The Bolton Arms is one of those pubs where food writers rarely tread. Not because it doesn’t deserve writing about, but because country pubs in northern locations rarely figure on the radar of any national news organisation and really rural ones like this stand even less chance – unless of course you can get a celebrity name on the door.
Tucked away a little from the better trod honeypot Dales locations, it’s a place well-known to locals, but of little interest to those seeking to fill newspaper column inches.
There’s just two framed and presented newspaper clippings on the wall – one from The Northern Echo’s brilliant Mike Amos (who rated its crackling as ‘fit for royalty’) back in 2001 and a faded page from the Darlington & Stockton Times in 1936. (The D&S also published this online review back in 2007).
So, while you can enjoy browsing a copy of Yorkshire Life tucked up in the bar, it’s unlikely you’ll ever read about this place in the Sunday supplements or the London-centric world of food critics.
Maybe the approach road isn’t the most conventionally welcoming.
Driving past the sign, and then two very wet looking snipers lying in the mud under canvas pointing watchful eyes and guns in our direction, we crossed the high MoD land and soon dropped down the hill into the pretty village of Downholme, surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the rugged Swaledale.
At busy times there’s a conservatory style dining room to take advantage of the views, but on a wet Wednesday, the cosy bar become our shelter.
The speciality of the house is its kleftiko (£13.95) which the chalked up menu board helpfully advises is “a Cypriot lamb dish cooked long and slow”.
The pub’s been selling this for years and it’s one of the reasons so many people seek it out.
A huge piece of the tenderest lamb on the bone you’re likely to encounter, served with a redcurrant gravy. Quite how long it is cooked to get it quite so tender I have no idea – it certainly is an experience although one I have never yet managed to finish.
The accompanying veg are plainly cooked and plentiful but my one criticism is the huge helping of gravy you get whether you want it or not.
This compulsory sea of brown is commonplace around these parts, no doubt even mentioning it will prompt an eye-rolling acknowledgement of bringing along my city ways!
But would it really be a problem to ask if gravy is welcome? Or too gimmicky to offer it in a separate jug?
This is small criticism though as the meal, the service and the ambiance at The Bolton Arms are warm, friendly and straightforward.
The rest of the menu follows the traditional meat cuts route – steaks, roasts stuffed with black pudding, liver and mash etc.
This isn’t really a place for vegetarians – there’s usually just a couple of dull sounding pasta type offerings on the board – but there is a good selection of fresh fish dishes for the less carnivorous visitor.
Puds are as large and traditional as the mains, if you could ever manage one, and the whole experience is one of robust home-cooking.
It’s a Black Sheep pub and there’s a decent wine list with weekly specials.
Nothing fancy, just hearty fare, happily free of journo types – well, until now 😉
Find The Bolton Arms at Downholme – DL11 6AE. Map here. Grid ref: SE113979. Tel: 01748 823716. There’s also B&B available.