The Box Tree is in a stone farmhouse dating back to 1720. Box trees were planted in the front garden in the 19th century, and it became known as Box Tree House. After a spell as a tea room, the current restaurant was opened in 1962 by Colin Long and Malcom Reid. It was awarded a Michelin star in the very first UK guide in 1974, and gained a second star from 1978 to 1986, before being demoted to one star in 1987. This was lost in the 1992 guide but regained in 1996 through to 2002, when the star was once again removed. In 2005 the star was regained, and it has kept one continuously ever since.
The Box Tree has an initial lounge area opening out to an extended dining room, seating 40 at capacity. Upstairs offers additional seating at busy times. Somewhat superfluous music played in the restaurant, ranging from Janet Seidel to what my wife termed "plinky, plonky jazz". It was pitched at a volume that was a touch intrusive on what was a fairly quiet evening. Chef Simon Guellar gained a Michelin star at La Rascasse in Leeds, and later at his own Guellar, moving to The Box Tree in 2004. He was not around this evening, catering to a high profile private function. Three courses were £60, or there was set menu at £40 and a tasting menu at £75.
The wine list had nearly 400 labels, and went well beyond France in its choices, such as a Japanese plum sake as one of the dessert wines. Example wines were Pitch Fork 2010 Shiraz at £26 for a wine that can be found in the high street for around £12, the lovely Chateau Musar 1998 at £80 for a wine that retails at £35, and Tenuta Dell'Ornellaia 1992 at £210 compared to a shop price of £144. The sommelier was helpful and knew his stuff.
Nibbles comprised a tartare of mackerel with pickled cucumber, which was quite refreshing and had quite a kick from the pickling vinegar (15/20) and a dip of red pepper and walnut with crisp bread, which was pleasant (14/20). A further nibble was a rather nice idea, a veloute of Wensleydale and pickled onion. This certainly played on local ingredients, Wensleydale being the favourite cheese of one of the main characters in Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit. The result was nice enough, the richness of the cheese balanced by the vinegar of the pickled onion (15/20). Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen, a choice of butter and onion bread and wholemeal, served warm. These were both fine, having nice texture (15/20).
A starter had a single langoustine tail with pork belly in a pea veloute. The shellfish was tender, the peas having plenty of flavour though the pork belly was rather lost amongst everything else (15/20). Pickled salmon came with horseradish, pickled cucumber and caviar. This was attractively presented, the horseradish lifting the dish, though the salmon, as farmed salmon usually does, had quite limited flavour (15/20).
Halibut came with Jersey Royals, asparagus and cherry tomato butter sauce. The halibut was cooked nicely, the potatoes good, though there was not much in the way of asparagus (15/20). I had fillet of local beef, alongside a daube of beef cooked for 48 hours with bacon and onions, with mash, roasted celeriac and a red wine sauce. This was again very pleasant, the beef cooked nicely, the sauce having reasonable depth, the daube fairly tender (15/20).
Rhubarb and crumble soufflé was very well executed, light and fluffy with good rhubarb flavour, let down only by vanilla ice cream that needed a lot more in the way of vanilla pods invested in it (16/20). White chocolate parfait came with macadamia nuts, coconut ice cream, mango and Malibu. This was decent rather than exciting, the coconut flavour coming through well, the mango rather muted in favour (14/20). Coffee was Sumatran and came from a Skipton company called Coffee Care, and the accompanying box of chocolates came from the excellent Artisan du Chocolat in London.
The bill came to £271 for two with service, so £135 a head. Service was quite formal but very attentive, possibly more that was really necessary; I did not need breadcrumbs to be swept so regularly, messy eater though I am. Overall, this seems like quite a lot of money for the perfectly pleasant, but hardly dazzling, food that appeared on our plates. If you ordered three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill would be more like £100 a head. This is quite old-fashioned cooking, which is not in itself a bad thing, and showed good technical skill.