Hanley’s in downtown Driffield has a lot going for it, writes Dave Lee, and with a little more ambition it could really start making waves.

Hanley's, Driffield
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Hanley’s interior

It takes a moment. I have to squint through the pass, but then I slowly recognise the familiar face I see through the other side. I’d decided to visit Hanley’s because eating options are notoriously restricted in Driffield. A chef called Martyn Shaw ran the justifiably-celebrated Dining Room, but he left for pastures new around five years ago and the restaurant closed not long after. Since then, the self-styled “capital of the Wolds” has been bereft of anywhere special to eat. Hanley’s appeared a few weeks back and it looked OK to me.
As we were shown to our table near the kitchen, I thought I recognised the chef. He squinted back at me and we exchanged nods. After a few minutes brain-winkling, I remembered he was called Sean and I’d reviewed his food when he worked at four or five or maybe more restaurants around the East Riding. He was the epitome of the journeyman chef; one week cooking pasta in an Italian place, the next cooking plaice in a fish restaurant up the street. A waitress confirmed that he was Sean Hanley and Hanley’s was his permanent place. Not everywhere I’d eaten Sean’s food was great but the food was never poor. It was never Sean’s fault if things were bad. He was never the owner, only ever a hiree. I’m pleased to see a skilled chef and familiar face settled at last. (Weirdly, I turn round to find Martyn Shaw at the next table – it was like Driffield was suddenly ganging up on me.)
The building now containing Hanley’s was built as a shop and then became a poor Moroccan (or poor Turkish, no-one is quite sure) restaurant. Sean moved in, gave it a lick of paint, got it open and is improving as he goes. He’s off to a good start. Business is brisk and the staff are sharp and fun. The menu, meanwhile, is… competent.
There’s nothing at all wrong with the food on offer. It’s modern English and Mediterranean and there is a healthy choice of well-worn classics. I just wish there was more ambition shown, but we’ll return to this anon. First, the starters.

Seared sea bass fillet

The smoked haddock scotch egg (£6.50) is well done. Just a scotch egg with fish replacing meat but it’s a good portion, with an oozy, emulsioned yolk and fresh tartar on the side. My chorizo hot pot (also £6.50) is less successful. Red onion and chorizo in a little skillet with an egg on top. Presumably the heat of the dish was supposed to cook the egg but it was a little more under than I like and so the whole dish became a bit moist. Maybe a chunk of bread would have helped me mop up a bit as I went but, as it was, I was left with a dish of eggy, oniony liquid.
Mains easily made up for it. My roast duck breast offered more on the plate than I’d expected for £15.95. Well-cooked, succulent thick slices of duck on top of asparagus, broccoli and dauphinoise potatoes, all blathered with a cherry compote. The cherries were not – as they often are – either too sickly-sweet or glowing atomic red, just fresh enough to cut through the duck. A grand plateful. As was the braised belly pork. £14.95 bought a good chunk of richly-deep pork on black pudding mash with green beans, red wine gravy and (nice touch) pear compote.
Puds were competent (there’s that word again) – a sticky toffee pudding and a banana fritter, which was kind of like an apple turnover but made with a whole banana. I’d never seen one before but I’d have it again.
And here’s the thing. That banana wotsit was the most adventurous dish we had all evening. I completely understand that Sean has experience of many different cuisines and knows what works every single time in every place he’s worked. I also understand that he’s only just opened Hanley’s and he wants to get customers in and fed and happy so they’ll return soon. I don’t doubt they will, but I don’t know how many times they’ll come back unless their interest is kept alive.

Roast duck breast

What Hanley’s offers is good, familiar food at a reasonable price. Diners can get that in many decent pubs and restaurants. Sean has to define what makes his restaurant special and turn it into Hanley’s USP. I have no doubt he can do this.
He’s already found his feet, he maybe needs to try running a little. In the meantime, you should visit and watch him leisurely create your tea.
Hanley’s, 42 Market Place, Driffield, YO25 6AN. Tel: 01377 254793, www.hanleysrestaurant.co.uk. Open: Wednesday to Saturday, 5.30-10.30pm, Sunday, 12 to 8pm.

About The Author

Dave Lee is TV producer and film-maker who also writes on food & drink, travel and culture for various publications. He is a regular contributor on BBC Radio 4 and the Yorkshire Post. Worryingly, he believes that the finest food on earth is the pattie butty.

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