John Quinlan and Lee Murdoch are expecting a busy September, but this Harrogate restaurant has the potential to go the distance. Janet Harmer reports
For nine days at the end of the month, the eyes of the world will be on a stretch of road in the centre of the North Yorkshire town of Harrogate. From 21 to 29 September, the finishing post of all 15 races in the 2019 Road World Championships will be located on West Park, a stone's throw from where Three's A Crowd opened its doors to the public in April.
With the world's best cyclists and hundreds of thousands of spectators set to descend on Yorkshire, John Quinlan and Lee Murdoch, the owners of Three's A Crowd, are gearing up for a busy time. But while they know business will be good for the duration of the championships, they need to run a restaurant that is going to be sustainable in the long term. For them both, this is just the start of the journey.
The business partners met when they worked at Crafthouse, the Leeds restaurant of D&D London – Quinlan as assistant general manager and Murdoch as executive chef. In creating their first outlet together, they returned to Quinlan's hometown of Harrogate, after plans to turn the smallest pub in Leeds into a sandwich shop fell through.
"That is how the Three's A Crowd name came about. It aptly described the site in Leeds and we liked it, so stuck with it," says Quinlan, who was operations manager at Dakota Deluxe Leeds before his return to Harrogate.
More than £400,000, funded by owner Star Pubs & Bars, has been ploughed into the refurbishment of the former Muckles pub – described by Quinlan as a "run-down traditional boozer" – to turn it into a contemporary pub and all-day eaterie. While the original Victorian bar takes centre stage, new additions include Italian marble tables, multi-coloured retro chairs and walls clad in stripped wood flooring.
A relaxed vibe has encouraged a business split of 60:40 in favour of wet over food sales, encouraging lots of orders from the nibbles menu, which offers summer truffle arancini (£6), crispy whitebait with curry dip (£6) and pork bao bun with kimchi and radish (£5) among other choices. Situated opposite the open common land of West Park Stray, the pub is particularly popular for Saturday brunch and Sunday lunch.
While some customers may refer to Three's A Crowd as a gastropub, both Quinlan and Murdoch prefer the term "modern pub"– the food ranges from traditional pub fare including fish and chips (featuring haddock encased in a batter made from fine polenta flour, £14) to Highland venison with buttered celeriac, heritage carrot, quince, pancetta, charred onion and pot pie (£18). The latter dish features venison, cooked two ways – the loin, wrapped in aged Serrano ham, which is roasted, and a shepherd's pie-style pie featuring hand-cut haunch of venison with sherry vinegar and peas, topped with a Cheddar cheese and garlic mash.
"The venison dish sounds quite substantial, but because the meat is low in fat, it is a surprisingly light eat," explains Murdoch, who started his career at the Turnberry hotel on the west coasts of Scotland, close to where he grew up.
Alongside a two-course lunch menu for £18, the main menu in the 65-seat pub features a choice of five dishes at each course, as well as a selection of five side orders such as espelette and Parmesan fries (£4) and chilli and garlic pak choi (£4). The 16-seat private dining room on the first floor offers a choice of two set menus, five and seven courses at £50 and £65 respectively.
One of the most popular starters over the summer has been the brown crab salad, king prawn and avocado, refreshed with accompanying watermelon and cucumber (£10). A dish of seared scallops (£9.50) is served with ‘seaweed porridge', created from aged risotto rice, blended while raw to release the starch and then cooked in dashi stock and topped with bonito flakes and seaweed. The dish is finished off with a chicken oyster, coated in cornflour and espelette pepper and fried until crisp.
When it comes to dessert, the runaway success is the Moji by Murdoch (£7), an emoji-shaped, chocolate-based dessert, featuring a mousse made from 72% Valrhona, a liquid strawberry centre, strawberry fondant and honeycomb. "We must sell 100 a week," says Murdoch.
While Quinlan and Murdoch are focused on the influx of the cycling crowd due to arrive in Harrogate over the coming weeks, they have a 10-year plan, which they say will include taking them to London. Watch this space.
From the menu
• Loch Duart smoked salmon, pickled apple, dill crème fraîche, Ratte potato, caviar, poppy seed cracker £8.50
• Isle of Wight tomatoes, olives, ricotta, red pepper olive oil dressing £8 Mains
• Stone bass, saffron potato, broad beans, chard, roast shellfish bouillabaisse, giant couscous, basil £16
• Porcini risotto, aged Pecorino, chive oil £13
• Gressingham chicken, Jerusalem artichoke, potato and black pudding scone, English asparagus, leek and potato velouté £16
• Yorkshire strawberry tart, vanilla crème, meringue, strawberry sorbet £7.50
• Pineapple doughnut, rum caramel, coconut ice-cream £7.50
11 West Park, Harrogate HG1 1BL 01423 391459, www.threes-a-crowd.co.uk
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