The Beehive at Thorner is bringing people together with sharing plates.
Chef Alex Farfoli previously worked with Michelin starred chefs, Simon Rogan and Shaun Rankin. He was part of the team that led to Grantley Hall receiving its first Michelin star a year ago, at the same time L’Enclume, where he previously worked, was voted number one restaurant in the UK by The Good Food Guide. Now Alex is branching out on his own, using the kitchen at the Beehive to showcase his skills.
Starting from scratch aptly describes his new venture. Alex believes in cooking with the freshest ingredients available. He forages for cress on his way to work and then hand-churns butter. It is not easy to start a new restaurant following lockdown. Many chefs and front of house staff have changed profession and he is working with a team who are largely new. Yet it is clear he has a vision and he openly admits that one day he would like to earn a Michelin star for his own kitchen.
The Beehive website describes the menu as ‘Unconventional British food’. The style is British but the food is all from Yorkshire. Alex grew up in Knaresborough and has a commitment to showcasing the region’s produce. The milk he churns into butter comes from Longley Farm and the menu details the origins of many of the ingredients.
Our server began by explaining that you should order four or five dishes to share between two. This is a style of eating that is still relatively rare in Yorkshire and some diners seemed to struggle with the concept. Personally it is something I have missed since Norse closed in Harrogate and I was happy to partake in what can be used as a personalised tasting menu.
We began with bread. You can tell a lot about a restaurant by the quality of the bread board and this one was outstanding. Artisan white and brown bread was served with butter, oils, balsamic and roast garlic. The garlic was kept in its skin and sliced so that the the surface was reminiscent of a honeycomb. The balsamic was a thick, smooth reduction, easily coating both the bread and mouth, avoiding the vinegar catch in the throat that is sometimes experienced.
Lamb croquettes followed. These were crisp on the outside, soft and meaty inside. They were packed with tender lamb which went well with the wild garlic. Like many other people, I started to forage during lockdown. I am now a fan of wild garlic. The woods around Thorner are thick with garlic aroma at this time of year. Pickled flower heads appeared alongside emulsion and Alex tells me that he will be collecting capers later in the season, allowing him to use wild garlic into the Autumn.
The next dish was the wild pea risoni. It looked absolutely beautiful. The dish had interesting textures but I would have liked a little more seasoning. I mixed some of it with the remaining roast garlic from the breadboard and found it more engaging. It was the only vegetarian dish on the menu and was also available as a large portion. I would have struggled to eat a larger dish of this. There are plans to expand the menu soon and more vegetarian offers, I think, need to be a priority.
Our next two dishes came almost simultaneously, which was a shame as they were both quite substantial and one was fish and the other meat. I suspect that this was a miscommunication between the kitchen and servers as another table had ordered extra sliders whilst we were eating our previous dish.
The serving staff are young and clearly still learning. I did have to request a spoon so that I could eat the lobster bisque which sat under my cod loin. However, they were enthusiastic, personable and made us feel welcome. I don’t think it will take long for front of house hiccoughss to be ironed out under the guidance of manager Gemma.
Throughout the rest of the meal the timing was impeccable. The secret of great comedy and great cooking is timing. This really showed through in our two last savoury dishes. The beef sliders and cod were both cooked to the exact point where they were cooked through but as tender as possible. The homemade burgers were soft but did not crumble whilst the cod flaked in soft white leaves. We had ordered a side of broccoli which was also timed to perfection.
Both of these final savoury dishes were raised up by their sauces. The bisque had a rich, intense flavour whilst the Yorkshire Blue mayo was possibly my favourite part of the meal. I found myself using pieces of brioche to mop up the last drop of this smooth, delicious condiment. Texture had also been considered in both dishes. The softness of the cod was offset by perfectly crisp skin and the sliders contained crunchy coleslaw
There are currently two dessert options and a cheeseboard. The jam filled doughnuts with cream sounded interesting but we had eaten too much to indulge in dough. Besides which, the DenHolme Apiary Honeycomb sounded the ideal end to a visit to a Beehive. Honeycomb, honey and pollen united with yoghurt and raspberry to give us a bee orientated finale.
Bees and hexagons adorn the walls throughout. There are also nods to nature in the floral furnishings of the easy chairs in the lounge area. Nature is clearly important to Alex and it is a motif he intends to extend, with plans to develop a rear outside eating area surrounding by lavender and other herbs.There is currently outside seating at the front of the property which is a pleasant place to stop for a drink after a walk. Thorner is on the Leeds Country Way and has atmospheric stretches of path following the disused railway. Adding outside seating at the rear will increase attraction to this semi-rural location.
We ordered small glasses of red Tempranillo and Merlot followed by Sauvignon Blanc to accompany the fish and dessert. I was pleased to see there was a good range of wine available by the glass. When offering such a diverse range of food it is important to give diners choice regarding the quantity and type of wine to drink. If you wanted you could formulate your own wine flight alongside your own tasting menu.
We visited on a Wednesday evening and a number of tables were occupied by diners. Sadly there was no one sitting in the lounge area. I hope walkers and local residents will pop in for a beer, cocktail or glass of wine. Dogs are welcome in the lounge and outdoor seating areas. The Beehive has everything it takes to be a friendly pub as well as a refined eating establishment.
Children are welcomed and offered a dedicated children’s menu. Alex believes that children deserve good food. The mash served with the bangers is the same creamy concoction found with the steak on the main menu. Fish and chips are cooked to the same standard whether ordered for an adult or child. He is proud of the thumbs up he has received from customers barely tall enough to reach the serving space.
There are plans to extend the menu and introduce larger plates. Roasts are already served on Sunday alongside two vegetarian options and fish and chips. I hope the Beehive will continue to offer sharing options but whatever direction the menu takes, I am sure that Alex Farfoli’s significant talent will shine through.
Photography by Debbie Rolls.