Millions have been spent on Alexander’s in Skipton, but can the food live up to the decor? Jill Turton found out. Pictures by Simon Hulme.

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In September the Office for National Statistics named Skipton as the happiest town in Britain. Its measures for happiness were based on life satisfaction, feeling worthwhile, and not suffering from anxiety. But what about good restaurants, always high in my criteria for a happy life?
Unhappily, I’ve never known an exceptional restaurant in Skipton. Worse, the search for a parking spot in the Saturday lunchtime traffic was definitely anxiety-inducing. I was going to be late for my “fine dining” reservation at Alexander’s.
Just in time I found the listed building at the top of the High Street which old Skipton hands will remember as Dinsdale’s then Goldies. That was a couple of years before the Peel Entertainment Group moved in and spent £2.2m turning it into a “super stylish” restaurant and bar with a DJ on Saturday nights until 1am.
You can see where the money went: dining rooms over two floors, outdoor terraces overlooking the canal with space heaters, sofas and parasols, the pewter bar, the textured gold wallpaper, the walnut flooring, the brass, the marble and the encaustic floor tiles. With video screens, lights and Sunday afternoon acoustic sessions, there’s enough bling to furnish the QE2. No surprise then to learn that the principal business of Peel Entertainment, based at nearby Broughton Hall, is supplying song and dance shows for cruise ships.

Braised Short Rib Mac and Cheese.

There’s more than a little of the cruise ship about the menu, too. Something for everyone. Every continent visited, all tastes catered for: Indian bhajis, Italian arancini, Lebanese flatbreads, Spanish paella, a Middle Eastern shakshuka and the all American mac and cheese.
The notion behind all this is that Alexander was an Edwardian explorer who took off on some Grand Tour and sent home his recipes as well as exotic plants and flowers. Which may account for an enormous flat screen in the dining room projecting digital images of a palm filled hothouse fluttering with rather creepy giant butterflies. These were affecting my life satisfaction after watching the same scene played out for an hour.
Anyway, it’s not “fine dining” as advertised in any common understanding of the term. No, it’s “a curated menu”, prepared by a couple of flat-capped chefs toiling in the open kitchen. Most items hover around a tenner and more substantial dishes in the evening such as a whole roast chicken for sharing at £32.
Our Grand Tour starts with Lebanese flatbread brushed with oil, caraway and honey. The oil and caraway were fine but the honey appeared to have got lost in transit and the accompanying little pots of oil and vinegar made no sense at all. Were they to mix together then dip or what? I’ve no idea.
The broccoli with almond butter had nicely cooked broccoli but they were so stingy with the butter and almond that all the fun of the dish was lost.

Sesame Crusted Sea Bass

Things looked up with the truffled mushroom arancini. How can it not when you wrap balls of rice, Fontina cheese and mushrooms in breadcrumbs and deep fry until crisp? But the accompanying tomato sauce was too sweet and I failed to detect a whiff of truffle. Call me naïve, but I really don’t get why you’d spend millions on a place then skimp on the food.
Mac and cheese, which the menu declared an “Alexander favourite”, had been given a layer of beef beneath the macaroni. Both were excellent in their way. The beef rib was slow braised until sweetly tender and had it been served with some creamy mash it would have been terrific, but the essence of mac and cheese is its homely simplicity. Putting two good dishes together doesn’t make it better.
My best choice was a side of “chilli cracked corn with gunpowder dust” which translates as corn cobs char-grilled, stripped from the cob and seasoned. It was as modest as it was delicious. Sweet, salty, buttery and finished with an Indian spice mix.
Desserts offered blackberry cannelloni cheesecake and a choice of affogatos. I went for the Great Alexander, a double espresso with caramel poured over salted caramel gelato. The cannelloni was a leap in sophistication from what had gone before, the very essence of fine dining with its fancy garnishes of sliced white strawberries, teeny meringues, a scattering of blackberries, micro leaves, and an edible pansy. The main feature was a jellied tube of “cannelloni” filled with rich blackberry cheesecake mixture, a sparrow’s lunch of crumbs and an intense berry sorbet.
If you would like to know about the affogato you will have to visit yourself because it never came, or at least I gave up and cancelled after my partner’s cannelloni had been served and eaten. It was time to pay up and go.
So with the scattergun menu, missing or minimal ingredients, a lost dessert, it all amounted to Alexander the not so Great… and yet I can’t completely dismiss Alexander’s. Its cruise ship brassiness may not be to everyone’s taste but on a Saturday lunchtime when customers are piling in and families eating together, it has a buzz. High chairs are brought, babies are bounced and the women braving an autumn chill on the terrace are warming to their second round of cocktails. Without exception the staff are genial, helpful and consistently smiley. Why wouldn’t they be? This is Skipton, the happiest place in Britain.
Alexander’s, 4-6 High Street, Skipton. 01756 228030, alexanders-skipton.com. Open: Monday to Thursday and Sunday, 8am-11pm; Friday & Saturday, 8am-1am. Price: dinner for two inc. bottle wine, coffee and service, £160.

About The Author

Jill Turton

Jill Turton is a freelance food and travel journalist who writes for numerous publications. She inspects restaurants for national food guides and is a regular reviewer for the Yorkshire Post. Jill is author of Good Food in Yorkshire and the Time Out Guide to the Lake District and with Mandy Wragg writes the Yorkshire online food guide www.squidbeak.co.uk'

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