TWINNED with Agincourt, Middleham has a history for forging positive Anglo-French relations.

It is fitting therefore that visitors to the charming small market town, conveniently located as a gateway to both the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, now have a perfect venue in which to enjoy some of the region’s best Gallic gastronomy.

The Wensleydale Hotel and its Tack Room restaurant opened last Easter and is owned by Charles Merchie – a former manager of Wetherby’s Wood Hall Hotel and Spa, Helmsley’s Feversham Arms and Masham’s Swinton Park.

Just like many of the thoroughbred racehorses that walk past on the way to the gallops of world-famous trainer Mark Johnston, the restaurant is now a firm favourite with Middleham locals and guests alike.

Originally from Belgium, Merchie grew up in France and Italy and went to catering college in Strasbourg during the 1970s, before specialising in pastry in Lyon.

He subsequently honed his culinary skills working in Germany, Milan, London, Asia, Venice and Scotland, also opening a wine bar in Italy and running his own catering company.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, there is an international flavour to many of the dishes served in the Tack Room.

“It’s very much a European menu – and I joke that it’s an anti-Brexit menu,” Merchie smiles. “We do Swiss Rosti for lunch, Lamb Ratatouille, gratin dauphinoise and Italian tahini pesto.

“There’s also home-cured salmon marinated in vodka – an idea that I borrowed from a Norwegian I used to work with in Milan – because the food has to be good enough for me to sit down and eat it.”

The Tack Room is also achieving outstanding value for money at £27 for an excellent three-course set menu, fully overseen by Merchie.

On our visit, I enjoyed a juicy tiger prawn starter with subtly-spiced red pepper and basil.

My pork Wellington main course was then of a standard befitting the chef’s French cookery school background in pastry, which was also delightfully evident in the tarte tatin dessert, boasting a generous amount of apple and that perfectly-cooked, part-burnt taste.

Even the often-neglected choice of vegetables served with the main course was imaginative with white asparagus and purple carrots inspired complements.

Where possible, Merchie sources locally-produced ingredients – the restaurant’s ham comes from his wife Fiona’s North Yorkshire farm – but the emphasis remains on quality, hence French flour is used to make the freshly-baked bread.

Breakfast – cooked to order – is a treat too as you start the day watching potential and existing equine Classic winners walking past the window.

Merchie’s attention to detail ensures nobody is ever waiting to be seated either.

“We have 14 tables for breakfast because the hotel has 14 rooms,” he points out. “It’s amazing how many venues get that wrong.”

With the assistance of his wife, Merchie has completed the first stage of a two-part renovation project.

The pub, previously known as The White Swan, now offers bedrooms with Egyptian bed sheets, luxury towels, flat-screen TVs, four-poster beds, sofas and modernised bathrooms.

A decluttering at home, meanwhile, means some of the Merchie family’s personal belongings are dotted around and the refitted Tack Room houses saddles, bridles and pictures of horses.

Merchie has also introduced a welcoming reception area.

Phase two of the renovations will include a facelift for the bar with plans to eventually add a thermal suite, including a sauna and a jacuzzi.

Explaining the selection of Middleham, with its 12th-century castle, picturesque square and racing heritage, for his boutique hotel and restaurant, Merchie reasoned: “We wanted something a bit run down to create a new brand, but in a good location and it’s a nice building on a busy road from Masham to Leyburn.

“You need that visibility no matter how great a place you have got and we’re here to provide an alternative venue for Middleham.”

Alternative is certainly an adjective that could describe the nearby Forbidden Corner attraction.

The lovingly-sculpted property provides a unique labyrinth of tunnels, chambers and surprises within a four-acre garden.

There are passages that lead nowhere, as well as extraordinary statues, with decisions to make and tricks to avoid at every turn.

Originally built as a private folly by the property’s owner, the Forbidden Corner was opened to the public after great demand and offers a very different and fun family day out.

From the start, when you enter through a giant’s mouth complete with a pair of huge tonsils to negotiate your way past, you’ll be laughing and caught unawares, with strategically-placed statues often squirting out water.

Some passages require the flexibility of a contortionist and a little amount of daring must sometimes be summoned to open doors without knowing what’s on the other side.

Other areas are just there to be enjoyed, like the patch of grass that sees gnomes positioned in a quaint English cricket match scene and, we were genuinely bowled over by the whole experience.


To book a table or reserve a room at the Wensleydale Hotel, visit

Tickets and further information on the Forbidden Corner are available at