Skilful cooking and cheaper cuts adds up to taste and value says Jill Turton.
My grandparents were butchers, but if you ever harboured any thoughts that butchers lived on fillet steak and ribs of beef think again. My grandma cooked the cheapest cuts, the offal and the offcuts that needed long slow cooking. After all, there was no point in eating the profitable bits.
Onglet, hanger or butcher’s steak – it’s called different things in different places – is one such cheap cut, a cut the butcher traditionally kept back for himself because it was both cheap and tasty.
It’s the same with restaurants. Any chef worth his onions needs to know how to make the best out of the cheap, unloved bits that no one else wants to bother with and at Six Poor Folk in Knaresborough they are doing just that with a menu of good value dishes that never peaks above £15.
On our visit, they serve us generous slices of butcher’s steak topped with slow cooked cloves of garlic, skinny fries, a heap of rocket and a scattering of semi-dried tomatoes, all for no more than a tenner. “Chef recommends it medium rare, if that’s OK?” we’re asked. Carefully put lad, it’s a cut which needs brief and perfect timing if it’s not to toughen up.
This was just the right side of chewy, but since I’m not yet of an age when the waiter needs to cut up my food, (a not-to-be-forgotten scene at the Talbot Hotel in Malton), I’m not complaining.
The rest of the menu looks equally good value. There is chicken chasseur at £10; belly pork and colcannon at £10.50; a handmade burger with onions, Gouda, bacon and skinny fries at £9; even the top of the bill rib eye steak is a remarkable £14.50. I’ve seen it in many a place at double that. There are four vegetarian dishes on the menu, all with an appreciation that vegetables are still cheaper than animal protein and so beetroot risotto and vegetable curry are priced at £8.50 and polenta and halloumi salad at £7.
How do they do it? Well by shopping locally and making the best of cheaper ingredients. If they can make a tasty dish out of something the rest of us can’t be bothered to cook like shin beef and oxtail broth with dumplings or pork hash then I’m very happy to eat it.
The pork hash (£6) was a clever dish of slow cooked pork, shaped into a patty, topped with a fried duck egg and given a sharp caper dressing. Lovely. A shame then that the carrot and ginger soup (£4.50) though prettily presented with vegetable chips and chopped parsley, tasted only loosely of carrot and lacked the flavour that comes from good sweet carrots and decent stock. Salt pepped it up a bit but the warmed up bread cake didn’t offer much either – it was the one duff note of the evening.
By contrast a main of coley, cod’s poor relation, a fish once reserved for the cat, was sensitively cooked. Firm and white, the skin fried to a crisp and served on a mix of creamed leeks, potatoes and brown shrimp butter – and shrimps aren’t cheap. At dessert they offer a menu of homely puddings consisting of crumble, chocolate mousse, ice cream and rice pudding, all at a good value fiver. Cheese – blue, soft, hard and goat’s served with biscuits and chutney is £6.
The chocolate mousse was dark and dense, enlivened by the sharp kick of passion fruit. The pear and apple crumble was fine, though the topping of sweetened crumbs didn’t work for me as well as a traditional crumble in which a Vesuvius of bubbling hot fruit meet buttery crumbs in perfect fusion.
But with our bill topping just £56 including a Flensburger Pilsener and a couple of glasses of Italian Primitivo Salento, it was terrific value for more than respectable cooking. So this is a well considered, neighbourhood restaurant which marries its sensible pricing with all day, every day opening from breakfast onwards, a monthly changing menu and assiduous service amid a relaxed vibe. All of which probably explains why on a foul Monday night in January when Knaresborough looked like an abandoned film set and most restaurants would take a night off, the place was cheerfully busy.
The man behind it is Nick Lawson who landed here from a career in hotel management at Harrogate’s Hotel Du Vin and Birmingham’s Malmaison. He’s set up the interior with a happy balance between modern and relaxed: Half a dozen tables on the ground floor and two substantial dining rooms upstairs, a couple of high stools, a sofa and a wood burning stove set in an ancient brick fireplace (in which the last incumbents found a mummified cat put there centuries before, supposedly to ward off evil spirits).
And the name? It doesn’t refer to the clientele or, hopefully, to the owners, but to the building. It was once an almshouse, part of a bigger building built around 1500 which once provided food and shelter for ‘six poor folk.’ A good fit then for the 21st century providing food, shelter plus drink for all wallets.
Six Poor Folk, Castlegate, Knaresborough HG5 8AR. 01423 869918, www.sixpoorfolk.com
Price: £25 per person plus wine and service. Open: Monday to Saturday, 10am-11pm;Sunday, 10am-6pm.