HELEN MEAD finds a treat in store at a picturesque pub just outside York

WITH lashing rain and fierce winds, we debated whether or not to set off.

But head out we did, to dine at a pub in Old Malton, that I’d passed once or twice in the car and liked the look of. With its picture-postcard frontage and situation in a row of cottages, The Royal Oak warranted further inspection.

Unfortunately, the weather was not the only thing against us. Heading out of York on the road to Flaxton, we found the road closed.

Returning the way we had come and diverting around by Sheriff Hutton, I took a wrong turn and ended up going several miles along unfamiliar, deeply puddled lanes, in the wrong direction. As a dyed-in-the-wool technophobe, I don’t have a sat-nav, but this is one occasion on which I admit one would have been useful.

Numerous threats to ‘call it a day’ later we arrived, neither my husband nor I in a good mood. But, stepping inside this warm, inviting hostelry, it did not take long to put the journey behind us.

I’d read online of how Steven and Amanda Purcell had moved from the Channel Islands to take over the Town Street inn last summer, and were focusing on “back to basics” pub food.

The couple greeted us warmly and took our drinks order, a pint of Tetley for Andrew - chosen from a selection offered - and water with a slice of lime for me.

We found a table in the snug next to a bay window, beside a small log burner, which Steven refuelled with a chunky log.

The traditional English-based menu had much to entice us both. For starter I chose garlic cream mushrooms on toasted bread (£5.50), while Andrew opted for chicken liver pâté served with homemade chutney and rustic granary bread (£6).

As Amanda, originally from Lancashire, brought them over, she told us how she and Steven were discovering North Yorkshire and enjoying walks in Ryedale with their two dogs.

The pub itself is dog friendly. There’s a room called The Doghouse, a name my husband felt applied more to him than any canines.

We tucked in. The creamy consistency of my mushrooms was perfect with the crispy bread. Andrew’s generous portions of tasty pâté, “delicious” chutney, and bread was, he said, just what he wanted to whet his palate for the mains.

Grade II-listed, The Royal Oak - which first registered as an alehouse in 1780 - is a cosy pub, with a cottagey feel. Beamed ceilings, terracotta floor tiles and prints of Old Malton in days gone by add to the rustic charm, given a festive touch with a Christmas tree, baubles and other decorations.

A second fire, in an open hearth, blazed at the opposite end of the room which overlooks a large beer garden.

For my main course, I was torn between falafel and spinach burger (£9.50), fish and chips (£7 or £9.50 depending upon the portion size) and homemade beef burger (£9.50). Having eaten a falafel dish the night before, I finally opted for the beef, and didn’t regret it.

Both burgers are served with lettuce, tomato, coleslaw, Cheddar or Yorkshire Blue, hand-cut chips, and crispy onion. I don’t eat cheese, so asked for it without. The meat was nicely cooked, tender and juicy, and the bun light, with delicate coils of crispy deep-fried onion - not at all greasy as onion rings often are. Again helpings were generous.

My husband chose creamy mushroom linguine (£7 or £9.50), in a large serving. Piping hot, rich, with nicely cooked pasta and tarragon, he could not fault it.

Chalkboards announced that Thursday is pie night and Friday fish. I was intrigued by one dish advertised, ‘bunny chow’, which strangely does not involve rabbits. Steven, who grew up in South Africa, explained that this fast food dish is a hollowed-out loaf of white bread filled with curry. It originated among Indian South Africans living in Durban.

The Royal Oak - which is open Tuesday to Sunday - was offering a Christmas menu, with three courses for £18.

Could we manage puddings? A mouthwatering selection of old favourites included jam roly-poly and sticky toffee pudding. When Amanda mentioned the berry crumble (£5) it was a firm yes from me.

The dish was jam packed with fruit, bursting with flavour, with a crunchy topping. Adding custard, it was just the job for a harsh winter’s day.

Andrew selected another popular English dish, spotted dick (£5). It was light and fluffy, he said, with lots of spots inside. The custard was delicious, he added, detecting a hint of vanilla.

Our bill came to a very reasonable £43.50. We are already planning to go again.

The Royal Oak, 47 Town Street, Old Malton YO17 7HB

T: 01653 696968


Food: Tasty 4/5

Service: Efficient 4.5/5

Ambience: Cosy 4.5/5

Value: Excellent 4.5/5

Reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press