The neighbourhood restaurant
You can eat and drink very well in Helmsley. You might take breakfast, brunch or lunch at the estimable Mannions or take home rustic organic loaves and superb baking from Emma Powell’s The Baker’s House. You might settle at the bar of the Brew Tap and sink a pint of honeyed golden ale from the Helmsley Brewing Co. on Bridge Street or even drive the 2.5 miles to Harome for the Star Inn or the Pheasant Inn, two celebrated restaurants that could arguably be considered the best in Yorkshire.
Now there is a new kid on the block. Bantam opened in July 2021 under young Sam Varley, a self-taught chef who earned his stripes in Melbourne, Australia, Fife in Scotland and in some cool independent restaurants in Soho. He is supported in the kitchen by Shane Leadley another talented chef who arrived here via London’s much-admired Noble Rot.
Bantam has a delightfully, inventive menu full of seasonality and regional ingredients for which Yorkshire, the North York Moors and coast, are well served. Game is usually plentiful from shoots on the North York Moors, fish is sourced from day boats landing at nearby Whitby and Hartlepool and top fruit and veg growers are on the doorstep.
To add to their larder these two enterprising chefs go foraging on the North York Moors. They claim elderberries - pickled to cut a sharp note alongside a rich chicken liver parfait – they’ve also put to good use damsons, sloes, wild garlic and mushrooms.
With a choice of small, medium and large plates to share and flatbreads topped with the likes of confit garlic butter or mussels and leeks, it’s tempting to order everything on the menu. A visit in autumn offered some beautiful seasonal dishes: cheese gougères using Dale End cheddar from nearby Botton village; chicory with poached pear, walnuts and Cote Hill Blue cheese; pumpkin ravioli with brown butter, chestnuts and sage; Jerusalem artichoke with autumn truffle. Two people can motor through six or eight of these terrific dishes with just enough room for dessert: a scoop of marmalade ice cream and a sablé biscuit, damson sorbet or maybe Russet apple tart tatin. With a short but carefully curated wine list of organic and natural wines, Bantam is simply fabulous.