THE ROMANS were the earliest folk to settle in Ripponden, arriving 2,000 years ago to skilfully build the nearby cobbled road to link Manchester with Ilkley.
In the 1400s, a church and a small cluster of half-timbered dwellings appeared in Rybourndene, as it was then known. Over the next few centuries, the town grew as weavers moved into the village and a cottage textile industry flourished, the harsh local land making farming uneconomical.
Many of Ripponden’s inhabitants today are well-to-do commuters who retrace their ancient forebears’ footsteps daily in expensive four-wheel-drives over the Pennines to air-conditioned offices in Manchester – and even Huddersfield.
This goes some way to explaining why a fairly isolated, wet and windy town with a population of 6,412 has an unusually high density of very good restaurants.
The Fox Bar and Bistro is within 300 yards of three other fine eateries: El Gato Negro, famous for its tapas, the newly-opened Milestone and the Old Bridge Inn. The last being the venue for the fiercely-contested national event, the Annual Charity Pork Pie Competition, which this year was won by Hinchliffe’s of Netherton.
News of Ripponden’s dynamic culinary scene has spread as far as us in Bolster Moor and we were therefore not surprised to find no parking space within 100 yards of the Fox when we arrived just before 7pm a couple of Fridays ago.
We left the drizzly, dark, damp street, opened the door and entered into a vibrant and colourful tableau. It was slightly surreal and very welcoming.
The long stone bar area was populated by dozens of mainly well-dressed people chatting away or eating at one of the wooden tables set on the stone flagged floor near the roaring woodburner. It was busy and buzzy, just the place to wind down after slaving away all week at the Examiner.
The bar diners were taking advantage of the Early Bird menu: two bar meals or fresh pasta for £15 from 5pm to 7pm Monday to Friday. But with the lavish Examiner expense account burning a hole in my pocket, we headed for a table in the main restaurant area and ordered a là carte.
The 40-cover restaurant area (with room for another 40 upstairs at weekends) has a contemporary feel. The Millstone Grit edifice has wooden floors, table and chairs with modern photographs adorning the mostly plain walls.
The Fox is the first restaurant for local couple Patrick and Melanie Thornber. Since opening 17 months ago they have successfully juggled a busy restaurant and bar with looking after their two young children.
The Fox has a split personality, it is very busy at weekends and much quieter during the week.
The couple pride themselves on the freshness of their meals. The meat and fish are locally supplied and delivered daily and none of the fish or seafood is frozen, unlike in many other restaurants.
After a cool, crisp £12.50 bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc had arrived, we embarked on a three-course meal starting with pan fried Cornish mackerel salad with fennel, crab and a citrus dressing (£7.50) for me. Starters ranged from £5.75 to £7.50 and included handmade duck spring rolls, calamari, Moroccan lamb koftas.
Patricia ordered the Black Pearl king scallops in serrano ham on a minted pea puree. The presentation was excellent and the fish was fresh and flavourful. Perhaps the scallops we had recently at the Weavers in Golcar were slightly sweeter.
Patricia’s chargrilled swordfish from the specials board was succulent, delicately flavoured and cooked to perfection, a very good choice.
My aged 10oz ribeye (£14.95) hit the tastebuds, the aging showed through with a full-on well-seasoned flavour. Other mains included fillet steak, pasta, braised lamb, several fishes and mussels, belly pork and seasonal dishes.
We shouldn’t but we did. We ordered the chocolate and frangelico fondue with marshmallows and fresh fruit. It would have easily served four and was delicious – if you like chocolate.
Verdict: Happening place with good, fresh food. Worth the trip.
The Fox Bar and Bistro
46-40 Oldham Road, Ripponden, HX6 4DP
Tel:@ 01477 825 880.
Website: @ www.foxbarandbistro.co.uk
Opening hours: @ Monday toThursday: food served 5pm to 9pm, Friday and Saturday: noon to 2.30pm and 5pm to 9.30pm, Sunday: breakfast 10am to 12.30pm and food noon to 8pm.
Children: @Welcome up to 7.30pm
Disabled: @ Yes
The bill: @ £63.10 for two people for three courses and a bottle of wine
Would you go back? @Yes, definitely. Will try the Early Bird next time.