Horto - the exciting new pop-up restaurant in Harrogate’s Rudding Park Hotel

PUBLISHED: 00:00 29 July 2016

This ethereal raspberry, skyr and lemon verbena creation shows that every plate is a performance

This ethereal raspberry, skyr and lemon verbena creation shows that every plate is a performance

Kyte Photography

Rudding Park’s new pop-up is a game-changing choice, as Jo Haywood discovers as she pops in for chat with the head chef

Murray Wilson, head chef at Horto, Rudding Park’s new pop-up restaurantMurray Wilson, head chef at Horto, Rudding Park’s new pop-up restaurant

Luxurious, elegant, stylish, magnificently well-mannered – these are all words that spring unbidden to mind when you mention Harrogate’s premier hotel. But what about fun, cool and edgy?

There’s no doubt that Rudding Park, which is celebrating a decade as one of TripAdvisor’s top three hotels in the UK, is a forward-thinking, progressive business, but it’s never been known for its swagger.

Until now.

Rudding has boldly moved into the realm of pop-ups, launching Horto in a space above its golf academy and bringing on board talented chef Murray Wilson, who previously shook up the Harrogate food scene (in a very good way) with his astute, innovative dishes at Norse in Oxford Street.

Horto’s urban and industrial yet comfortable look provides the perfect backdrop for Murray’s contemporary dishesHorto’s urban and industrial yet comfortable look provides the perfect backdrop for Murray’s contemporary dishes

The hotel approached him with the idea a little under a year ago and, together, they have spent the time since plotting the look, style and ethos of this exciting new venture.

‘I said yes because I knew they were the sort of people who do it properly; do it right,’ said Murray. ‘This is an ambitious, independent company that’s willing to spend money and take a chance.

‘They’re always looking for ways to push the business forward, and Horto is part of their drive to diversify their offering. I hate to say it’s modern because it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but that’s what it is. That doesn’t mean we’re any less professional though.’

With its graffiti-covered wall and metal sculpted chairs, the décor is urban and industrial, but it’s also comfortable and inviting – a tricky combination to pull off but one that the talented Rudding interiors’ team has achieved with aplomb and not a little chutzpah.

The very best of Rudding’s kitchen garden produce is presented in a simple saladThe very best of Rudding’s kitchen garden produce is presented in a simple salad

The food is equally as exciting and challenging. Murray and his two-man kitchen team create a daily tasting menu, usually made up of six courses and three or four ‘snacks’, inspired by the produce available in Rudding’s kitchen garden.

‘The kitchen garden here is vital to what I do,’ said Murray. ‘Adrian (Reeve, the kitchen gardener) and I talk a lot. I ask him for something; he tells me it’s impossible; I throw my toys out of the pram; and he makes it possible.

‘He’s replanting a lot because I need more veg than leaves, but obviously we’re looking more towards next year for all that to actually become productive. I want to switch things around and introduce new and interesting veg all the time.

‘For me, the plate is all about the veg. The veg dictates the protein, not the other way around.’

The 24 diners, served across four booking spaces (7pm, 7.30pm, 8pm and 8.30pm) from Tuesday to Saturday, are discouraged from reading the menu so they can discover the flavours, textures and dynamics as they go instead.

It’s placed face down on the table and Murray (who would definitely have a look) reckons only about 20 per cent turn it over to get a sneak preview. So, what should people expect?

‘I have no idea how to describe my food. People always ask and, to be honest, I haven’t got a clue,’ he said. ‘It’s just about great tasting food on a plate. I would say it’s refined – in a pared down rather than luxury way. It’s stripped back and everything has to earn its place on the plate.

‘I always ask ‘is there a better way of doing this?’. If there is, I do it.’

While the service at Rudding is quiet and discreet, Horto delivers its dishes with an element of performance. Murray drives the service from a pass at the head of the dining space, inviting guests to join him while plating up so they can ask questions, discuss his choices and even get hands-on experience creating their own perfect plate.

‘The way food is presented matters,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to be uptight, French and wearing a bow tie to provide good service. Everyone here is passionate and knowledgeable about the food. We talk about it, eat it and learn about it every day.’

Since Horto opened in early June it’s attracted a more or less an even split of hotel residents and non-residents. Some have been trepidatious about trying a new and relatively untested restaurant – even though its tucked firmly under the Rudding umbrella – but their post-dining responses have been overwhelmingly positive.

‘I’ve had customers in from the hotel who I was sure weren’t going to like it, but they’ve surprised me and themselves,’ said Murray. ‘One party left a ridiculously large tip and booked straight in for the next night, so we created a completely new ten-course tasting menu just for them.’

He’s clearly an energetic, driven young chef who loves what he does and respects colleagues who are willing to push themselves to the limits alongside him.

‘I wouldn’t spend 14 hours a day here if I didn’t love it,’ he said. ‘It’s a massive buzz for all of us because we get to be in a fun, creative, challenging environment every day.

‘My chefs work hard, but I work harder. That’s the way it’s always been for me.’

Horto was launched as a summer experiment, but with this level of commitment, investment and energy, it’s impossible to imagine that this pop-up could pop off anytime soon. It’s here for the long haul; as is Murry, it seems.

‘I’m from Harrogate and my family are here,’ he said. ‘I’ve moved away during my career but I always come back. I can see myself staying in Yorkshire. I mean, why not? It’s a beautiful place with great farming and fish and dairy. It’s got everything.

Horto is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday. The tasting menu is £55 per person. For details, call 01423 844822 or visit ruddingpark.co.uk/food-drink/horto

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