We miss the turning to the Woodlands Hotel, in Sandsend, on the wonderful coast between Scarborough and Staithes, because the only words we can catch, in the darkness, as we flash past signs on the road north of Whitby, are Valley Cafe, not Woodlands Hotel.
Eventually we nail the turn-off into a rough lane and a hidden valley, where the hotel has had new life breathed into it by the Clarke family who bought and refurbished it in 2008 and opened its restaurant (then the Valley Cafe, now simply the Woodlands restaurant) one year later. The Woodlands Cafe Deli opens in March.
Wow – I never knew North Yorkshire could be so colourful in winter. From the hallway we can see a dining room and bar – brilliant white splashed with powerful hues, from pink and orange Veuve Cliquot ice buckets to Designers Guild walls, served up to a mellow Paul Weller soundtrack. Beyond this, glimpses of a turquoise and gold sitting room.
Lizzie Clarke and daughter Natasha welcome us in. We're the only guests tonight – would we like to choose a room? The five bedrooms are not themed so much as lightly brushed with a style. We go for "Jasper" – Moroccan kilims, rattan blinds, an Eames chair and a supremely comfy bed. There's something of the B&B about being handed a breakfast form to fill in, though.Woodlands Hotel and Bistro in Sandsend, North Yorkshire. Photograph: Dominic Shaw - Shawimages
In the absence of other guests, I cannot tell you about sound insulation, or service when things get busy, so let's cut to the chase. Dinner is served by the fire in the homely glamour of the sitting room. Chef Alex Perkins (who happens to be Natasha's fiance) attended the same catering college as celebrated chefs Andrew Pern and James Martin, we learn, as an amuse bouche of beetroot jelly with horseradish cream arrives. It's so good my bloke says, "ditch the spoon and just pour it in."
Then comes soused halibut in a tiny kilner jar studded with red chilli and carrot, sourdough and creamy artichoke, a juicy, delectable chicken pot au feu and 12-hour roasted lamb shoulder with "divine" mint sauce. The table is beautifully set, from the butter sprinkled with salt to the candle in a Billecart-Salmon bottle. Food presentation is faultless, and we love the winter wine list. It is a whistles blowing, klaxons blaring, corker of a meal and nothing short of a crime that on this November night, we have this dining room to ourselves.
I've been sitting on news of this little gem, in an area which is hardly brimming with enticing hotels, since November, because The Woodlands is shut in December and January. I have to query the wisdom of that – for one thing, it means no one enjoyed Alex Perkins' wonderful food over the festive season. Something is amiss with the branding too – a five-roomed property that calls itself a hotel. Do people know there is great food on offer to non-residents here? It was nothing short of a crime that we had the restaurant to ourselves. Wouldn't it make sense to come clean about the star turn – the food – call this a restaurant-with-rooms and stay open all year?
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• The Valley, Sandsend (38, thewoodlands-sandsend.com. Double rooms £110 per night B&B. Expect to pay around £29 for three-course dinner, excluding drinks.