Of all the towns in the county you might expect Hebden Bridge to harbour the most hardcore vegetarian restaurants and you’d probably be right – much of it a bit worthy and often joyless.
I say this as a curious, hungry resident and have never made any bones about the lack of good places to eat. But change is afoot. I’ve recently written about the fabulous COIN on these pages, and now, Nelsons.
It’s been around for decades and has always fed people well enough but been a bit unfocused, never quite deciding what kind of restaurant it is, what food to offer.
For too long it felt stuck in the 80s – fine for a cheap and cheerful early dinner but nowt to write home about.
Then two tragedies struck: the devastating floods, six in five years, followed by the pandemic, and while they tore the business apart – Nelsons is in a basement and water reached the ceiling – it was an opportunity to regroup and rethink. After a 14-month closure, the dining room is refurbished with stylish mid-century blond wood and house plants – and the newly vegan menu is focused and sharp as a tack.
We set off with Swiss chard croquettes: properly crunchy on the outside, pillowy within and packed with flavour plus faultless seasoning. Almond cream, a new one on me is a great side – smooth with a proper tang, and Esme dip is a straight-up roast tomato, peppers and parsley affair with seriously good homemade crisps.
From ‘small plates’ is dish of the night, the innocent-sounding Miso Aubergine: with roast figs, pickled mushrooms and hazelnuts it’s smoky and sweet with good texture. It’s one of those dishes that has your eyes rolling back in their sockets.
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A caramelized shallot tart with pickled mustard seeds and puffed buckwheat has perfect pastry and a lovely sticky, soft top – simply but carefully made. Second best dish is an excellent potato rosti with braised courgette, tahini and Zhoug; not a character from the Clangers, but a Yemeni flavouring made from coriander, garlic and chilli. It’s one of those stealth dishes – sounds straightforward but is head-turningly handsome on the plate.
Heading up the kitchen crew is Tezza Brazier, an experienced self-taught cook who worked on and off for a number of years at the much-respected Bear café in Todmorden. She did a “high octane” three year stint at the Fence Gate in Pendle, the only woman in an all-male team, at a time when the culture was tough and shouty; great training if you can stand the heat.
I suspect the Nelson kitchen is a little calmer and kinder. Annie Nolan, co-owner and front of house buzzes about, smiley and knowledgeable – she’s happy to pair wine from the all-vegan, mostly low-intervention list.
Honeycomb ice cream parfait is an absolute delight and a real looker, whilst caramelised white chocolate and miso mousse is darkly bitter – it’s too strong for me but goes down a storm on the other side of the table.
This friendly, informal place has come a long way and finally found its feet. The offer is the most interesting it’s ever been, by a country mile; dishes are well thought through with the emphasis on flavour.
The days when plant-based food looked unappealing are behind us; plates here are as sophisticated as any contemporary restaurant. But there’s no mistaking where you are. Sitting alongside us was a table of four immaculately got up in period costume: a Regency dandy, a maid moonlighting from Downton and a couple of women straight out of an Agatha Christie novel – all stockings, heels and lippy. Lots of TV and movie filming goes on in Hebden so I asked them what the show was. No show, they shrugged, this is how we dress. That was SO Hebden Bridge.
Nelsons Wine Bar, Crown Street, Hebden Bridge HX7 8EH. T: 01422 649115. E: [email protected]
Tuesday – Thursday, 5–11pm;
Friday/Saturday, 5pm–1am; Sunday, 5–11pm.