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RECOMMENDATION | The Box Tree, West Yorkshire – Yorkshire’s Answer to Le Gavroche

By Lyndsey Thomas – 1st February 2018

If The Box Tree restaurant was located anywhere else but Yorkshire I expect it wouldn’t be quite a special as it is.

It would certainly be swallowed up in London – hidden in the shadows of Le Gavroche, Alain Duccasse and Gordon Ramsey. But here in Leeds, it is The Box Tree in Ilkley that is top of the gourmet bucket list for any foodie who is ok with forking out in excess of £300 for dinner for two. A very special treat for most and a price tag that would see my mother drop to the floor in horror. For me though, experiences such as this are worth every penny of my husband’s well earned money.

It’s absurd to think that in a little town on the edge of The Yorkshire Dales, behind a tiny, twee country-cottage facade right out of a Hansel & Grettle-inspired fairytale, the meticulous process of running one of Yorkshire’s best Michelin-Starred restaurants is underway five nights a week.

The streets of Ilkley were empty on a Wednesday eve in late January. The night Mr T treated me to an experience that has been on my bucket list for some time. The pubs and bars were quiet, but behind that chocolate-box façade was a hive of activity – waiters, a sommelier, the maitre d, and no doubt an extensive team of chefs all working together to execute possibly the best dining experience I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing outside of London to date.

I am quite smug to have The Box Tree ‘down the road’ from where we live.

Not a Millennium-born, progressive, idiosyncratic restaurant serving up crazy plates of mindboggling culinary inventions in a minimalist room covered in graffiti. A proper old school classical French-inspired, antique-filled fine-dining establishment where the real focus is on skilful cooking and refined delivery.

Surroundings and an atmosphere that is less ‘I’m too cool for school and want to be seen in all the right places’ – more a desire to experience the finer things in life – appreciative of good old-fashioned sophistication, elegance and class. All of which I don’t have a great deal of, but, I would take the table at The Box Tree in Ilkley over The Man Behind the Curtain in central Leeds any day of the week.

Apart from on Mondays and Tuesdays. The Box Tree is closed on  Mondays and Tuesdays. We knocked at the door of the Box Tree ahead of our 8pm reservation. The door opened almost immediately and we were greeted by a very smartly dressed chap who took our coats and showed us to a couple of cosy armchairs.

We ordered champagne and were handed menus. One can’t help but notice the rather extensive collection of ‘stuff’. Every corner, windowsill, fire place, shelf, wall and spare bit of carpet features something.

I expect to the trained eye – the eye of the type of person who considers The Box Tree to be their go-to when they don’t want to be bothered cooking (a bit like me and Pizza Express) – they will appreciate the life-size porcelain dogs and a cockerel and the dressers rammed with bone china.

Walls displaying old paintings and gold mirrors and the furniture. All of which are probably priceless antiques and will end up in Christie’s. Good grief – dozens upon dozens of awards, plaques and plates all to be dusted. To the untrained eye such as myself, one can’t help but feel a little sorry for the cleaner.

Still it all makes for very interesting conversation – a quiet one mind. Don’t expect The Box Tree to be brimming with excitement and tons of energy.  Although the jazz music in the background does take the edge off an otherwise silent restaurant. Unless of course you are dining with myself and Mr T. We revved the place up a bit. We opted for the seven course tasting menu or ‘Menu Gourmand’ at £85 per head. There is a slightly cheaper Menu de Jour but once I’d clapped eyes of the dishes that made up the Menu Gourmand I was sold. The words scallops, beef and rhubarb jumped off the menu at me. And what’s another twenty notes each when it’s ones birthday!

My eyes were drawn away from the eccentric interior design and extensive collections of ornaments and back to the table in front of me as a plate of beautiful little canapés were placed on it. We were talked through the dainty morals by our adorable waiter, Max, before an introduction to the wine list from Diddier, The Boxtree’s very own French Sommelier.

Diddier has graced many a fine-dining room as sommelier in France, Italy, Germany and Yorkshire. And he name-dropped a fair few impressive establishments in Paris, Nice, Champagne, St. Emilion and Alsace when later in the evening, we asked him to tell us his story and how he ended up at The Box Tree in a little town in Yorkshire. We decided against the wine flight and ordered a glass of white each to compliment our fish course, and then we moved on to red and opted for a bottle of Malbec. Creatures of habit.

The canapés were exquisite. Melt-in-the-mouth-morsels of utter joy.

The canapés didn’t last long at all and after we’d devoured every last crumb, we were escorted through the bar area and into the restaurant made up of two rooms, the first of which features a roaring fire, and to our table at the back of the restaurant. Yet more collections of stuff fill the room.

Our culinary journey through seven courses of faultlessly cooked and impeccably presented plates of the freshest ingredients was nothing short of delicious, sheer joy. Each course was served to us at just the right time on silver trays by the most delightful, attentive waiters who talked us through each dish before placing them in front of us. Our wine glasses were not once left empty and special little touches to include a personalised birthday card and a Happy Birthday chorus added to the magic of the flawless experience. Oh to be rolling in it – I’d have my own table and dine at The Box Tree at least once a week.

I would like to thank my wonderful husband to treating me to such an incredible experience on my 38th Birthday.  Photos are my own.

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