Leeds Living ventures out of the LS postcodes to take a look at the newly-refurbished Wakefield pub, The Castle. Thomas Chalk and Cath Kane report back.
The Castle reopens tomorrow, following a quick but extensive refit. We visited for a preview night when the team lit the fires and brought out the new menus. By the staff’s own admission, the old décor had been rather tired, and there was evident pride and delight on their part at the new interior, a mix of grey walls with upholstery and decorative touches that nodded to chintz while being determinedly modern.
The lighting is of the subtle kind that is cosy without being dull (though not wholly conducive to food photography – any venue that prioritises atmosphere over Instagram is fine by me!) So far so good, and the welcome from the staff added that final touch of homeliness – it’s only fair here to give a nod to Kirsty, whose enthusiasm for the refit extended to the menu. The team worked in the build-up to the refurbishment to show that their customers have an appetite for food that goes a step beyond pub grub, and have a real sense of ownership over the decision from the parent company to invest in the upgrade.
The menu at The Castle sits firmly in the gastropub camp, with the classic starter, deep-fried brie, being encased in panko breadcrumbs (rather than just any old breadcrumbs) and served with a spiced fruit and sloe gin chutney, and globe-trotting entries like salt and szechuan pepper squid with preserved lemon aioli, where once there might have been calamari and garlic mayo.
Mains similarly embrace flavours like chorizo, truffle oil and pomegranate molasses. Crucially, nothing on the menu sounds forced or unduly concerned with being on-trend (chorizo is quite possibly passé to those who worry about such things, but I’m reliably informed it tastes good, so who cares). The biggest indication of engaging with food trends is, arguably, the presence of a vegan menu, a whole page all of its own.
The food was resoundingly good, and some of it even better. The brie starter was warm, melted brie, and the chutney complemented it without needing to bullyingly show off its gin undertones. Caramelised goat’s cheese with roasted pear, hazelnuts, chicory and balsamic glaze similarly allowed the cheese to shine, with the right balance (and a generous quantity) of each element.
From the vegan menu, oyster mushrooms with spring onions and garlic and a soy, lime and ginger dip was one of the night’s stand-out dishes: the balance of soy, sweetness, sourness and garlic was just right, and the overall dish was boldly flavoured – any stronger and it would have been overpowering, so full credit to its creator for taking it as far as it needed to go and no further.
Cath’s main course was maple pork belly and pig’s cheek with scallops on Dijon chive mash with cavolo nero, crisp prosciutto and red wine and sage jus. At £18.95, it is the most expensive main, barring a couple of the steaks. Cath noted that every element was cooked just right – tender and moist and flavoursome, and again a well-balanced plate of food.
At Kirsty’s suggestion, I opted for the vegan Moroccan-inspired cauliflower tart with kale and thyme pastry. The base of the tart was layered with meltingly soft leeks, on which sat good-sized florets of cauliflower, delicately spiced and roasted until nicely blackened at the edges. Lightly pickled red onion strips adorned the top and a roasted tomato sauce sat underneath it all. I’d say it needed a fraction less salt, and while the leek was nicely textured it felt a touch out of place, but other than that this was a great dish, the excellent pastry crumbly and light though not insubstantial, and the tomato sauce so deeply-flavoured that it had me wondering if it might include capers or olives to bolster the tomatoes (the colour suggested not, in which case credit is due to whoever did the roasting for concentrating the umami so well).
Just like the rest of the menu, desserts were well-executed. Another stand-out came, again, from the vegan menu: salted caramel billionaire’s bar combined a slim chocolate chip cookie base and a nicely-bitter chocolate ganache, sandwiching a caramel layer that was notable for its lightness – the risk is always that caramel is tooth-achingly cloying, and here it brought depth of flavour without being so hefty. The vegan vanilla ice cream on the side was nice enough, though I wouldn’t have missed it had it not been there.
Cath’s lemon meringue flamed Alaska had a delicate citrus tang, further enlivened by raspberry sugar crunch.
With quality food, a wide selection of drinks and those ever colder winter days – and nights – the warmth and welcome of this Wakefield venue is especially enticing. Congratulations to The Castle on its reopening and its new menu!