Box Tree, Ilkley
In 2011 the Box Tree in Ilkley celebrated its 50th birthday, fifty years since Malcolm Reid and Colin Long opened their little cottage restaurant in Ilkley, picked up a raft of awards and made it one of the most famous restaurants in the UK. This was a time when posh dining meant prawn cocktail, fried scampi and sherry trifle. And if you think I’m kidding all three dishes were on the Box Tree menu in 1964.
We’ve come a long way since then and so has the Box Tree. The story of its rise and fall and rise again is legendary. If you don’t know it read about it here on our blog. Today it runs as smoothly as ever in the capable hands of owner and executive chef Simon Gueller and his wife Rena, front of house and sommelier the charming Didier de Costa.
In 2004 when Gueller took over, the Box Tree was struggling. After 40 star-studded years, poor management, legal disputes and a revolving door of chefs had put it in what seemed like terminal decline. The stars had fallen away along with the customers. The Guellers turned it around. Simon brought his clean, clear, fresh flavours to the menu and within nine months he’d earned back the Michelin star.
It is well deserved. Gueller’s cooking is exceptional though it appears deceptively simple: asparagus with a slow-cooked boiled egg; pea veloute with grated truffle; rare roast beef, duck terrine, a shot of pineapple ‘soup’ before pudding and banana parfait or apple tart to finish. Perfect technique matched with a well-tuned instinct for taste and flavour.
Naturally, all this comes at a price. The Box Tree has never been cheap. You’ll pay £90 for dinner, but take a tip, if you want to sample Simon Gueller’s cooking without breaking the bank, then book for lunch when you can eat there for £55 from the menu du jour.
Inside, the Box Tree looks much as it always has. It’s been substantially de-cluttered, but if Reid and Long walked in today, they’d recognize the high back chairs, the antique bar, the decorative plaster ceiling, even the slight sense of claustrophobia. Much of the original (and valuable) art has moved on too, but now it feels calmer, more spacious and we have the Guellers to thank for returning the famous Box Tree to the gracious restaurant it once was.