A pub landlord in expansionist mood is Michael Ibbotson who’s just completed ten years at the Durham Ox at Crayke. Now, while pubs are closing at the record rate of 40 a week, he’s only gone and bought three of them. Last week I had lunch at the first to be rolled out, the newly refurbished Carpenters Arms at Felixkirk near Thirsk. While I’m normally a sworn enemy of chains my first instinct is that he can buy up thirty more if they turn out as feel-good as this.
I’d never been there in its unfurbished days so I’ll take Ibbotson at his word that they’ve totally stripped it back and knocked through. It’s a modern, but not too modern, village pub, warm, polished and comfortable, as cosy as a country pub should be with wool curtains, flagged floor, deep red walls and a mighty inglenook fireplace. The food (see Restaurants) is in the safe mainstream of North Yorkshire gastropubbery and there’s not much wrong with that. Everywhere are masses of garden flowers supplied by Michael’s business partner Chris Blundell who lives up the road in the big house, the Mount St John Estate, which is living proof that big can be beautiful. He’s worked for Heinz and Morrisons, as a food consultant and farms 750 acres at Felixkirk and is now a pub landlord.
Produce for the pub kitchens will come from Mount St. John’s kitchen garden, and what a garden. Goodness, Felixkirk is already one of the most obviously pretty villages in Yorkshire but hidden away here is a beautiful, abundant, absolutely fabulous walled garden. It is bursting with produce: apples, plums, figs ripening against a sunny wall, a dozen different types of tomato in the hot house, aubergines, cucumbers, and gorgeous orange pumpkins. At the moment the Carpenters are using the apples and plums for chutney, and jam for the Bakewell tart. Salad leaves, tomatoes, peas and herbs go into a gorgeous goat’s cheese salad.
The Mount St. John produce isn’t registered organic but it is grown without sprays on organic principles and is a tribute to the lovely head gardener Chris Gough, who showed me round. If you can swing an invite or blag your way in, do so. I came away with a serious case of property envy and on a high from knowing I’d been to one of the country’s most gorgeous kitchen gardens.
Next up from the Ibbotson-Blundell combo, all within 20 miles, are the Oak Tree at Helperby and the Farmers at Brafferton.