Lunch@Arras, York

After a fabulous morning walking round York Minster and the city walls, we are heading for Arras and lunch.  Arras is a relatively new restaurant opened by Adam and Lovaine Humphrey who, though both English, had opened the original Arras in Australia before being drawn back to the UK.

Let’s start with the negatives – there are only two and they are both small.  Firstly, some of the tracks on the Arras lunchtime playlist are a little bizarre.  I like driving rock music when I’m…driving.  When I’m having lunch I want something a little more chilled.  Second, I am briefly disappointed by the relatively limited beer menu.  It doesn’t take me very long to choose Maris the Otter by Brew York, a smooth English bitter named after the Maris Otter variety of malt.  However, my modest disappointment disappears when I read the food menu.  Three courses, just three choices for each course – but every choice sounds interesting!P1050981a

Rock starts with the grilled mackerel, brassicas and apple.  The mackerel has been marinated before grilling and it works perfectly with the brassica and apple.  I have the braised pork cheek with fermented rye grain, sauerkraut jelly and mustard sauce.  The pork is as tender as anything and the great flavours of sauerkraut and mustard are there but they do not overpower the pork.  Both dishes are beautifully presented and taste fantastic.

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Is Arras going to be one of those places that presents you with fabulous starters and then follows with far less inspiring main courses?  We soon have the answer…a definite no.  Rock is even harder to impress than I am – but she really is impressed by her roast poussin, celeriac remoulade, mushrooms and lovage emulsion. How have they managed to infuse so much flavour into a roast poultry dish?  My stone bass with puy lentils, cucumber and crab is also wonderful. The fish is perfectly cooked, crispy skin and flaky white flesh. Balancing a combination of flavours is the key when being inventive and this kitchen contains at least one person with a very finely tuned palate.

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As is often the case, we decide to share a dessert.  Another exquisitely presented plate arrives with cinnamon crumble in the centre, topped with a yoghurt sorbet.  Segments of orange, chunks of orange jelly and small pieces of frozen berry all sitting on a red berry jus surround the crumble.  Plus, draped across the plate… a square snake of vanilla and ricotta mousse. It is a fantastic collection of sweet and sharp, soft and crunchy taste sensations.  Again the quality of each component and the balance of flavours borders on perfection.

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All five dishes were incredibly well balanced with some unusual flavour combinations that really worked – if Arras can do that consistently they should be in line for a Michelin star!  We also had really informative and efficient service from Charles.

If you live in York or you are planning to visit York and you want a high quality food experience – we strongly recommend that you try Arras.

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Dinner@The Star Inn, Harome

When we went to The Star Inn at Harome a few years ago, we absolutely loved the food and the ambience of the place. It has been a regular in both the Good Food Guide and the Good Pub Guide for a very long time. So tonight, as we head there for dinner, our expectations are absurdly high.

It seems bigger and smarter than I remember and now feels a little more like a fine dining establishment than a gastropub. We are soon presented with an amuse bouche of warm cheese and fennel sablets with a Hambleton ale relish. The sablets and the relish are both excellent.

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Cheese & fennel sablets with Hambleton ale relish

I order a pint of the Two Chefs ale. I last had this beer at the Pipe & Glass and the name refers to the fact that it was created by James from the Pipe & Glass and Andrew Pern from here at the Star at Harome. I was not overly impressed when I tried it before but, second time around, I am really enjoying the fragrant notes of cinnamon and nutmeg that come through the ale.

Rock has the gravadlax of oak-smoked halibut with sourdough crumpets, oyster emulsion, mayonnaise and sea vegetables. It is perfectly fine but she is not as wowed as she hoped to be. I have the freshly steamed Isle of Shuna mussels mariniére. I am wowed – the mussels are superb.

Planning ahead to leave room for dessert, Rock has another starter for her main course – ravioli of beer braised oxtail with fresh horseradish shavings, kitchen garden flowers, leaves and vegetables. She is surprised to find that the ravioli contains very little oxtail and a significant amount of chicken mousse. She doesn’t like the dish at all and leaves it almost untouched …on the plus side, now she has plenty of room for dessert.

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Beer braised oxtail ravioli 

We are being looked after by Jen and Alex. The ravioli is immediately taken off the bill and both work hard to try and ensure that Rock is enjoying herself. I have the saddle of local venison cooked over charcoal with a startling range of accompaniments – coffee bean carrots, pistachio cake, pickled cherries and ‘twiglets’. The venison is very good and, although I enjoy some of the added extras, I am starting to feel that the kitchen is trying too hard to be inventive.

Rock moves on to the spiced braised pineapple with a pineapple sorbet and she is back in the game. I have the gooseberry and lemon verbena rice pudding with an elderflower custard doughnut. The rice pudding is a great balance of sweet and sour and I have an excellent elderflower spritzer to go with it.

While we can’t ignore the ravioli, which was a travesty compared to the oxtail pasta dish we had at Mannion & Co, the rest of the food was very good indeed. The drinks were excellent and the service, from Jen and Alex, was superb.

Lunch@The Olive Branch, Ilkley

We tried Sardinian food last week, this week we are going Turkish! The Olive Branch is a small chain of family run restaurants in Yorkshire and we are having lunch at the Ilkley restaurant.

How do you get draft beer in a bottle? I order an Efes Draft and receive a very refreshing Turkish lager in a barrel-shaped bottle. Ok, beer straight from the barrel but the barrel is a bottle! To start I have the grilled halloumi with roast aubergine, courgette, peppers and olive oil. Rock has falafel served with hummus and a tomato relish. Both dishes are very flavoursome and the accompanying salad is beautifully enhanced with sumac.

I find room for another barrel of beer as I begin to eat the grilled lamb kofte. Served on an extremely wide and narrow plate, the skewered lamb mixed with spices is almost a foot long and served with rice, salad, yoghurt and a sweet chutney. Rock is having the lamb Imam Bayildi – roast aubergine, stuffed with spiced minced lamb and vegetables and served with a tomato sauce and rice. Very generous in size and in flavour.

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Despite being enticed by some delightful sounding desserts we dither over whether we can even share a slice of lemon cheesecake. We recognise our limitations and decide not to. Service throughout from Jade and Kelly has been excellent and, just to add to our experience, they box up a slice of lemon cheesecake and two baklava for us to take home…..as a gift. Wow!

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Coffee&cake@Bettys, Northallerton

Bettys is a very civilised place. Traditional surroundings, staff in uniform and all the baking, patisserie, tea and coffee brewing skills you expect from a quality British institution. We’ve been to the Harrogate and Ilkley branches before – now it’s the turn of Bettys in Northallerton.

I have a cafetière of coffee made with Kenyan Karatina beans while Rock is happy with a cup of Bettys cafe blend. We share a piece of the Autumn berry cheesecake and the tangy lemon slice. They are both excellent with the cheesecake winning the beauty contest and the lemon slice winning on flavour.

As usual, as we leave Betty’s we wander into the shop to buy bread and pastries for later. It would be foolish not to!

Coffee, cake & lunch@Mannion & Co

We hit upon Mannion & Co because we heard it was a good place for coffee and cake. It has become almost a regular daily stop for us over our two weeks in Yorkshire and not just for coffee!

Their coffee is fabulous and so are their cakes. Over several days we tried the blueberry & thyme frangipane tart (the thyme makes all the difference), the fabulous peanut financier and the lemon & passionfruit tart decorated with raspberries and blueberries.

I had no doubt that I would blog about Mannion & Co. But, in order to give them the attention they really deserve and also because we can’t wait to see what they can do with savoury dishes – we are now here for lunch!

Rock has a thing for elderflower based drinks and Mannion & Co stock her favourite, Fentiman’s wild English. Not as sweet as most bottled drinks and she loves it. As usual, I’m trying something unusual, Er Bocherōn, beer made with sea water. If you can’t use your sea water to generate tidal electricity then generating beer is definitely another excellent way to use it.

We’ve already had a taste of Yorkshire portion sizes, so we decide to share a starter and a main course. A sausage roll to start but not any sausage roll. Fabulous layers of crisp flaky pastry, topped with sesame seeds, wrapped around a huge slice of beautifully flavoured sausagemeat and served with a chutney plus a bowl of salad and pickles. Extraordinary!

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The sausage roll!

Our main course is the oxtail ragu with fennel pappardelle and fresh horseradish. Incredibly delicate pasta, the oxtail and the fennel working beautifully together and just enough fresh horseradish to take the overall taste sensation to a whole new level. This is almost certainly the best pasta dish we’ve had outside Italy!

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Oxtail ragu with fennel pappardelle & fresh horseradish

We take the opportunity to chat to Andrew Burton, who set up Mannion & Co in both York and Helmsley, about the focus on quality in his approach to food, the incredible pasta dish created by Matt and the fantastically friendly and helpful service we received from Rachel.

If you are in Helmsley you have to try Mannion & Co. If you are near Helmsley, make a detour to Mannion & Co. If you are thinking of travelling to Yorkshire – build Mannion & Co into your plans!

Lunch@Yorkshire Sculpture Park

After a truly wonderful morning wandering around Yorkshire Sculpture Park…..it is time for lunch. The restaurant here is not just convenient, their food looks fresh and there is even a hint of artistic invention coming from the kitchen.

Rock chooses a bottle of Fentiman’s sparkling lime and jasmine. It probably sounds more interesting than it tastes but it is pleasant. I have a Treacle Stout from the Ossett Brewery , an excellent rich, dark and complex ale… I am really enjoying it.

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The menu here is not huge but there is variety. Rock selects a large flat mushroom stuffed with a spicy mix of beans and chilli, topped with cheese and served with spicy rice and a salad. I go for the smoked trout and avocado salad with marinated olives, asparagus, red onion and baby leaves. Both are full of high quality, fresh ingredients that are freshly prepared… and they deliver on flavour.

No real works of art in the restaurant but simple, honest, fresh produce that has been put together with some imagination.

Dinner@Akentannos, Sheffield

We always prepared to try something different so, when we received a local recommendation in Sheffield’s foodie Sharrow Vale Road to try a Sardinian restaurant we thought, why not? Akentannos claims to be the first and only restaurant in Sheffield to specialise in Sardinian cuisine.

In the space of twenty minutes the restaurant goes from almost empty to almost completely full. Everyone has arrived for dinner at the same time and it soon becomes clear that the kitchen is struggling to cope. A glass of house red and a glass of prosecco take our minds off potential problems ahead.

The bruschetta with Sardinian smoked Ricotta, pine nuts and honey arrives for Rock but she finds the smokiness of the dish overpowering. She cannot eat it and profuse apologies follow plus the dish is taken off the bill. I have the baked goat’s cheese with grilled asparagus, aubergines, potatoes, courgettes and spring onions. It is really good except the whole dish has been smothered in a balsamic reduction….is a key member of the kitchen team having the night off?

We have a long wait for our next course. I have another large glass of the house red and look on as a table of impatient and hungry diners chooses to walk out. Until now very little food has been delivered to diners, but then there is a sudden change in the state of affairs.  We guess  that a senior member of the front of house team has moved into the kitchen…. and soon dishes are quickly arriving on tables.

My pappardelle with wild mushrooms, sea bass, salmon, prawns, spring onion, garlic, bottarga (cured fish roe), thyme and pecorino cheese is packed full of flavour. The pasta is well-made and there is a generous amount of quality seafood and mushrooms. Rock has the Malloreddus – Sardinian shell-shaped pasta with a sauce made from fillet of lamb, tomatoes, chilli and fennel seeds and topped with shavings of pecorino cheese. It is very tasty – both the chilli and fennel are subtle and the pecorino is mild.

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At last…we have stepped onto the island of Sardinia.

After a stormy start to our voyage, Akentannos has regained control of the tiller and delivered us to the shore!