The Dawnay Arms
Newton on Ouse
Tel: 01347 848345.
Open 12 – 2.30 & 6 – 9.30pm Tues – Sat, 12 – 6pm Sunday
For five years I lived next door to the Dawnay Arms at Newton on Ouse, just north of York. It was my local and I spent many happy hours there on Quiz Night, a Sunday pint or two and the occasional evening with friends. I rarely went for the food which was twee - in a prawn cocktail and doily way - and not my style but popular nonetheless. It sank into obscurity after I left (the two unrelated, I wasn’t there that much) but is now back and if rumour is correct with glory.
I took my trip down memory lane on a wet Thursday lunchtime. It was 12.30, the car park was empty, and so was the pub. I fully expected memories to come flooding back as I settled by the fire to wait for my friends but this place no more resembled its former life than I suppose I do mine. The makeover gang had been busy with heavy rustic tables made from wood recovered from an old post office in Durham, old church pews, stone floors; the walls are plaster or exposed brick and the ceilings, low and beamed. The inglenook fireplace is the only feature I recognised from the past.
Chef Martell Smith and his partner Kerry Ward own the Dawnay and reopened it in September this year. Yorkshire diners and particularly Yorkshire Life know Martell well; he has twice won our Restaurant of the Year, first at Gateforth Hall near Selby then 3 York Place in Leeds. My expectations were high.
For lunch there were sandwiches with home-made bread and salad at £5.95. It had all the usual suspects, smoked salmon, warm chicken, honey roast ham and the like but dressed with modern counterparts of black pepper mayonnaise, onion marmalades. There’s a small list of starters from £3.95 for soup up to smoked salmon and lemon dressing at £5.95. Substantial mains suit all tastes and pockets from a classic Ploughman’s at £7.95 to roast chicken and wild mushroom risotto at £10.95. Dinner is more extensive and more costly but not greedy. The most expensive is £16.95 which for sirloin, chips, herb salad, béarnaise and Martell’s cooking is good value.
Buyer beware though – side dishes are £2.95 which load prices up!
While I had studiously read the lunch, dinner and wine menu (all appealing) the Dawnay had slowly filled up and sprung into life. Staff surfaced from the back and swiftly moved around the room taking orders, serving drinks - this was more like it.
We ate in the restaurant (but could have also chosen to eat less formally in the bar) which has lovely views down to the river and across surrounding countryside. Décor and service in here is less country pub more city slick and I think for me, more suited to dinner. I wished I had stayed by the fire.
The food didn’t disappoint. My Dawnay Arms fish pie (£9.95) was a hefty portion with a thick coat of creamy mash, hiding generous chunks of fish and prawns. I would have liked more sauce to balance with the potato and a heavier hand with seasoning which is a common failing of fish pie, but I wasn’t unhappy. My friend made short work of a pleasingly large ploughmans heaving with good cheeses, fantastic breads and accompaniments. No complaints there. A roast breast of chicken with a wild mushroom risotto disappeared with equal relish.
There was no time for pudding today just a quick coffee which happily was excellent. Too many pubs and restaurants take their eye off the ball when it comes to coffee and tea. Not so here, this was a generous, full-flavoured cup and a jug of (hurrah) hot milk. Unfortunately someone thought that hot milk would also work with the tea? They quickly corrected the mistake.
I came away pleasantly satisfied with my lunch, not wowed , but impressed enough to go back as soon as possible for dinner where I think the magic that is Martell Smith’s cooking will shine. For a place that has only run for a couple of months, they look set for a great future.