It might have lost the washing line of bras, but Jill Turton finds the new look Le Cochon Aveugle just as arresting.
A lot has happened at Le Cochon Aveugle, the little York bistro we reviewed on these pages last year. In case you are not entirely up to speed with the revolving door of Yorkshire restaurant chefs then listen up.
Blind Swine in Swinegate opened in 2012 and made its name as the most exciting and innovative restaurant in the city under maverick chef Michael O’Hare. There was a sixth-month waiting list for a table and he didn’t even have a website, let alone a proper booking system for would-be diners.
Riding on a high on his success, O’Hare opened Le Cochon Aveugle – French translation of Blind Swine) – a tiny 24-cover bistro a distance away in Walmgate serving French classics in a room done out like a tart’s boudoir. Truly, there were washing lines strung with frilly knickers and black basques, gilded chairs and vintage lads’ mags featuring naked girls circa 1960.
Josh Overington (late of Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers in Marlow, the Waterside in Bray and East Yorkshire’s esteemed Pipe and Glass) was in the kitchen serving up an equally vintage menu of trout with almonds and quiche lorraine.
Then on January 1 Blind Swine closed suddenly, blaming a hefty rent rise and while O’Hare headed for Leeds, Overington negotiated the lease on Le Cochon Aveugle and after a bit of a refurbishment, opened in mid-January with the same name but an altogether different offer.
He ditched the jokes: the washing lines and the Rococo throne but kept the mirrors, the mahogany table, the black and white floor tiles and put up a blackboard with a weekly changing, six- course, fixed price, fixed choice menu for £30. It is more elaborate than before and, more importantly, it’s very good.
Another sensible thing he did was bring in his partner Victoria Roberts who comes fresh from her role as assistant manager at the Michelin-starred Black Swan at Oldstead, so knows a thing or two about front of house, like how to answer a phone and take a booking, two basic elements missing in the first Cochon Aveugle.
“A little neighbourhood restaurant,” Overington calls it. Little, as in seven tables maximum. The galley kitchen’s on show too so there’s no hiding place for kitchen cock-ups or chefs’ tantrums. As if. Overington is a picture of composed concentration, he has a sous chef at his shoulder, a French waitress out front who is fully clued up, and Roberts supervising the whole shebang so that the evening runs like clockwork.
First comes pain de campagne, bread rolls served warm with a nutty beurre noisette and a lemon and parsley butter, alongside haggis balls – cute, crunchy and delicious, served on a spoon with a touch of chutney. OK not classical French but they would have been if the French had got there first.
Smoked duck, with boiled duck egg and pea shoots is the first course proper to be served, with Overington slipping out from the kitchen to pour over a potage of broad bean: a thick soup of fresh young, slightly bitter broad beans offset with crème fraiche.
The next course is salmon with Jersey Royal potatoes. Make that a cube of salmon and half a Jersey Royal. Portions are small, but far from molecular and, fear not, there will be plenty to eat over the course of six courses. The delicate salmon and char-grilled spud came with a creamy, chorizo, mousse-like quenelle and a dash of aioli. All perfectly cooked and composed.
Then it was pork. What is it about a crisp coat and a soft inside that everyone loves? Overington wraps slow cooked, shredded pork in a coat of breadcrumbs then deep fries it and serves with bitter boudin noir and the sweet-sharp kick of some early forced Yorkshire rhubarb. It was a triumph. The only slip-up was the crackling, so well rendered it had become a too-hard shard of pork fat that had lost its flavour and threatened to loosen our fillings.
Scottish brie made up the cheese course. Brie, de-rinded and whipped until light as air and as smooth as a baby’s bottom, was served with a few tiny, scattered celery leaves and a mere coffee spoon – I could have taken more – of truffled-flavoured honey and true to French tradition, served with bread.
Finally to dessert which was a caramelised lemon tart with raspberry puree and crème fraiche, a perfectly executed classic.
Coffee came from a fancy Vienna coffee siphon contraption full of tubes, levers and taps that thankfully made us decent coffee too.
And that was it, the new improved Cochon Aveugle. I mourn the loss of the crazy, short-lived Blind Swine but at least out of the ashes has arisen this clever, little independent that has not only hit the ground running but on this visit – a sold-out evening – looks set to flourish.
• Le Cochon Aveugle, 37 Walmgate, York YO1 9TX. Telephone 01904 640222, firstname.lastname@example.org, www. cochonaveugleyork.com. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 6pm-9pm. Price: £30 per head plus wine and coffee