Fishing and Fine Dining - Stay, Catch and Cook at The Tennants Arms in Wharfedale
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 October 2019
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Fancy catching your own lunch? Wharfedale’s the place to catch and cook, as Claudia Robinson discovers
Ponder this. Try your hand at fishing, ideally catching your own lunch, then hand it over to an award-winning chef at an idyllic hotel in the heart of North Yorkshire's beautiful countryside. Fishing on another level.
I did, briefly, think how ironic it was that for most of my teenage years, and well into my twenties, I was vegetarian, but only briefly, because the lunch we would be catching is one of my favourite fish, trout.
Our destination was The Tennants Arms is situated in the pretty hamlet of Kilnsey, just over ten miles north of Skipton. Built in the 17th century as a coaching inn for travellers passing through Wharfedale, it's popular with tourists, walkers and locals.
The hotel sits just next to Kilnsey Crag which means you can enjoy a drink in the beer garden and watch, in awe, as professional climbers scale the rocky landmark and tackle its challenging overhang. This is exactly what I did (watch, not climb), chatting with the hotel's new general manager, Liz Smailes who is one of those at the helm of recent changes.
The hotel was taken over late last year by Tom Garland-Jones, who, at only 25, has an impressive CV. Not only is he owner but he also executive chef, bringing with him a wealth of experience cooking in top restaurants in the UK, and abroad, some of them holding Michelin stars.
Tom and his new team, which includes his mum, Rachel, closed the hotel for renovations before re-opening just before Easter this year. They have lovingly made-over all ten of the hotel's rooms to a high standard. All named after dales (Wharfedale with its four poster bed, and Littondale were my favourites). The rooms all have their own identity and character with different colour schemes in each. Many of them have stunning views, some to be enjoyed from the comfort of a roll top bath.
They're introducing lots of interesting and unique overnight stay packages such as Stay, Catch and Fish, which includes half a day of fishing in the nearby Kilnsey Park Estate's Trout Farm.
The River Wharfe is one of Yorkshire's most renowned rivers, both for the superior fly fishing it offers and also because it is breathtakingly beautiful.
Our instructor for the fishing expedition was Dai, a Welshman who, quite frankly, had the patience of a saint and a fabulous sense of humour. If he had been paid a pound every time he told me to stop bending my wrist, he'd be a millionaire.
First, he took us to the children's training lake, where smaller trout swam, and where we could learn how to cast. Dai made it look so easy, but he was also a great teacher, so after half an hour or so we were ready to move on to the bigger, professional lake.
I did catch a trout. Only a little one though, so Dai threw it back. The ex-vegetarian in me was very relieved. I was also relieved when they offered to kill and prepare the fish for us. If you're interested you can watch a gutting and filleting demonstration.
Armed with a bag of prepared trout, we wandered back to the hotel, once again taking in the beautiful scenery. First we tucked in to the most delicious arancini stuffed with mozzarella and served with a fragrant tomato and basil ragout. Just the right sized portion before the main event, namely, local Kilnsey smoked trout carbonara with freshly made tagliatelle and generous shavings of parmesan. A modern take on a traditional Italian dish, and still with a little bit of smoked bacon too. I'd never thought of adding smoked fish to a carbonara, but I'd definitely recommend it and it's something I'll be trying at home.
Now it was time to meet the creator of our excellent lunch, 25-year-old Tom Garland-Jones. I'm mentioning his age again so you didn't think it was a misprint. Born in Leeds, he started cooking from a young age with his grandmother and realised he had a flair for it. 'It's a bonus if you can make money from doing something you love to do,' he says.
With training in Michelin starred restaurants and stints at gastropubs in Leeds, Wakefield, Castleford and Pontefract, Tom also spent two years in Missouri where he was in charge of a 600-seater fine dining restaurant with 200 chefs in his team.
'The ethos while I was in America was that you should source as much of your ingredients as possible from on site, including elk and trout. I wanted to bring that approach to my cooking in the UK. There's really something special about harvesting or catching your own food. When the opportunity came up to take over the Tennants Arms, it was a no brainer.
'It's definitely a new challenge and a different kind of pressure. Before I could ask people for advice and guidance, now everyone is turning to me! But this is something I've always wanted to do and I'm already keeping an eye out for other properties,' he says.
Tom wanted to create a menu at The Tennants Arms that featured adventurous dishes that people won't have tried before. The trout carbonara among them.
'I've found at other restaurants I've worked at that it's the unusual dishes that make people come back again and again, and that's my hope here.' u
The Stay, Catch and Cook package is available Monday to Friday with prices starting at £283 for two people staying two nights in a double room, including fishing for one person and trout dinner for two people.