The Cleveland Tontine is a dark horse as Gill Bruce discovers

The Cleveland Tontine
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Somewhere up the A19, the Art Deco-inspired sign for The Cleveland Tontine looks out to the passing traffic. Most of the cars whizzing past will be unaware of this place, with its stellar seasonal menus and delightfully eclectic decor. It’s a true dark horse.

Bistro2Built in 1804 as a resting place on the New Turnpike Road from Thirsk to Yarm, a ‘tontine’ is an old concept — banned nowadays — in which a collection of investors bought into a building, each giving up their share upon death. This made the sole successor quite wealthy and probably responsible for a few untimely demises along the way.

In more recent history, the McCoy brothers proved to be visionary owners of The Tontine, safeguarding a reputation that has stood firm for over 40 years. The business changed hands in 2013, now owned by business couple Charles and Angela Tompkins. But has this place retained its magic?

The downstairs Bistro is sedate and comforting; a large hearth gently crackling to a backdrop of Ella Fitzgerald. It was menu changeover week and a relief to see the Winter dishes; so welcoming on a freezing cold night in early March.

Canapes came to us in the form of teacups, filled with an impossibly light asparagus veloute. The style and simplicity garnered our excitement for the following three courses.

I chose the beef carpaccio to start, with pickled blackberries, parsnip remoulade and sourdough crisp. The sour fruit dissolved the beef and was an alarming burst on the palate, to then be swiftly soothed by the creamy remoulade. Clever stuff, arranged in the foraging style that’s currently so highly in demand.

IMG_20160303_203339458The ‘Tasting of Yorkshire Pig’ was predictable but well executed; seasoned loin, melt-in-mouth cheek and a square of belly topped with a cheeky snap of crackling. I felt a bit let down by the veg side orders, that were perfunctory for the cost (£3.50 for a small dish of new potatoes). Pricing is a slight concern in general here, so it’s a good job the place is so intoxicating.

Staring blankly at the dessert menu (because it all sounded so despairingly nice), I muttered to my husband about “maybe trying that basil panna cotta”. Our server heard this and urged me to give it a go, since it is her firm favourite. It was a simple creation, with masses of flavour. This light and surprising Mediterranean twist is signature of this restaurant, which always seems to have a playful card up its sleeve. We couldn’t resist trying the chocolate pave too, with its side of salted caramel ice cream and toffee popcorn. It took a strong coffee to bring us back round from the intensity of this dessert, it’s not for the sugar fearing amongst us.

After dinner, we were showed around other areas of the Tontine, such as the airy conservatory, a private dining area and the wildly decorated champagne bar. It felt as though the inn’s flamboyant nature had been preserved and nurtured to keep up with tastes. I’ll definitely be back to sample the Spring menu.



About The Author

Gill Bruce is a Yorkshire-based writer, who has worked in food, travel and music journalism since university. She has been a staff writer for Travelzoo Europe, Gigwise Magazine and the Manchester Food and Drink Festival. Gill lives in Harrogate with her husband and two young sons.

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