The fourth funkiest place on earth and an award-winning High Street, Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire certainly has more than its fair share of organic food, art, crafts, alternative events, media types…and even a café especially for dogs and their owners. Todmorden, just down the valley, is a hotbed of craziness and creativity too.
We’ve been testing out places to eat and things to do in the area. We’d definitely say it’s worth a trip for a long weekend or a week, particularly if you’re into walking, tantric harp-playing or decent food. There’s always something going on – from live music at the Trades Club to the amazing Handmade Parade. There’s also a Burlesque Festival, Todmorden Folk Festival, Hebden Folk Roots Festival…..and much, much more! The just-mentioned Todmorden, Hebden’s neighbour down the valley, is quietly quirkifying too, though there’s a slightly grittier edge (not that HB is gritless, of course. This is West Yorkshire).
What to see and do in the area:
- Walk – there are lots of trails and walks, including part of the Pennine Way and Calderdale Way, and make sure you visit Hardcastle Crags, the gorgeous National Trust woodland and river
- Drink hot chocolate at the Picturehouse independent cinema, watch a great film or live screening event
- Check out what’s on with the Hebden Diary – pick up a pastel-coloured sheet from the tourist information centre or in most cafés
- See a live band at the Trades Club or the ‘ceci n’est pas un pub’ Golden Lion in Tod
- Do a course at Northlight Art Studios or learn to make prints at the Egg Factory
- Buy goodies at the farmers’ market or shop at the secondhand and general markets
Base yourself at one of these campsites
- The Caravan Club, Cragg Vale – open to non-members too. Just off the main Cragg Vale Road but sheltered by trees and the hillside. A good mid-point for exploring the area.
- Hebden Bridge Camping, Colden/Jack Bridge – next door to the New Delight pub. Up on the tops, next to a road, but with great views and lots of walks nearby.
- Aaron’s at Cragg Vale – small, semi-wild but with campfires and space for tents and a few caravans.
- Jerusalem Farm, Booth (01422 883246) – just 30 places and council-owned. Don’t let that put you off. It’s in a wood and features in Cool Camping.
- Hebden Bridge Walkers’ Action also has a list of campsites on its accommodation page, though it’s not always up-to-date.
You could also go further afield – to areas around Haworth, for example. And, just to save you some frustration, bear in mind that lots of temporary sites sprang up for the Tour de France in 2014, some of which are still listed on UK Campsite.
Now…onto the food
The Humblest of Pleasures
Did the town need yet another place to eat? Well, in this case, it could have been a good addition, but the food is just not all that great. It seems many vegans are so poorly catered for that they’re too easy to please. We love cooking and we love good food – the fact that it’s vegan shouldn’t mean you have to lower your expectations.
The problem here – and in many places we’ve been – is that the ingredients are too visibly bought off the shelf and then nothing is added to make them special. Readymade (always bad) supermarket fake cheese, Tofurky, facon, Paxo stuffing mix, shopbought cranberry sauce and so on.
When you pay £6 for a sandwich, it really needs to have something about it that doesn’t make you think how much better you could do yourself or how much the ingredients cost in the Co-op next door.
You’re better off visiting the Kind Cake Company on Albert Street for vegan cakes, bakes and pies.
Vocation Bar and Kitchen
Busy and buzzing craft beer bar with great Mexican-ish tapas and boards. Food is delicious, beers are many and the wines are good too.
The Staff of Life, Todmorden
Decidedly unvegan, the menu here is tempting and sometimes a little bizarre. The atmosphere is warm and friendly. We decided to suspend judgement until we’d given it a second go because some of the ingredient combinations on the menu were odd and made us want to try more. As an example…steak, macaroni cheese with lobster and crayfish. Well, the steak and the pasta were delicious, but we weren’t sure they should have been on the same table let alone the same plate. So, a second visit convinced us that the chef likes to experiment, but tends to get it right. Portions are big, tastes are big, food is local and organic where possible and most encouraging of all (as it’s so rare in even top-end restaurants), the vegetables are fresh, perfectly cooked and don’t rely only on cheap carrots.
The prices are reasonable and it’s a relaxing place to spend an evening. Sadly, on our third visit, we weren’t so impressed with the small, overcooked scallops on hunks of black pudding; a pretty standard fish and chips and mushy peas and a pistachio-crumbed salmon that didn’t taste of much at all and came with a bumpy round of mash and not a vegetable in sight. When we asked for vegetables, we got a small bowl of shrivelled, oily, overcooked ones. The staff adjusted our bill a little when we expressed our disappointment, but we’re hoping what was a great find won’t prove to be unreliable. Ribs were faultless again, so perhaps we should always order meat!
An interesting vegetarian place for lunch (occasional evening times too) that’s gone very downhill. Small portions, dishes not as described, but still a nice atmosphere.
A dive bar with a great atmosphere and interesting food on Friday and Saturday nights. Other small bars in Hebden worth a visit are Nightjar, Calan’s, Drink? and the Page.
Old Gate developed into a really good place to eat, but then went downhill. Maybe it’ll go up that hill again! It was just what Hebden Bridge needed (and a million miles from the Wetherspoon ambience we criticised it for in its opening week). The staff are first-class and the food is (usually) good, with the right level of interesting choice, vegetarian options and decent prices. The beers are excellent. On one visit, the chef was a bit overwhelmed and dinner took a while. We didn’t mind because it’s a comfortable place to drink and chat (downstairs can be a bit noisy, though). We were offered heartfelt apologies and free drinks and desserts by three lovely members of staff – and all without our complaining or expecting anything. That’s excellent service for you. Sadly, food can now be inconsistent and disappointing. A good but expensive place for a leisurely Sunday breakfast.
We’ll give it a miss. Another of those places serving tapas style food because you can put a few things on a board and charge a lot. Not a cheap option.
Great Rock Co-op, Blackshawhead
Lovely, lovely localness. A food and crafts co-op run by volunteers at Staups Lea Farm near Hebden Bridge. Cheese, meats, jams, cakes, unusual breads, locally-brewed beer…and more. It’s open on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm and you can imagine the feverish activity going on in all those Blackshawhead kitchens as people make and bake in readiness. There’s a nice atmosphere and samples to try. Of course, it’s not cheap – these are artisan products made on a small-scale and with good ingredients.
Our love has grown for Love Grows in Hebden Bridge. In a town filled with cafés and delis, it’s hard to stand out (especially when you’re a little on the edge of things). Cute and clean with a disorientating sloping floor and a blackboard menu of open sandwiches and platters. There’s a grocer’s shop intermingled with the tables, homemade cakes and scones, a lovely couple in charge…and a bath next to the loo. Our only criticism…a slightly too empty feel to the café. The lack of soft edges belies the friendliness of the welcome.
The Olive Branch
We like the Olive Branch in Hebden Bridge for Turkish food. Nice people, tasty dishes but not much variety (the same sauce pops up in lots of dishes). It’s consistent and great value, especially midweek.
Stubbing Wharf (on the canal just out of town)
Reasonably priced food – though definitely not elegant or consistent – good beers and cider, lovely staff. Never order the belly pork…they just don’t know how to cook it.
A really nice place for a drink and the food’s pretty good. Better than average pub food with something for everyone. Delicious beef and stilton sandwich!
The Packhorse Inn, Widdop Road
High up on the windy moors and a real institution. It’s all big portions, meat and traditional hearty tastes. Just don’t ask for chips unless you want to make a donation to Moorland Rescue.
Our favourite for some time now. Solo has good coffee, light breakfasts, lunches and cakes, and is a relaxing place to have a natter – our go-to place for coffee. Not so keen on The Organic House opposite, where food is OK, but a bit overpriced for nothing special – you know there are corners being cut when you get a miniature square of toiler paper lookalike for a napkin!
Aux Délices, Mytholmroyd
It had its ups and downs over the years with different owners, but is now a great evening restaurant and bar with a good selection of creative-but-not-too-creative dishes and attentive owner/manager/chef, Phil. Reasonably priced wines, good beers on tap, early bird and set menu options. Book ahead. We like it a lot!
Valley Organics and Pennine Provisions, Hebden Bridge
For stocking up on local, organic and exotic food, fresh veg and storecupboard things. Valley Organics is a worker-run co-op with a very good range and some of the nicest staff you could hope to meet. Pennine Provisions is a more standard deli, but often has just what you’re looking for. Don’t forget the markets in both Tod and Hebden – great places with surprising choice!
The Old Co-op, Todmorden and Meow
Sadly, the Old Co-op (previously the Bear) has now closed after aeons of reliable cooking. We’ll update when we see who takes over. Due to open nearby is Meow, a vegan café set up by the great people from Bluebell Cat Rescue. Another one to update when we’ve tested their menu.
Syhiba, Sowerby Bridge
Consistently one of the best curry places for miles, which is why we’ve included it, despite it being a fair drive away. It’s always crowded and a takeaway can be more relaxing. Try the saffron lamb, chicken tikka makhani or the interesting lamb/chicken albahara dish with plums. Don’t be tempted by the Java Village restaurant just up the road. It’s a shabby-round-the-edges ’90s place, bristling with birthday and hen parties, The noise of the guests aside, we found the service rather indiscreet with orders shouted over our heads as we sat at the bar waiting for a table. Not able to get into Syhiba one evening recently, we reluctantly tried Kiplings, just down the road…and liked it. However, a subsequent takeaway was bad – packed with food colouring and awash with fatty sauce. It’s a shame because it’s more pleasant for eating in there, but Syhiba is consistently top-notch.
See our problem with Chapter 17 above. Another ‘tapas’ place where the same mayo-sauce is served with almost everything.
The White Rabbit, Todmorden
We really wanted to love The White Rabbit. The atmosphere is quirky and interesting, the owners want to please and they use good ingredients. Sadly, though, if you’re going to aim for fine dining dishes and highish prices, you have to get the detail right. We might have overlooked a few things, but there were just too many inedible mistakes. The first clue is the wine list. Conti wines have no place on any decent restaurant wine list, and the only rosés were a Zinfandel and a Pinot Grigio blush. It’s almost Lambrusco territory. The menu itself was also strangely written with typos and squashed together words. Of course, you want good chefs not copywriters making dinner for you, but it seemed to show a lack of finesse. The rabbit terrine was fabulous and the langoustine and chorizo dish tasted superb. However, the latter came in a long, ‘imaginative’ dish that was impossible to eat out of with a normal fork; the kale had its tough inner stalk left in and the chorizo was cooked to a frazzle. The steak was good, the mushrooms and potato ‘crisps’ delicious. The chips, however, were soggy and oily. The chicken was supposed to come with artichokes. These had been separated into a cardboard-like artichoke skin (three pieces) and a small blob of the flesh as a purée. The real turning point, though, was the dish of vegetables. It’s hard to understand how any chef could dare to let vegetables this bad leave the kitchen. Overcooked, almost beige, mange-touts and chewy, fibrous boiled kale, along with uncooked ‘boiled’ potatoes, some of which had bad bits left in them. They replaced my meal with the pork, but, while the meat was tender, it was lacking in any interest. A couple of tiny morsels of fondant carrot and a couple of blobs of carrot jelly, along with a thin jus. Nothing special at all. The replacement dish of vegetables included better-cooked but stringy mange-touts, good tenderstem broccoli and,,,uncooked boiled potatoes. Instead of giving up on us, they were kind enough to knock a drink off the bill and give us their mini ‘drink me’ bottles of pop. A nice touch, but also a reminder that the restaurant is perhaps trying too hard to be interesting and not trying hard enough to make reliable food. Sadly, we won’t be going back. It’s a shame.