GAVIN AITCHISON drops into a pub with a goal-scoring landlord
I HAD passed The Victoria countless times before I ventured in. You’ll have seen it as well, perhaps without really noticing it, if you ever travel between York and Harrogate by train. It’s the large white pub just behind the station and level crossing at Cattal, close enough to serve as a dangerously-comfortable waiting room for any passengers.
It is a stone’s throw from the station but my wife and I arrived instead by car, at the tail end of a day out in the Dales a few months ago.
We expected a quiet drink so were a tad surprised to see the car park full and crowds spilling out of the doors. Balloons and banners around the bar hinted it wasn’t a typical evening and gradually all became clear – we had fortuitously stumbled across an anniversary party marking ten years since the arrival of landlord Steve Balcombe.
That’s Steve Balcombe. Aka Super Steve Balcombe, goal-machine extraordinaire, record-holding striker, short-lived hero of Elland Road.
Pictures on the walls and a video on the pub website immortalise Steve’s moment of glory, a stunning strike for Leeds United against Aston Villa in a 1-1 draw in 1981, back when Villa were Champions of England and Steve was a talented young striker.
That turned out to be Steve’s only league appearance for Leeds, giving him a goal-a-game record he can look back on with pride. Alas, he suffered an injury soon after that match, Leeds were relegated at the end of the season, and after a couple of years, Steve moved into the pub trade, first in Ireland, then at The Three Cups in Stamford Bridge, The Duke of Wellington at East Keswick, The Crown at Great Ouseburn – and now The Victoria, where he has been since 2004.
Steve runs The Victoria with his wife Gillian and sons William and Thomas and has turned it into a fantastic food pub.
There’s a teatime express menu, with starters and desserts for £4.95 and mains at £10.95; a Sunday lunch menu with a wide range of mouth-watering meaty mains; and a spectacular a la carte menu boasting 8oz to 20oz local steaks, monkfish in Serrano ham, ‘Moby Dick’ fish and chips, venison with haggis, and other such delights. The prices reflect that this is some way above standard pub grub, but if your wallet isn’t thrilled, your palate and appetite will be at least.
The beer is also novel, the bar boasting Balky’s Best Bitter, a unique house beer brewed by Rudgate Brewery to Steve’s own tastes. There’s a second real ale handpull too, usually occupied by a blond beer, often from local brewers Roosters or Treboom.
Ten years in, Steve says he feels settled and he has no plans to move on again. “This will be my last pub he says. We are planning to build five or six letting rooms over the next 12 months, and that would give us another string to our bow. This has been the hardest ten years the trade has ever known, but we have sailed through it, thanks to all our customers. We really appreciate all our customers and we’ll hopefully be here for another ten years.”
• YORK Camra’s annual Ale Trail is underway. There are 24 pubs to visit, with stamps available in each and prizes available depending on how many you collect. Participating pubs in York city-centre are: Blue Bell, Duke of York, Golden Slipper, The Hop, Lamb and Lion, Phoenix, Postern Gate, Rose and Crown, Shambles Tavern, Slip Inn, Windmill, Ye Olde Starre Inn. In the suburbs: The Cross Keys, Deramore Arms, The Fox, Inn on The Green, Knavesmire and Marcia. And in the countryside: Aldwark Inn at Alne, Barnes Wallis at Howden, Fauconberg Arms at Coxwold, New Inn at Huby, Olympia at Selby and Ulleskelf Arms in Ulleskelf.
• THE Golden Ball in Bishophill has a Yorkshire Day beer festival next Friday and Saturday. There will also be a barbecue at 2pm on the Saturday to coincide with Yorkshire Day games in the community garden opposite.
• ROOSTERS Brewery in Knaresborough has re-released its White Rose charity pale ale, ahead of Yorkshire Day next Friday. From each pint sold, 10p will be donated to the Harrogate Homeless Project.
• STORIES of long-lost York pub landlords and brewers will be told in a new guided walk at York Cemetery in Cemetery Road tomorrow. The Brewers and Publicans walk at 2pm will feature 20 graves, and guide Jenny Hawkins will give information about the grave occupants, their pubs, and the areas they served. The walk costs £2.50 for adults and £1 for children.