by Ron Godfrey on March 22, 2014
Ron Godfrey heads off on a mad eating escapade
Anti-hunt ranters be warned: The House of The Trembling Madness is probably not for you.
You’ll find it hard to quaff and scoff in the glassy-eyed glare of so many animal heads mounted on one wall upstairs in a tiny, but breathtakingly moody medieval hall in Stonegate, York.
Here, in that ship-beamed ale house, part of the first Norman home to be built in York in 1180 AD, can be seen the ghoulish parade of taxidermy.
There’s a viciously-tusked wild boar, a fox, a goat, deer, ducks (various), a tiny mole and even a spotted wildcat, all hunters’ trophies down the centuries crowded high into the rafters.
Occasionally, and for seemingly no reason at all, are displayed in alcoves a bull fiddle, a guitar and ethnic tom-toms among other fantastical artefacts.
The centrepiece, above the bar, right near the antlers of a steer, is a lush-maned lion’s head, carrying in its open jaws the trophy for the Best Pub Award presented at the Welcome To Yorkshire ceremony last November.
And Mrs G and I on our clandestine visit also noted the presence on one ledge of a large human skull grinning horribly. Probably, we surmised, a customer who was still thumb-twiddling for waiter service?
My mistake because yes, that is what this tiny place is – a pub café and not a restaurant, so you order at the bar, then they’ll serve it. No bookings.
You take pot luck and, if necessary wait on a long bench or at the bar for a table.
Meanwhile, the view of the spot-lit Minster through a focal sash window demonstrates the House’s antiquity without, while the ancient furniture, including barrel seats, pew benches and rough wooden tables, shimmering with candlelight, shout of the history within.
To get there you go by way of a staircase leading from a magically colourful ground floor off-licence consisting of a trove of off-beat ales, ciders and wines, a connoisseur’s paradise.
Its ponytailed owner is entrepreneur Ian Loftus, who, I understand, runs the nearby Evil Eye bar and restaurant in Stonegate, is also landlord of luxury (but excitingly haunted) holiday apartments at the back of the house and operates a Madness mobile bar with catering and entertainment.
He seized his opportunity to expand upstairs four years ago, following the closure there of the Beams Tearooms ¬– and his quirky House of the Trembling Madness came into being.
It’s not such a crazy title: Trembling Madness was an ancient way of describing delirium tremens, which is not only the heavy drinkers’ palsy but also the moniker of a popular Belgian beer.
Good marketing ploy, eh? Crazy like a stuffed fox.
Given that the premises has no fully equipped kitchen, we weren’t expecting much but its menu is inventive and ingenious as well as diverse – and earns a five star rating from hygiene standards.
Now I’d love to stand with the angled raised elbow of the ale aficionado to tell you of the wonders of one among the 600 real ale and keg beers to choose from let alone the exotic mango ciders etc, but my role as a diabetic driver meant that I can only make you envious about my chosen drink – a Diet Coke.
Mrs G ordered a large “smooth and tasty” Merlot.
We ignored the chalk-on-slate special – a beef curry. It may have been priced well at £5, but no rice was offered only bread.
So we delved into the prospects of hearty offerings suggested in the “larger dishes” menu.
I was tempted by an array of “Madness burgers”, including, at £6.50, an award-winning local steak-filled “black and pepper burger” with relish and side salad.
I was also lured by the prospect of a £9 Madness Fish Platter.
This consisted of salmon paté with Nordic gravlax – or smoked salmon cured in salt and dill – with giant capers and olives, a salad and mustard lemon and dill sauce.
But I finally plumped for a large £9 steak and ale pie, mash and mushy peas, brought to me steaming and gleaming with a gravy thick enough to stand a spoon in.
The pie, one of Richardson of Woodthorpe’s award winning creations, had a rustically crimped pastry with leaf design sculpted into it and burgeoned with salty chunks of tender meat. Yum.
Mrs G’s choice – a Madness platter – was a foregone conclusion, given that she revels in anything savoury.
It consisted of a long wooden platter burgeoning with Yorkshire-sourced smoked chicken and duck slices, smoked cheeses, a portion of pork pie with a black pudding lid, served with Wold Top Ale plum chutney, pickles, salad and via vecchia bread.
“Beautifully presented and each of the items totally different yet complementary in flavour,” she decreed, munching away and totally undaunted by her audience of decapitated animals.
It didn’t bother me, either, particularly as the silently roaring lion – dubbed Cornelius by one staff member – had an affinity with me. We were both born in Africa. Madness, isn’t it?
The House Of The Trembling Madness is open from Monday to Saturday from 10am until midnight and opens a little later at 11am on a Sunday, with food served throughout those hours.
The little place is in massive demand, particularly on weekends, by students and food and drink buffs, so choose your timing carefully, unless you are prepared to bide your time for a table and soak up both the unusual ales and the ancient mood…
Merlot and Diet Coke £6.25
Madness Platter £9
Steak and ale pie £9
Food: Wholesome, local, imaginative and well-presented ★★★★
Service: Called to the bar but quickly delivered ★★★
Ambience: Tremulously wonderful ★★★★★
Value: You can eat well relatively cheaply ★★★★
Overall rating: ★★★★
House of The Trembling Madness | 48 Stonegate, York YO1 8AS | 01904 640009 |firstname.lastname@example.org | tremblingmadness.co.uk