As celebrity chef James Martin prepares to gamble his reputation at Manchester’s 235 restaurant, Malcolm Handley goes across the Pennines to where it all started for the professional Tyke.
MALTON, home town of celebrity chef James Martin. is also the setting for one of the finest hotels in North Yorkshire, The Talbot. Recently the pair have joined forces to create a tantalising weekend foodie break.
Not only is the Talbot Hotel and James’ renowned love affair with local produce a potentially excellent pairing, it adds to the attraction of Malton as an increasingly interesting market town with great food options.
The Grade II listed Talbot was recently refurbished at a cost of £4m. It offers a popular blend of market town pub, elegant country house hotel and a destination restaurant, so it seemed the best place to start.
When he took over, James said that as a boy he had passed the hotel every day on his way to Malton School. Now as he helps to revive it after years of decline he aims to make the most of the area's renowned roster of butchers, fishmongers, game dealers, farmers and cheese makers to produce menus of classic but simple high quality food. "I am not looking at Michelin stars here — the food menu will be within everyone's price range, which they can enjoy in a really good atmosphere. My preferences are old-style, good honest dishes, simply cooked," he says. Hopefully that will remain the Martin mantra on this side of the Pennines.
I’d chosen Saturday to dine at the Talbot and, with a new series his hugely popular TV show running, it was perhaps not the best slice of timing. Still, executive chefs are not always sweating it out in the kitchen - so it was up to his team to take up the reins.
Whitby white crab, east coast mackerel, north coast cod, local farm lamb and chicken all feature on the menu - and lived up to all the billing. Hand-dived, king scallops, roasted and marinated duck breast were among the classic choices and here, “the simple but high quality” promise held good. Chocolate mousse and a classy cheese board all added to the attraction. There is a five course tasting menu, which also has a rich list of local references and ingredients. Classy service added to the evening and it is now on my list of must-go-back-to places to eat.
Outside the warmth of The Talbot, Malton’s market square has local and antique-laden mews shops – rather than the all-pervading blandness of some High Streets – and there are excellent local foods and produce to be found.
A popular lunchtime destination is Dickens of a Deli in Market Place, which offers a warm welcome, superb home-made quiches, snacks and some of the finest artisan bread you are likely to find. Owners Margaret and Stephen Shaw stock more olives and cheeses than you can shake a breadstick at and Stephen makes excellent artisan bread. A true craftsman.
By the way, Malton has many Charles Dickens’ links. He visited it often and is believed to have based part of Scrooge’s counting house on a solicitors in the town’s Chancery Lane.
James’ attended Scarborough College so it was fitting that I also visited the town to see what else North Yorkshire might offer and started with a climb to its cliff-top castle. Steeped in 2,500 years of history – it was originally an Iron Age fort, then a royal stronghold under Henry II – now, this English Heritage site, reveals its history to the backdrop of a dramatic coastline.
The castle, along with the simple, yet emotive headstone of Anne Bronte’s grave, in nearby St Mary’s churchyard, are two worthwhile stops, but if you are still seeking out more food destinations, try Anton’s Café Bar Grill a former harbour front chapel and now a stop on the culinary trail to be considered. There is a family tradition of good food here – fine fish and steaks are the favourites – and Anton’s parents are likely to be in the welcome party.
Having sampled the luxury of the Talbot and delights of Malton and Scarborough we couldn’t resist one more stop on our rail journey. You have to visit York don’t you? Yes there is the Minster, Treasurers’ House and a host of other sites to see but this was still to be a foodie adventure – I was on a mission.
York Cocoa House, on Blake Street, will become one of the gems of the city – if it is not already. An aficionado of chocolate, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of cocoa and its history, owner Sophie Jowett makes home-made, high-quality chocolate and counts royalty among her customers. I know, I saw her finishing off a special selection for the Duke of York.
Sophie’s charming smile lights up when you mention chocolate and soon I was in her workshop – non-participation is not an option I was told. Armed with just a hairdryer, a wooden spoon (I kid you not) and a plastic bowl, I made an excellent chocolate bar, but then that may have been down to my tutor.
By the way, spare time before boarding your train at York station for a leisurely pint in the Yorkshire Tap. There’s an exhaustive and extensive choice to choose from but it’s well worth the effort. You know it makes sense.
James Martin has certainly helped rekindle Malton, North Yorkshire as a foodie destination – his restaurant at 235 should add another course to Manchester's excellent food menu.
To book at the Talbot call 01653 639 096 or visit www.talbotmalton.co.uk.
First TransPennine Express runs a regular service to Malton, York, Scarborough. Visit www.tpexpress.co.uk.
For tourist information, see www.yorkshire.com.
More details of Scarborough Castle at www.english-heritage.org.uk
York Cocoa House www.yorkcocoahouse.co.uk.
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