The Boar’s Head at Ripley is one of only 30 restaurants still around that were feature in the original Michelin Guide from 1911. GEORGE HINTON went to a very special meal to celebrate the century of serving good food.
I NEVER thought I’d get the pleasure of meeting the Michelin Man, let alone sitting at the same table for dinner as him. He sat at the head of the table, obviously. He looked a little bit hot and flustered but you’ll understand why later.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to sit next to him. My partner had that privilege. I was kept out of the way by the window. It was probably for the best because I was keen to sample as much of the delicious wines that had been chosen to accompany the courses.
We’ll come to the food later. (Unfortunately I might have to veer slightly away from food at some points during this feature - sorry Tom.)
The event was to celebrate 100 years of the hotel and restaurant at Ripley being in the Michelin Guide - it was one of only 30 restaurants in the original guide that still exist and that have been in the guide for the whole century.
Back in 1911 the restaurant was known as the Star Inn. It changed to the Boar’s Head in 1990 when Sir Thomas and Lady Ingilby gave it a new lease of life and turned it into an upmarket hotel and restaurant. The name comes from a particular event in the history of the Ingilby family when ancestor Thomas Ingleby (the spelling changed centuries later) slayed a boar moments before it would’ve killed Edward III. A feat for which the King knighted him on the spot.
A man from Michelin – not the Michelin Man – told me they started developing the original guide in 1908. It took three years before it was completed and published. He explained that the way the guide assesses restaurants has changed very little in the 100 years it has been in existence. Reviewers still assess anonymously.
Guests of honour at the event were Charles and Jonathan Smailes who are grandson and great-grandson of the landlord of the Star Inn in 1911, Thomas Smailes. The Smailes family still live in the area.
Charles will be known to many through his estate agency, surveying and auction house.
Jonathan has gone on to be a representative for the champagne producer Pol Roger, the bubbly being served at the event.
In a speech at the start of the meal, Jonathan showed himself to be an excellent orator. He told the attendees that Pol Roger was the favourite champagne brand in England in 1911, became Winston Churchill’s tipple of choice after he first ordered it in 1908 and, more recently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose Pol Roger for their wedding reception.
Jonathan also explained that he wasn’t fully aware of the extent to which his family is linked to the Boar’s Head and spoke of his delight at being invited to attend the event and hearing more about his great-grandfather. He said he had been coming to to Boar’s Head throughout his life and still regularly pops in for a drink so he holds it dear to his heart.
He did particularly well with his speech considering he was being filmed by a crew making an episode for the second series of ITV’s The Dales. Apparently they had been filming non-stop all day for footage that will be condensed into a 17 minute segment.
The first dish brought out was a trio of “centennial flavours” of devilled whitebait, potted ham and egg florentine. It was a beautifully-presented dish and pretty substantial.
The whitebait was wonderfully light and full of flavour. It came with a well balanced, delicate watercress aioli, which complimented the fish superbly. The potted ham was some of the best ham I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. The meat on the menu was provided by Sykes House Farm near Wetherby.
The poached egg came perfectly done. How they managed to serve about 60 covers piping hot poached eggs at the same time I do not know.
The wine chosen to accompany the starter was a 2010 Cazal Viel, chardonnay viognier. The fresh piquant viognier brought out the delicate flavours of the dishes while the chardonnay added depth.
Alison Crawford, the marketing manager, told me that after Michelin contacted them at the start of the year about organising an event to celebrate the guide’s centenary the head chef Kevin Kindland started researching food from around 1911.
Using the power of the internet they chanced upon menus from the Titanic’s doomed voyage, which provided invaluable inspiration.
Alison explained they wanted to create a menu that had a definite feel of the early 20th century. She said she discovered they ate a lot of courses back then.
Next was the fish course of steamed fillet of lemon sole with brown shrimp butter. The sole, provided by Ramus, was cooked brilliantly. Steaming the fish made it incredibly subtle and delicate, with the brown shrimp butter adding a touch of weight to the dish.
It was served with an unusual blush wine of Chateau de L’Aumerade, Cotes de Provence, cru classe 2010. It looked like a pudding wine but did not have the sweetness. It had a touch of nectarine and matched the fish well. It came in a 1950s-style Marie-Cristine bottle.
In between the fish and meat course we were served a passion fruit sorbet. The tangy and zesty flavours did the job of refreshing the palette.
The meat course was roasted beef fillet, onion puree, fondant potato and home-grown vegetables. On the side there was some very peppery watercress and pea sprouts. The fillet was as tender as you could ask for, although I’d have preferred mine a tad more rare. It came as a large medallion layered on top of the fondant potatoes with the onion puree thoughtfully kept separate from the meat. Again, it was delicate enough to let the flavour of the meat shine through.
The vegetables were outstandingly flavoursome, with broadbeans, brocolli and some interesting root vegetables.
To accompany this we were served a great, weighty Cotes du Rhone 2008, Domaine Andre Brunel. The deep plums and blackberry notes really flattered the beef, and a touch of smokiness also came through.
Pudding was “floating islands” with strawberries. This dish arrived on a huge glass plate and looked very fun - like a dish a child would adore. The “island” was a mashmallow meringue Sugar Mountain quenelle with exploding sweets drizzled on top. The more civilised part of the dish was the juicy, deep red strawberries with meringue and cream.
All in all, the evening was a truly fabulous event which was a joy to attend. I felt privileged to be a part of the celebrations.
Due to it being a Michelin event it was tied in with the Variety Club’s 50th Anniversary Yorkshire Vintage Car Rally with its day-long tour finishing at Ripley Castle. About 40 superb classic cars had set off from Harewood House, before travelling to Scarborough via Castle Howard and then back to Ripley.
The evening started in the courtyard of the castle where all the cars had parked in a perfect circle. They really did look magnificent. The fact it was a glorious evening helped.
Some of them must’ve been worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. There were Jaguar E-types, Aston Martin DB4s and DB5s, Porsches, Rolls Royces, Morgans, Bentleys, Triumphs and something called a Jowett Jupiter which I’d not come across before. Oh, and a pretty groovy-looking Bristol AC. I’m not that much of a car man so all this might be slightly wide of the mark.
In the middle of the circle was an original Michelin van (pictured above) from the 1930s made from a Morris chassis that is now kept in Michelin’s head office in Clermont-Ferrand in France.
But, more excitingly, the actual Michelin Man (or “Bibendum”) was in attendance. He even waved to me. Some of the allure diminished when I walked past him and I could hear a constant gush of wind coming from him. He later explained that a fan was inside the suit keeping it pumped up. It apparently got very hot. He said he can’t stay in it for more than a few hours or he’s at risk of fainting.
Meeting the man inside the suit sort of destroyed it for me. It was like Santa taking his beard off. He had a strong Stoke-on-Trent accent as well. Surely Michelin Man should sound French, like Gerard Depardieu.
The Boar’s Head has recently changed the restaurant from fine French-style dining to more brasserie-like. This has slightly toned down the formalness of the restaurant, which Alison said has been incredibly successul. It fits in with the modern trend of more people going out for food more often, and generally having more knowledge than ever of good food, but not wanting to eat in such formal surroundings on the whole.