In many ways the Blue Lion at East Witton is about as idyllic a pub as you could hope to find. A few miles south of Middleham, N.Yorks, you can stay there too but, in spite of the accommodation being very nicely done, it's much more a pub with rooms than a country inn or hotel. The food's excellent – high-end pub to restaurant quality – and the building itself is an absolutely charming place to eat and/or drink. Complete with all the features that regularly have Alistair Sawday types crossing their legs – open fires, flagstones, wood panelling, local ales – it is indisputably a pub. Did I say that already? It feels like a pub. The way it carries itself, though, it nevertheless feels entirely wrong.
There was a distinct air, having walked in, that no one quite knew what to do next. You're funnelled into the main room past the back of a curved settle and into the heart of a curiously amassed throng gathered at the bar, none of whom appear to be getting served. There's a guy leaning obtrusively at one side with a broadsheet newspaper, apparently waiting for a train. A number of people are wandering in between tables, none of which are occupied although they're all reserved, looking at the huge blackboard menu which dominates the room. ( I've bleated about this before, but it's inconveniently situ…oh, who am I kidding ? It's in the wrong place.) The Maitre-d, dressed as if he's off to a Prom and old enough to know better, is scurrying between customers writing orders on the hoof. Everyone is in everyone's way. It's a mess. I want to stand on a stool in the middle of the room and blow as hard as I can on a whistle.
Having had our order taken and opted on booking to eat in the restaurant ,we're led down a bizarrely unkempt and brightly lit corridor to a very handsome, high-ceilinged dining room. A bit like a mortuary with a fireplace. One couple in the corner, whispering so as not to wake the cadavers, were far too polite to ask a second time for more wine after their waitress had quickly forgotten they'd ordered it. This happened more than once. She was a lovely girl this one, at least vaguely enthused by her task, sociable, and had, to her credit, pushed the boundaries of the staff dress-code by interpreting ‘black tie’ as ‘black hotpants’. She was lacking in focus, however, the blame for which I'd lay firmly at the door of a management so stuck in their ways they might not notice if you unceremoniously removed the brass poker from their backside and replaced it with a new, more sensibly commercial rulebook.
Listen. I know, as you will if you've read ‘About’ LamBert, that in principle there's room for all-comers in this industry. If that's the profile they want who am I or anyone else to make fun? It's just that I don't believe it is the profile they want. The gorgeous setting, the venue, the cooking; it's all there. Reorganize, relax and for Christ's sake take your tie off. Smile warmly, welcome, serve and I promise you the repeat business will look after itself. What I wouldn't give to get hold of it and give it a proper good shake.