Le Cochon Aveugle in York: Five-star review for restaurant where you don’t know what you’ll be served

Le Cochon Aveugle offers an oasis of warm, relaxed, fun vibes amidst York’s revellers, writes Amanda Wragg. Pictures by Tony Johnson.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in York on a Saturday night and I’d forgotten that it’s a bit wild – running the gauntlet between Bootham and Walmgate is something of a prime TV game show scenario that once would have featured Anneka Rice dashing about in a jumpsuit.

We were almost mown down on a pedestrian crossing by a furious bearded man on a bike, his Anglo Saxon expletives bellowing into the night. This is my explanation of our ten-minute lateness to Le Cochon Aveugle (we got a call after five to check we were en route) because the thing is, you all sit down to eat at the same time, and there were hungry diners waiting for us to show.

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As it turned out no-one seemed bothered – they were tucking into cocktails and chewing the fat with the staff. The small, smart dining room has spaced tables all with a view of the open kitchen. You don’t know what you’re going to get – food just arrives with a brief description from its server and off you go.

Boudin noir macaron with black walnut.Boudin noir macaron with black walnut.
Boudin noir macaron with black walnut.

What follows in the next hour or two is a delightful adventure through fields, rivers, veg patches and the sea, starting off with a beaker of smoked eel and apple broth with astonishing clarity and depth – just one mouthful but the flavour’s so intense that’s all you need. Peel a slice of cured woodland pig shoulder from the rock it comes on and eat at the same time; inspired.

Josh Overington’s signature black pudding macaron turns up and it’s every bit as good – no, better – than advertised. It’s a macaron. It’s savoury/sweet. It’s jet black. It’s perfectly mouth-sized and bloody marvellous. One of two courses to turn up in an egg shell arrives: savoury custard with smoked cod’s roe, smooth as Dulux with a fabulously soft smoke on the roe and on a night like this, it’s sunshine in a shell.

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Next, a native flat oyster warmed in yoghurt whey with brassicas, postcard-pretty with a slap of the sea, followed up with a huge Orkney scallop cooked in sea urchin butter – deeply flavoursome with bouncy sourdough to mop up the joyous juices.

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Sauterness egg with bitter caramel.Sauterness egg with bitter caramel.
Sauterness egg with bitter caramel.

Then, aged Charolais beef tartar with (I had to look it up too) Petrossian caviar – just a couple of decadent mouthfuls with a cute finger of Perigord truffle-flecked bread. It’s hard to choose but my dish of the night is cod poached in chicken fat – it’s a stunning, elegant plate, the fish sitting in a sweet onion and verbena broth, the flinty Viognier chosen for us by the young French sommelier a perfect pairing.

A brief history: Le Cochon Aveugle was first owned by maverick chef Michael O’Hare serving French classics in a room done out like a tart’s boudoir. Overington (late of Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers in Marlow, the Waterside in Bray and East Yorkshire’s Michelin-starred Pipe and Glass) was in the kitchen until the place closed suddenly, O’Hare blaming a hefty rent rise.

He headed for Leeds while Overington negotiated the lease, dumped the naff jokes and knickers and opened with the same name but with modern French cooking. He was joined by his partner, Victoria Roberts, who arrived fresh from her role as assistant manager at the Black Swan at Oldstead; dream team.

It’s not for the allergy-prone, unadventurous, vegetarian, vegan or shy. Cool tunes drift through the air and there’s none of that hushed temple of gastronomy nonsense. You don’t have to whisper, sit up straight or even put your glad rags on. Unlike a lot of tasting menus, this one is fun as well as delicious. That’s not to say that Overington isn’t serious – of course he is – but he really wants you to have a good time. He’s a calm, unruffled presence standing at the pass, all-seeing, guiding his chefs and strolling over to talk to guests between courses.

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Hand dived Orkney scallop cooked 'a la ficelle' in sea urchin butter.Hand dived Orkney scallop cooked 'a la ficelle' in sea urchin butter.
Hand dived Orkney scallop cooked 'a la ficelle' in sea urchin butter.

Of the three desserts (something insanely chocolatey, something with sheep’s yoghurt and rhubarb), it’s the Sauternes egg with bitter caramel that hits the spot – it’s a triumphant finish.

Hospitality has become increasingly hard and, like so many restaurateurs, Overington’s had to adapt – he’s also got a baby daughter and wants to spend time with her, so he’s determined to make the work/life balance a healthy one and that’s no bad thing. So he’s open just four nights a week, and the no-choice menu means he can source and budget accurately. Is this the future of eating out? If it makes sense to him, it makes sense to me.

Regardless of how good the food is, I can never remember more than four courses so it’s with a sigh of relief that an envelope is handed to us with the menu. We brave the stormy elements and dash back across town dodging revellers and I have absolutely no desire to stop at the kebab van (this has happened to me more than once).

A blind tasting at the Blind Swine turns out to be an absolute delight; tons of technique shot through with playfulness, a warm, relaxed vibe and no one appearing to do any heavy lifting; he makes it look easy.

Le Cochon Aveugle, 37 Walmgate, York YO1 9TX T: 01904 640222, www.lecochonaveugle.uk; tasting menu: £95; open: Wednesday to Saturday night from 6pm and also Saturday lunchtimes.

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