with caper and parsley mash and black peas. It was a revelation, a delicate suet crust packed with tasty meat and kidney, the caper mash offsetting any greasiness from the rich mutton.

Dave’s mutton hotpot with picked red cabbage met with his expectations, which were exceedingly high given the man’s reputation for what is his signature dish.

Pudding was a toss up between Burnt English custard with stewed Tomlinson’s Yorkshire rhubarb and a Bramley apple pie with carnation milk and custard and a slice of Wensleydale cheese, made to serve 2. We went for the apple pie and were assured by the staff that we wouldn’t be disappointed - we weren’t. Not too sweet, the thin golden pastry crust was packed with tart apples and served with a lovely custard, speckled with vanilla. The carnation milk added a touch of sweet creamy nostalgia, I haven't had this since I was a child when I ate it with tinned peaches!

Service was the way it should be throughout - efficient, friendly and knowledgeable. At around £42 for a 3 course meal it was an absolute snip and I was well impressed with accomplished way everything was done here.

If I am honest, for me there is actually a slight "footballers' wives" kind of vibe that transcends all of the RVI pubs. It is characterised by the white Audi & BMW 4x4's with tinted windows that hog the car parks and the well-heeled clientele, typically wearing designer clothes, sunglasses and the wives carrying Gucci handbags. This combined with the elaborately worded menus and impeccable surroundings mean that maybe it is all just a bit too perfect. I guess if that is the only criticism I can level at them then I really am just being ridiculous. They are clearly doing something right here and it certainly won’t stop me going back for more!

There is an overriding sense of quality here that transcends the everyday British pub. It makes you wonder why more pubs cannot achieve the standards set by the RVI team but one thing is for sure, this is one Lancastrian that can hold his head up high over the border.

The Bull
Broughton, Skipton, BD23 3AE


  1. That's a lot of food! We dropped in for lunch around September time and were thoroughly impressed, too. The Hetton Pale Ale that seems only to be served there is worth the trip alone!

  2. Hi Leigh, we will make a special trip back to try the Hetton Pale Ale on your recomendation! They certainly don't stint on the portions. Quality.

  3. We had a good meal at the Bull last year. Lovely pub. Although quite quiet when we were there. Whilst dinner was excellent, breakfast was woeful. Delighted to have discovered your blog.

  4. Hi Paunchos!
    Are you thinking of The White Bull in Ribchester (it's a different place)?
    I read your post on that with interest as I actually worked there as a waitress when I was a teenager - happy days. I'd be interested to go back and see how it has changed.

    The Bull at Broughton is further over into Yorkshire - near Skipton. It's run by the same group as owns the Three Fishes (as featured in Diana Henry's 2nd Gastro Pub book). Any of their places are worth a visit if you are ever up North and the Ribble Valley is turning into a great foodie destination, as well as being a beautiful part of the country.

  5. How embarrassing! We were going to go to the Three Fishes as it happens. Thanks for pointing our my mistake.

  6. Charles Holmes2 April 2010 at 18:05

    Hi Richard

    Asked Shorna at the Devonshire if she had information on you! She had, of course. Understand that you are no longer in Derbyshire but back in the area and hope all goes well for you.


    Charles Holmes