Review by Fiona Duncan, published 16th March 2008.
When it comes to agreeable places to stay, Yorkshire, I discover, does inns better than it does hotels. Whereas the majority of its country hotels are still languishing in the era of swirly carpets and trouser presses, a growing number of village inns have been given sympathetic makeovers, combining properly pubby interiors, Yorkshire ales and beefy breakfasts with sophisticated dinner menus and sensitively refurbished rooms.
The Yorke Arms at Ramsgill, Angel at Hetton, Star Inn at Harome, Feversham Arms at Helmsley, White Swan at Pickering, Abbey Inn at Byland... I could go on. They all make excellent bases for weekends away, perfectly suited to the walking country around them.
Having heard good things, I had fully expected to add the General Tarleton Inn to that list of idyllic weekend retreats, but a couple of unexpected elements knock it back, for me, to stopover status, albeit a good one.
It must have been something about its name, for, without justification, I had imagined a rustic, beamy inn down a rutted track. What we got, in a region stuffed with picturesque villages, was a nondescript village, and a much-altered roadside inn with a separate side entrance for hotel guests and boxy bedrooms on two floors of an annexe overlooking the large car park.
It's tough for hoteliers whose guests begin their stay, through no fault of theirs, with a slight feeling of disappointment. After all, not every place can have a dreamy situation, but those that don't have to work extra hard. Which is just what John and Claire Topham, who previously co-owned the Angel at Hetton, most certainly do.
Though its roots are in the 18th century (when it was named in honour of the only successful British general to fight in the American War of Independence) the General Tarleton feels more like a contemporary restaurant with rooms, with tables spread across the ground floor in several different areas, including a cleverly enclosed courtyard. Still feeling disappointed by its location, and yet to be brought round, we arrived in the bar/brasserie for dinner, inclined to pick holes. The food had better be good, we decided, as we sipped mollifying glasses of Tuatara Bay sauvignon blanc, expertly served.
The mollification continued satisfactorily enough during dinner (slow-roasted belly pork; seafood thermidor), at least until a plate of tasteless local cheeses showed up. But what really won us over was the intelligent, committed and charming front-of-house staff, led by Enzo Scibilia from Sicily who has been there for seven years. He's evidently content. "John and Claire are a top couple," he told us, "and they reinvest in the business, always improving."
I've no doubt he's right. It shows in the smart public rooms and not least in the bedrooms, which may be box-like in shape, but have all recently been done up and are comfortable, well equipped and fairly priced.
No, the General Tarleton may not be a beamy gem down a rutted track but if you stay the night you will eat well, sleep well and most importantly, be well cared for.