Punch Bowl, Marton cum Grafton
There has been a revolving door of landlords at this rambling whitewashed roadhouse in the Vale of York. Remember when Neil ‘Men Behaving Badly” Morrissey and James Fox romped around there on Channel Four’s Risky Business showing us how they were going to turn a faded boozer into a trendy gastropub with a microbrewery in the back yard?
It should have been a roaring success: celebrity landlords, masses of free TV exposure, a nicely done-out interior and not half bad food. But whether it was the sweary laddishness or the smell of opportunism or forgetting to invite the locals to their glitzy celebrity opening bash, within 18 months it imploded in voluntary liquidation.
Next in, Luci and Alex Matthews, who had resettled in Harrogate at Alfie’s Place before we even got there. ‘The locals didn’t appreciate Alex’s style of cooking’ we were told.
Now it’s the turn of Provenance Inns, the company created by Michael (Durham Ox) Ibbotson and Chris Blundell who over the last couple of years have taken on three ailing pubs and turned them into cracking good ones.
Ibbotson has run the Durham Ox for donkeys’ years so knows how food pubs work. With ex-Morrison executive Chris Blundell ithey’ve bought and done up Blundell’s local, the Carpenters Arms at Felixkirk, all but rebuilt the Oak Tree at Helperby, and now they’ve spruced up the Punch Bowl.
The classic/basic gastropub menu is more or less the same as in all their pubs: sticky ribs; fish and chips; burger and chips; black pudding and potato cake with poached egg; steak and kidney pie and chips, pea and broad bean risotto; steak and chips and nothing much over £16 except a gourmet menu for two (£75). Where they score over many is in their boast of making everything themselves: bread, stock, ice cream, petit fours. Quite a claim for a simple village inn.
Blundell’s supermarket instincts are suggested by all the special offers: seven courses for £7 before 7pm; a £5 main course on Manic Mondays. We took a £10 lunch with pea and broad bean risotto to start then smoked haddock fish cake and poached egg. Hard to see how they do it for the money – a loss-leader I guess. If it reels the punters in they’ll find a comfortable scene of beams and whitewash, pure Yorkshire wool curtains, blood red walls (fast becoming a theme of the group) and fires in the grate. When the sun does shine, they’ve made a charming seating area with a mighty parasol out in the yard where Morrissey capered about before disappearing over the horizon. Our money is on Ibbotson and Blundell sticking around for the long run.