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'A CALL TO ARMS' - The Journal's Restaurant of the Month - February 2011

Posted 1st February 2011

The Hotham Arms is a personification of its owner, Joe Parkinson, and I only wish all pubs were like this. Mine host, occasional chef, raconteur, bon viveur and wit, the chances are you'll think you've known Joe all your life by the time you leave, even if you've never met him before.

The bar and main dining room are awash with clutter - old books and bottles, ancient radios and televisions, old teapots and golf clubs to name just a few of the things that make this an Aladdin's Cave of memorabilia. Business cards and postcards fill up any remaining space. If it's your birthday Joe might grab an old guitar and serenade you in an approximation of flamenco or opera. And if you're really lucky he might wind up an old gramophone, produce a Josef Locke 78 and get the whole pub to join in.

The welcome, then, is warm verging on roasting and you'll soon be at your ease. In an era when we're told pubs are struggling to survive, someone should take a look at the Hotham Arms for a few pointers on getting it right.

It's good to see, for example, that despite being renowned for its food, this is still a proper pub, attracting a healthy number of locals popping in for a pint of well-kept beer. But if it's food you've come for, you won't be disappointed.

The dining room has been extended over the years, but can be curtained off to retain the pub's lovely intimate atmosphere if numbers are smaller. There's also a private dining room, The Library, if you want to arrange your own special function.

Elsewhere, it is charmingly rustic: Pine tables, wooden floor, dark green walls, brightly-coloured tiffany shades and an open fire.

The pub itself is embellished to the nth degree, the menu is the embodiment of minimalism. Don't expect to see long and flowery descriptions of the food, it's more than likely to be a list of the main ingredients. On the night we dined, starters were listed simply as Liver and bacon; smoked fish platter, melon and prawns and so on. Mains could have been lamb shank; lemon chicken; rib-eye; sirloin or duck, while sweets included cheesecake; lemon meringue or bread & butter pudding.

Joe is a believer in letting the food talk for itself and I'm with him on that. He also wants the natural ingredients to shine through, so no embellishment for embellishment's sake.

One thing you'll always find on the menu is fish cakes - one for a starter, two for a main course. They are sublime... perfectly cooked with plenty of fish and an outer delicate crispness. This was my choice - I think I've had them every time I've been to the Hotham Arms and these were as good as ever. We also tried a starter from the specials board - penne pasta and garlic prawns, that was cooked in a delicious cream sauce with a dash of chilli to give them a kick.

Joe always does fish well and a simple pan-fried halibut is often my choice. On this occasion there was no halibut; instead haddock pan fried in a little butter with a poached egg on top. Beautiful - even more so with a bowl of the Hotham Arms' renowned chips plus well-cooked sprouts, cauliflower and carrots.

Chris, meanwhile, enjoyed salmon stuffed with cream cheese and spinach in filo pastry.

To end, the best bread and butter pudding outside of Chez Woodcock plus a gooey sticky toffee pudding. Here, then, was a complete example of how things should be done and I would have no hesitation in recommending this restaurant, particularly when the bill also delivered a pleasant surprise - 60 for two with wine, which i call fantastic value.

Bookings on 01430 422939.

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