Every now and again we go in search of soul food.
I don’t mean fried chicken or mac and cheese. We feed our souls at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, with its rolling, sheep-filled green acres, sparkling waterfront and wooded hillsides.
There’s nothing quite like a stroll though its ample parkland to clear the head, revive the body and restore a sense of wellbeing.
And at the end of every walk there’s the visitor centre, with its first-floor restaurant offering panoramic views across the landscape as well as a menu of comforting food to feed our bodies. It has an open, simply-decorated modern dining room with indoor and outdoor seating.
We’ve dined there often over the years and found it to be a source of reasonably priced, good quality, freshly-cooked dishes. It is the sort of place that completes a great day out.
And so on a dull but fine Saturday in late July, with visitors from the sunny south in tow, we decided to show them what our little corner of Yorkshire has to offer. They’d often driven past signs for the YSP while travelling up the M1 but admitted that they’d never actually made it to the park.
“We’ll be able to see the new Ai Wei Wei animal heads sculptures,” I said, “and his tree”.
While it can’t be said that our visitors were universally admiring of all the sculptures at the park, we did find plenty to discuss and after an hour or so had worked up a fine appetite.
As it was Saturday we hot-footed it to the restaurant around noon, hoping to avoid the queues. We made it just before the rush hour. The menu, which changes regularly, had plenty to tempt. Pulled pork flatbread (£9), steak and Henderson’s Relish pie (6.75), aubergine with feta and houmous (£8.50), twice-baked potatoes (£5.50), salmon and avocado salad (£9.50) ... and more. (There’s also a separate children’s menu with soup, fish fingers and burgers from £4 to £6.50.)
In the end we chose all of the above (apart from the salad). Some dishes came straight from the counter, others involved a short wait and were brought to the table.
Only the baked potato failed to live up to expectations. It might have looked well-baked, with a crispy exterior, but it proved to be hard and somewhat raw inside, with a leathery skin. And, of course, as usual, it was the dish that I’d chosen. I have an unerring knack of seeking out the only duff dish on a menu. My heart sank, but a quick complaint to one of the cheerful restaurant staff resulted in the offending potato being replaced by much tastier stuffed field mushrooms and side salad.
The third vegetarian option, the aubergine and houmous dish chosen by my sister-in-law, proved to be much more successful than my potato. However, it was the carnivores who fared best of all. The pulled pork was everything it should be – moist and melt-in-the-mouth – and it came with a fluffy flatbread, small portion of coleslaw and a mini bucket of fat chips. On the other side of the table, there was feasting on steak pies and more fat chips. While the dish didn’t look much, with the pie concealed under a layer of mushy peas, chips poking out of the top of the bowl, it certainly hit the spot on a dull day.
Later in the afternoon we went back to the restaurant for pudding – a nice cup of tea and individual Bakewell tarts (£3.75). And, I have to say, it was probably one of the best tarts I’ve ever eaten – crispy pastry, intensely-fruity jam and a frangipane topping packed with buttery goodness. I’d go back just for another one.
But it’s strange how other people’s food always looks more inviting than one’s own. Just as I finished my tart, a couple at a nearby table took delivery of an afternoon tea on a miniature picnic table. Tiny sandwiches, macaroons, muffins and cakes nestled so temptingly together that we couldn’t help but stare. In fact, I think everyone around gave their afternoon tea a surreptitious glance or two. It was a perfect picture on a platter, a work of art. “That’s what I’m having when we come here the next time,” I said.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park Restaurant
West Bretton, Wakefield W F4 4LG
Phone: 01924 832631.
Opening hours: Seven days a week from 10am until 5pm (in summer) and 4pm in winter. Last hot food served at 3pm.
Children: Very much so.
Disabled access: The entire visitor centre is fully accessible, with lifts and separate disabled toilet facilities.
The bill: £44.35 for three, with drinks and cakes.
Would you go back? Already planning to.