We found a couple of hours this week in between taking kids to after-school activities to call into The Fleece in Richmond for something to eat.
While I have you, can I just say that it so isn’t acceptable when taking your child to swimming lessons to leave their clothes in the swimming room changing room cubicle thereby making people think it’s occupied. It’s selfish and thoughtless and makes me crosser than a mayfly with 24hr flu. That is all.
So anyway. The Fleece. The renovated venue hasn’t yet been officially opened and work is still being completed elsewhere in the building, but the kitchen is up and running, with bookings now being taken and walk-ins accepted.
The first thing many people may want to do when walking in and taking in their surroundings is to reminisce about late nights in The Fleece in its previous life as a grotty pub and sweaty nightclub, and their previous life as someone who spent time in grotty pubs and sweaty nightclubs.
“Over there is where I was threatened by a drunken Geordie scaffolder, I danced to Urban Cookie Collective while holding a bottle of Blue WKD in that corner and there, there, there and, oh over there too, is where I was told to ‘get lost’ by girls.” What a good night that was.
Although the bar seems to be in a similar place, and while there are nods and hints to the building’s past, including beautiful stained glass, the resemblances to the old Fleece interior are thankfully minimal. It’s now a rather pleasant space with a bar/bistro area and a separate dining room. It feels modern and fresh, but not uncomfortably so. Unlike me in the 90s, it’s not tying too hard.
I’m going to say ‘bar’ several times now in order to get this point over. Stay with me. Some places say they are a bar and restaurant but really they are just a restaurant with tables for diners packed right up to the bar. If you went up to the bar for a pint of Black Sheep’s Baa Baa for example they’d be like ‘go sit down’ and ‘what would you like to eat’. Wait I’ve just got that, Baa Baa Black Sheep. Very good.
The cafe bar area of The Fleece, however, definitely feels more like a place to go for a drink where you can also order some food, other than the other way around. Hopefully that makes sense. As an aside, we once visited what we thought was a bar in France just to escape the midday sun and get a refreshing cold drink but were told, basically, to bugger off because it was a restaurant. Nobody does rudeness, or blockades, like the French. Let’s move on to the food.
Oh I forgot to say they serve cocktails as well as Black Sheep beers inspired by nursery rhymes.
The food. You have options when dining at The Fleece. Depending on the time of the day of your visit and your budget/appetite, you can eat from the breakfast menu, the cafe bar menu, the afternoon tea menu, the evening menu or the nine-course tasting menu. There’s also a separate Sunday lunch menu and a children’s menu. Click here to see the menus in full.
We chose from the cafe bar menu. It’s got a ‘small plates’ thing going on, a concept that has rather taken off in recent years. The idea is that you order several small portions of things depending on hunger, and then share with your dining partners. The Mediterranean countries have been doing it for centuries with their tapas and antipasti dishes. Brits sometimes do it when they collect the wrong order from the Chinese and can’t be bothered to go back.
I opted for Dales pork rib-eye, with pineapple relish and Wensleydale fried quail egg (£9), while Sarah had The Fleece lamb shoulder kebab in flatbread, with pickled cucumber, salted red cabbage and mint yogurt (£8.50). We also had a couple of bowls of triple cooked chips with herb salt (£3 a piece) and a root vegetable slaw with raspberry vinegar (£2.50),
At this point I should admit that I managed to burn my throat on a really hot triple cooked chip. Not my mouth, but my throat. I didn’t blow. I didn’t test on my lips. I just stuffed a big fat chip that had just been in the fryer not once, not twice but three times, into my gob. Then, realising it was really hot, I tried to swallow it. And, it being a big, fat triple cooked chip, it got a bit stuck and gave me third degree internal burns. I’m sharing this with you so that you can better assess how much credence you should give the following opinions.
The meat dishes were both excellent, with the lamb kebab in particular taking our fancy. They did come on small plates but weren’t tiny and when accompanied by a decent sized bowl of the deadly chips they made a good portion for an evening meal. The slaw wasn’t to either of our tastes. Neither something not nothing was our feeling, with the raspberry vinegar undetectable.
For afters, we shared a Yorkshire rhubarb and custard ice cream sandwich that came with funky lemon thyme sherbet (£6) and an elderflower set cream with dark chocolate crumble and Masons gin and mint jelly (£5.50). We felt both were okay but needed to be bolder, with the rhubarb and elderflower present but not prominent.
In summary, we had a really pleasant evening. The staff were friendly, the room had a nice buzz with a steady stream of people popping in before a show at the Georgian Theatre Royal next door and we enjoyed the small plates sharing thing. The dinky dishes wont be to everyone’s liking but then nothing ever is.
A sheep shed load of money has been spent on The Fleece which should be applauded. If Richmond town centre is to thrive in these challenging times for retail, and with the plans for the posh shop outlet centre at Scotch Corner, it needs plenty of interesting places to eat, drink and sleep. Come to Richmond for its restaurants, cafes and bars and cafe bars. Perhaps that’s the key, the secret.
Scores on the doors:
The Fleece Hotel, 5 Victoria Road, Richmond, North Yorkshire DL10 4DW.
Call 01748 901214 or visit http://thefleecehotel.com to book.