Tom Vaughan reports from a brave new opening in the Yorkshire Moors, where self-taught chef Paul Jackson is pushing boundaries
After working in various informal restaurants around York for many years, Jackson and wife Liz took over the 90-cover Crown Inn at Great Ouseburn in North Yorkshire in 2009, swiftly turning it from a closed property into Yorkshire Pub of the Year 2011 at the White Rose Awards. Then, in November, the two took on their second site, the Hare Inn at Scawton, a picturesque pub nestled on a country lane near the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. The goal was to notch up the ambition of the menu and turn it into a destination.
Ambition is certainly one way to describe Jackson's cooking, as he draws on inspiration from heroes Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller to push flavour combinations to the extreme. And there is no better example of this than his starter of hare loin with creamy Yorkshire blue cheese, pickled walnuts, quince, cauliflower, chocolate jelly and a port jus (£8.95) - a creation that, on paper, seems more like two separate dishes merged into one: "There is a lot going on and a lot of people will look at that and write it off but it works really well - you'll have to take my word for it," he says.
And things don't get any less inspired with the main courses. His halibut dish (£22.50) sees him cure the fish in pure sea salt for seven minutes first to draw out the protein and, in Jackson's own words, "season it perfectly", before cooking it in a waterbath at 58ÂºC for 10 minutes and finishing it in a pan. With it he serves a white crab risotto, steamed crayfish, pickled radish, Jerusalem artichoke puree, samphire, sea purslane, sea fennel and a velouté.
For a kitchen brigade of just two, the lengthy ingredients in each dish are remarkable. Venison fillet, for example, comes with slow-cooked venison ouso bucco pulled apart and panéd in breadcrumbs, deep fried pork crackling, a homemade venison faggot, a gruyere cauliflower cheese puree with black winter truffle, shaved truffle, chantarelles, baby carrots, creamed cabbage and port jus (£23.50). "We're in at 8.30am and we're there until 6pm doing mis en place and cooking the lunch menu," he says. With each dish composite of so much, do the sums all add up? "We run at 65% GP and get that at least on every dish. It's a lot of organisation but that's what being a good chef is all about. Wasting stuff is just bad workmanship."
Predictably, just as much gusto is put into the dessert menu, the highlight of which is a chocolate delice served with chocolate cremeax, toffee popcorn coated in isomalt, raisins, blood orange jelly, orange foam and red sorrel (£7.50). However, it is not yet the finished article, says Jackson: "I've been thinking of adding some chocolate powder or soil to give it a different texture."
The restaurant holds 31 but the most the team have yet to accommodate in one sitting is 23. However, he is achieving a commendable average spend of £55 per head at dinner. Moving forward, the next thing on Jackson's to-do list is get another pair of hands in the kitchen, before ramping up the offering: "The plan going forward is to launch our tasting menu but one thing at a time: we don't want to run before we can walk."
Ham Hock, foie gras, piccalilli, egg yolk, coriander, pineapple £8.50
Oak smoked salmon, cider, granny smith, raisin, capers, Dijon, mayonnaise, quail egg, candy beetroot £7.95
Scallops, carrot, orange, seabass, cointreau, tomato, kohlrabi £9.50
Lamb loin, breast, sweetbread, garlic gnocchi, rosemary, ratatouille, red wine, salsify, pinenuts, rump, carrot £24.95
Ox cheek, pigeon, oxtail, red wine, celeriac, celery, pink fir £17.95
Fillet of beef poached in barbera d'asti, celery, chanterelles, quince, brunoise, parsnip £24.95
Lemon panacotta, ice cream, blackberry, vanilla £6.50
Rhubarb, crème Anglais, brown sugar, ginger, vanilla, Yellison goats cheese £6.50
Pear, apple, mascarpone, vanilla, toffee, crumble, brambles, cinnamon, black pepper £6.50