Taster menus can be high in price and low in satisfaction. Not, says Dave Lee, at The Green Room in Scarborough.
Tricky blighter, the taster menu. Every chef worth their Maldon sea salt wants to showcase their skills with a line of witty, elaborate show-offy dishes that have their customers scratching their heads and giggling while pulling yummy faces as they tuck in. Removing choice from your guests’ evening, however, risks alienating the picky, the unsure and the unadventurous, and possibly standing alone in an empty restaurant until forced to surrender to the bank manager’s demands and put steak and chips on the menu. Even trickier is offering a taster menu made up of five fancy-pants modern English courses in a town where most people go soley for the fish and chips.
Fair play, then to young Rob Porter, who has managed to run the 24-cover Green Room on Upper Victoria Road for the past seven years and offer a delicious, inventive, locally sourced, regularly updated taster menu to great (if unheralded) success.
Rob is a Scarborough lad who learned to cook at the Yorkshire Coast College, travelled south – to Jersey, of all places – to hone his craft and then returned home determined to make his mark on North Yorkshire’s culinary scene. The Green Room is his first and only venture and, if the evening I had there recently is anything to go by, his reputation is due to come into bloom.
The restaurant itself is staffed by just a couple of waitresses, with Rob and another hand in the kitchen and there is a welcome lack of pretension within its two adjoining, wood-clad rooms. There is no room for expansion, so every inch is utilised but the restaurant doesn’t feel cramped; you just wouldn’t want to bring a party of 12 down here.
By the time you read this the season-friendly taster menu I enjoyed will almost certainly be a thing of the past but you should get an idea of what to expect when you visit from the titles of the dishes alone.
Take, for instance, sea bass with porridge, bacon and melon salad. The four main ingredients in this dish are things most people would, quite understandably, never combine but they actually work fantastically well. The bacon deepens the taste of the fish, the melon adds a lightness to the top notes and the porridge makes you go “Oooo! That porridge works. I didn’t think it would”.
That first offering had readied me for Rob’s unusual combinations, so when wood pigeon with textures of rhubarb arrived I was quick to notice that the vivid, red plateful had something that looked like muesli at the bottom. It turned out to be granola and it added a marvellous juxtaposed texture to the succulent slices of seared pigeon breast and the various slow roasted, jellied and pickled mouthfuls of rhubarb. Pickled rhubarb, by the way, is something I’d never tried before but it was a tangy revelation; I know what I’ll be doing with my crop this year.
The middle plate of the evening – taste of the sea – looked like something washed up on the beach in a Beryl Cook painting. There was a bacon cured roll mop, an oyster fritter and a diddy octopus all prepared with care and wittily arranged on a few strands of samphire. I don’t think I’ll ever like herring – and even bacon curing it can’t tempt me to convert – but the oyster fritter was great and the octopus worked well with the plum tomato diced on top.
After this, the lamb Provencal that arrived next seemed a little unadventurous, but who’s going to complain about a brace of perfectly cooked cutlets mounted on juicy, sweet roast Mediterranean veg? There was, at least, a couple of aubergine “caviar” dollops to elaborate it up a bit.
Last came chocolate, peanut and caramel pieces, a gorgeous-looking tableau temptingly arranged on a long plank. It consisted of chocolate offered five ways (mousse, crisp, ganache, jelly and granola) with arty caramel shards and peanut dust scattered around. It was like an architects model of a post-modern city, but brown and melty. At least that’s what my wine-and-calorie-addled notes say.
The tasting menu costs £24.95 per person and I think that represents great value in every respect. All the dishes were interesting, handsome, clever and generous and, unless you are terminally dull of palate, there was something to enjoy on each plate. Add a couple of bottles of a well-chosen white (at £16 a bottle) and you have a couple or three hours in a cosy restaurant being well stuffed and looked after for just over £80. Two orders of fish, chips and peas with a can of shandy in a café on the front doesn’t cost much less than that these days. OK, I exaggerate, but it was still comparatively good value.
The Green Room does, I should add, also offer a “non show-offy” menu which looks perfectly handsome, but why would you choose that when you can have an evening of adventure and surprise with one of Rob’s tasty taster treats?
Rob Porter has great plans for the future, but it’s hard to see how he can do much more within the limitations of the Green Room. There’s no scope to extend the building and, with just 24 seats at his disposal, there will be strictures placed on how far he can take the restaurant. But, given his obvious skill in the kitchen, his eye for good ingredients and his keen imagination, I wouldn’t think bricks and mortar will hold him back. Expect a lot more from him in the coming years. I know I do.
The Green Room, Upper Victoria Road, Scarborough. 01723 501801, www.thegreenroomrestaurant.com. Opening times: Tuesday to Thursday, 5pm to 9pm; Friday, 5pm to 9.30pm; Saturday, 5pm to 10pm.