“ Address: West Witton / North Yorkshire / DL8 4LS / United Kingdom / Tel: 01969 622322 „
Firstly I have to say when writing this I was wondering whether I was rating a pub, a restaurant, a hotel or the package as a whole. The place itself describes itself as a boutique hotel but is perhaps better known for its food and is clearly in the shell of a pub. I decided on my experience as a whole.
The Heifer is located in Wensleydale, the valley of the River Ure, itself in the Yorkshire Dales national park. It can be found in the village of West Witton located between the market towns of Leyburn and Hawes with Aysgarth and its falls (the filming location for the tussle between Robin and Little John in the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves) just down the road. The area is a good base for all the sights and walking this area offers.
The inn has 9 rooms. Each is individually themed and a little unique in what it does and doesn't offer. The rooms are - Black Sheep, Malt Whiskey, Chocolate, The Wensleydale, Four Poster, Shooters, James Herriot, Middleham Racing and our choice Heifer. The Wensleydale for instance has two rooms with a separate sitting area and a complimentary decanter of sherry while in the Chocolate room you have as much chocolate as you want to eat! I will describe the Heifer room shortly.
Rooms are priced at the time of writing from £120-£150 per room per night for bed and breakfast. However it's worth checking the web site if thinking of booking to look at what offers are available. We went for an offer known as "Sumptuous Sunday & Monday". If staying on a Sunday or Monday night for £80 per person you get accommodation plus your evening meal and breakfast.
I initially e-mailed to find out availability but got no reply. Whether they never reply to e-mails I don't know but anyway I ended up ringing and booked a room with no problems. Credit card information was given un case of cancellation and nothing is actually charged until you leave the hotel. A couple of days later I received a booking confirmation along with a copy of the "West Witton Times" a whimsical look at what's currently going on at the Heifer.
We arrived at the hotel mid afternoon and after negotiating the small car park (nothing else they can do to be fair) checked in at the bar which doubles up as the reception. Check in time was actually 2PM and while being taken up to our room by the friendly lad on reception we did notice a lot of the rooms still being cleaned - whether we were maybe lucky to get our room on time I don't know.
On entering the room we were confronted by everything "cow" - a bed full of cuddly toys, clocks, black and white spotted doors, a black and white bed and plenty of other cow paraphernalia around the room. More noticeable to me was a couple of pieces of flapjack near the complimentary tea, coffee and milk the latter of which was fresh incidentally rather than usual mini plastic containers. A couple of bottles of free water where also provided along with reading material such as local footpath guides and an AA 2009 pub guide (which included a full page spread on the Heifer). On the wall opposite the bed was a large flat TV with freeview and a DVD player. DVD's where apparently available down stairs to borrow but I can't confirm the extent of the library on this!
No problems with the room then with my only comment being that although the bed was certainly for two people it would only just have sneaked in as a double.
The bathroom was spacious with a spa bath (not available in all of the rooms) in the corner. The light and power for the spa itself needless to say turned out to be a cow tails you have to pull. Complimentary Molton Brown shampoo and gels where included at the sink as well as a good selection of warm rack mounted towels.
At this point we decided to explore the local area before return to have a look around the bar area. As far as beer went it had as well as the usual suspects and also had a handful of local beers produced by the Black Sheep and Dales brewing companies including a couple of heifer brews from the latter presumably made for the inn itself.
As a pub I would have to say it not the sort of place the local sheep farmers are going to be sat around the bar on a night. The bar itself is very small and is inside a small nook that seems to be everything fish including a life sized replica (at least I think) of a fish that the owner caught when 14 in Florida. Outside of this are another couple of modern nooks and a "whisky lounge" with leather seating and a fire place presumably lit in winter. Here you can find a selection of newspapers and books including a beer guide amongst others.
A nice terrace outside has a number of tables with a bizarre mix of lobster pots and pot cows and sheep - a nice place to sit outside on a sunny day. Truly surf and turf in the Yorkshire Dales.
On returning to the room we noticed it smelled a bit "foody" and noticed this again each time we returned. The location of this room did seem to be at the backend of the inn where the kitchens where. Having said that after a couple of minutes we didn't notice it so not a real problem to us and we settled down to a couple of glasses of wine we had brought with us**. However if you don't particularly want to the cow experience the heifer room offers you may want to choose one of the other rooms at the other end of the building.
The Heifer is particularly renowned for its seafood. It has been AA Seafish Pub of the Year for England and number 1 in the top ten Fish restaurants in The Times Magazine. We headed down for our evening meal ready to find out what all the fuss was about.
Now before I get started on the actual food let me just get a possibly pedantic point out of the way that I noticed straight away on the menu and is for me (but maybe not others) a bit of a pet peeve. That is that a 10% tip would be automatically added to the bill unless I asked for the waiter to be taken off. Now if I want to tip I will. I might even tip more than 10%. I am however in my nature unlikely to ask for someone to actually take it off the bill for me. That's why I like to choose at the end - I am in control. Anyway rant over and nothing to do with the food or service itself.
We were presented with a rather large collection of menus. One for the sumptuous deal we had booked - i.e. what we could have for "nothing", the normal menu, lobster menu, specials menu, wine list and then on request a vegetarian menu. A gluten free menu is also available I but I suspect the final extra weight of this may have snapped the table! The friendly and helpful waiter pointed out we could in fact choose anything from any of the menus and paid the difference on anything that was priced above a £20 allowance we each had for our sumptuous booking. I should point out straight away that although the menu had an emphasis on seafood it certainly wasn't the only option.
After ordering we received a couple of small free side starters to get the pallet going, bread, olive oil and butter. I opted for clams in a coconut spicy soup - very tasty I have to say. I followed this with the "famous" fish and chips - served in a black sheep beer batter. Living in and around a large east coast sea port I should know what good fish and chips taste like and to be fair these didn't disappoint. The fish was just that - good fish. But the difference was the batter made from the locally produced ale. The fish and chips incidentally are served on a newspaper printed plate which you can even buy for £35. My partner (a vegetarian) went for the goats cheese fritters ("excellent") and the sesame tempura of vegetables with sweet chilli and hoi sin dipping sauce ("excellent but a bit too much batter in the end"). We both finished with raspberry and chocolate cheesecake which again caused no complaints at all. I have to say I am no expert on food as far as eating out goes but really could not knock the meal one little bit.
Returning to the now dark bedroom we finally had chance to try out the astral lighting maybe better described as little fairy lights on the ceiling. After that meal we did actually feel like a couple of heifers laid in the field looking up at the stars.
Check out in a morning is 11AM and before this we managed to get back down to the restaurant for our breakfast. The welcome pack to the hotel does point out the first person up in the morning should expect a cold water for there shower and needs to run it for a bit. Mine was nice and hot so I can't complain and in fairness it does point out this is due to the age of the building. Breakfast was fairly standard fair. A cooked breakfast included a good mix of black pudding, bacon, eggs, beans and my only complaint that I only got one of the very nice sausages!
Overall we had a really nice stay at the Heifer. The accommodation was good, the food was very very good - just don't expect a "pub" in the traditional sense of the word. What you get is a nice modern bar area. I think we got really good value for money doing the deal available - what price you would pay for a room bed and breakfast only is a matter of opinion I guess.
** A guide on how (not to?) open a bottle of wine without a bottle opener.
So you are in a hotel and have decided to take a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses with you. You then realise (shock, horror) that despite thinking how well organised you were to bring the bottle packed down with cooler blocks that you have in fact forgotten one basic item - a bottle opener. Suggestion one would be to remember to buy a screw off topped bottle but the reality is if you forgot the bottle opener so you are just as likely to forget to buy this item.
OK so you could go down to bar and perhaps beg, borrow or steal a bottle opener. Truth is with a large wine selection downstairs I didn't want to look cheap.
First attempt was with a teaspoon found near the complimentary tea and coffee. This turned out to be totally unsuccessful although perseverance over a period of a few hours may have paid off.
Frustrated I turned my attentions to the filter press coffee maker. Unscrewing the filter head I had what seemed perfect a straight piece of metal with a groove on the end. After managing to prise this down the plastic cork I was tantalising close to pulling this out only to shatter the neck of the bottle with a few remnants entering the bottle itself. Undeterred I then managed to use the filter head itself to pour the wine through. OK so the wine may have had a slight taint of coffee or maybe that was just one of the flavours I would have detected anyway?
I would be interested to hear in my comments how others would have tackled this sticky situation!