The Box Tree in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, boasts a rich culinary heritage spanning more than 50 years, and new head chef Lawrence Yates is determined to keep it going. Janie Manzoori-Stamford pays a visit
Taking over as head chef of a restaurant with a history as rich as that of the Box Tree in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, is not for the faint-hearted.
It was originally opened as a tea room in 1962 by Malcolm Reid and Colin Long, before finding its feet as a fine-dining restaurant that went on to win two Michelin stars in 1977. Two years later a fresh-faced, 17-year-old Marco Pierre White cut his culinary teeth in its kitchens and came on board as a partner in 2010.
When chef Simon Gueller and his wife Rena took over the restaurant in 2004 they picked up a Michelin star in five months and have held on to it ever since.
The day-to-day running of the restaurant was last year handed to Lawrence Yates, a head chef whose own pedigree includes the Vineyard at Stockcross under John Campbell, Whatley Manor with Martin Burge, and Mark Poynton's Alimentum.
"I'm interested in putting food on a plate, not deconstructing it. I hate that word," says Yates. "It works for some people, and that's fantastic, but if I'm going to serve a millefeuille, it's going to be a millefeuille. Not strips of pastry, ice-cream, a bit of powder and some jelly. That's not my idea of cooking and it's not Simon's - it doesn't suit the Box Tree."
That's not to say Yates is averse â¨to using modern techniques. Beef fillet served with pomme purée, slow cooked and roasted diced celeriac, chanterelles, red wine sauce and accompanied by a â¨copper pan of braised beef cheek, is cooked in a water bath, but it looks like it has been traditionally roasted.
Yates explains: "I tie the beef so that it looks like it's been cooked old school. It's a lot of work so most people don't bother, but while ours looks like it will be well done on the outside it's medium rare all the way through it."
Offering a menu du jour (£30/£40 for three courses and amuse bouche for lunch/dinner), a la carte and menu gourmande (six courses for £70; sommelier Didier Da Costa's wine choice £27.50), the Box Tree serves lunch Friday to Sunday and dinner Tuesday to Saturday.
One of the best-selling dishes at the Box Tree is vegetarian. The starter consists of two poached quail's eggs wrapped in potato spaghetti and deep fried, served with roasted shallot and a caramelised onion sauce.
"I've started to use Minus 8 vinegar to deglaze the pan and make the sauce because the taste of the vinegar is absolutely mind-blowing," says Yates. "At £22 for a 200ml bottle, I couldn't afford to use it in a dish like the beef, but I can afford to splash out on a vegetarian dish."
With the dessert menu, Yates aims to ensure there is always something on there that his diners will want by offering a spectrum of flavours and textures.
Prune and Armagnac soufflé with rum ice-cream is available for those who want something light but full of flavour, while chocolate lovers can choose from a white chocolate parfait with macadamia nuts, coconut ice-cream, mango and Malibu, or a chocolate brownie cake.
Yates adds: "You don't just come here to eat, you come for an experience. It's important to us to keep it that way."
The Box Tree, 35-37 Church Street, Ilkley, West Yorkshire LS29 9DR
Sample dishes from the a la carte menu
£60 for three courses and amuse bouche
Grilled & tartare of mackerel, pickled cucumber, radish, lemon dressing
Seared hand-dived â¨sea scallops, pumpkin â¨purée, ragoÁ»t of wild mushrooms
Glazed veal sweetbreads, Madeira & truffle jus
Line-caught sea bass, roast Jerusalem artichoke, leek purée, confit tomato
Tranche of wild turbot, truffled white beans, cauliflower, iceberg & garlic sauce
Fillet of organic pork, boudin noir, confit belly, pommes Anna, creamed cabbage â¨and morels
White chocolate parfait, macadamia nuts, coconut ice-cream, mango & Malibu
Dark chocolate brownie cake, pistachio & pineapple
Fuilletine of Yorkshire rhubarb, basil panna cotta
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