A few tweaks and the food at the Alma will be as good as its views, says Amanda Wragg.

The Alma
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The Alma is always the place I head for on a fine summer day; with a huge patio at the front, there’s no finer place to sit with a glass of white, gaze across the lush Ryburn Valley and listen to the curlews as they wheel above the fields. But it’s February, snow has been falling steadily for two days, and the idea of setting off for lunch at a pub on top of one of the highest hills in Calderdale is daunting. I put a call in: “Are the roads clear up your way?” Answer comes back; “Yep, they’ve been gritted, and so has the car park. I’ll throw another log on the fire,” he says, “It’ll be fine.” It’s a good start.
This muscularly handsome old pub has had a recent thorough refurb by the people who run Catch, a lively, crowd-pleasing fish restaurant in West Vale, and the award-winning Fleece Inn in Barkisland. Gone are the scruffy pine furniture and dusty knick-knacks, but they’ve had the sense to keep the Yorkshire flags and huge stone fireplaces.

There’s the inevitable stags’ heads but the oak beams have been gussied up and I love the framed portraits of stately dogs in uniform on the stone walls. Freshly upholstered banquettes are comfy and, even though it’s everywhere you go, I even approve of the dark matt grey Farrow & Balled woodwork. A very smart panelled dining room has those stunning views across the hills – and a

piano if you fancy banging out a tune.
But warm it ain’t. Turns out the boiler’s bust and they’re waiting for a part which was supposed to have arrived yesterday. These things happen of course, but I might have been warned when I rang about the roads – I’d have put more thermals on; as it is we eat with our coats on.
The good-looking menu is broadly posh pub grub so you’ll find the likes of mushrooms on ciabatta, smoked haddock and Cheddar fishcakes and chicken liver parfait in the starter section, and for mains, steak, burgers and a couple of vegetarian dishes – wild mushroom and truffle

Pan Seared King Scallops

risotto (£13; “add chicken”: £16) and a pumpkin and pecorino tortellini.
Winter Warmers include sausage and pancetta mash, lamb shoulder shepherd’s pie and mac ’n’ cheese. There are pizzas too, “freshly made using Italian sourdough” and a fixed price deal (two courses for £15 and three for £18).
We kick off with salt and pepper squid (£8), which is perfectly crisp, the texture bob on; can I suggest they lose the industrial pile of rocket that comes with? It’s redundant. My king scallops (£9.50) are properly seared, the caramelised Jerusalem artichoke is a gratifyingly earthy addition and a warm golden raisin dressing inspired.
I particularly like the beautiful little belly pork bonbon; a nice touch. Next up, a couple of dishes that appear to have been cooked by two different chefs. Well, one chef and some random person who’s just wandered in off the hills.
I’ll tell you about the good stuff. Fillet of stone bass (£17) is cooked perfectly, the fish flaking at the fork, the skin crisped brown; it sits on a mound of perfectly judged, buttery garlic spinach and an apple, vanilla and parsnip puree. There are more Jerusalem artichokes, this time roasted, and a classic lemon and caper butter.

Warm Cherry Bakewell.

It’s an absolutely cracking dish, faultless. So, imagine my surprise when my chum’s pork belly arrives undercooked to the point of being pink. Now, I’m no chef but I know that pork should be cooked through. We send it back to the kitchen and 10 minutes later a new one arrives. It’s not “slow roast pork belly” as described on the menu. In fact, the colour and texture suggests it’s been rather quickly cooked; it’s pale, flabby and inert.
We move closer to the open fire at the other end of the room for dessert, a divine sticky toffee pudding with a blob of Northern Bloc vanilla bean ice cream, and a delicious, homemade, warm cherry Bakewell studded with blobs of wonderfully intense cherry gel. It’s perplexing that these two fabulous puds came out of the same kitchen as the pork. A couple of decent flat whites later we’re ready to face the snow, which by now is coming horizontally across the fields in sheets from the west.
The Alma obviously needs some tweaking. It’s early days, and the menu shows promise. But neither of the pork belly plates should have left the kitchen, let alone appeared on the bill. I guess you should stick to what you do best, and keep it simple. And while I’m making a bit of a list, how about replacing the “pretend” wood-burning stove with a real one? And finally, the music. Please bin the indie grunge. I’m not square, but seriously…
■ The Alma Inn, Four Lane Ends, Cottonstones, Sowerby Bridge, HX6 4NS. Open: Monday to Thursday, 12-9pm; Friday, 12-10pm; Saturday, 8-11am and 12-10pm; Sunday, 8-11am and 12-8pm. 01422 823334, alma-inn.co.uk

About The Author

Amanda Wragg

Mandy Wragg is a freelance food journalist, writing and inspecting for the Yorkshire Post, Alastair Sawday, the Morning Advertiser, the AA, Cool Places and David Hancock's Inn Places. She co-writes www.squidbeak.co.uk, an independent guide to eating, drinking and staying in Yorkshire.

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