In the absence of restaurants to visit during lockdown one of my small pleasures was foraging, not in the hedgerows collecting nettles and dandelion leaves, but among the independent food shops of York my town, that offered treats to lift the spirits.
The freshly baked flatbreads from Zam Zam the Turkish grocery store, cheeses and salamis from Little Italy and when I was feeling especially indulgent an authentic Italian gelato from Roberto’s.
But my go-to shop was the Little Arras bakery on Goodramgate which by great good fortune opened just as the pandemic hit. Their baguettes, cinnamon rolls and snowy topped almond croissants got me through some of the toughest times.
The bakery also proved to be a lifeline for its owners Adam and Lovaine Humphrey. I wasn’t the only one queuing for white tin loaves, seeded rye and chewy sourdough. Strolling home in the sunshine with newspaper and baguette in hand, I could almost believe I was in Paris. There were chicken pies, pissaladieres and sausage rolls to supply picnics and frangipanes, cookies and cakes for dessert.
It seemed only right therefore when restaurants reopened, to check out the Humphreys’ older sibling, Arras, the restaurant they opened in 2017 fresh from Sydney, Australia where they had been running another Arras.
It was something of a homecoming for Adam from Market Weighton and Lovaine from Poole in Dorset who took on the former Le Langhe on Peasholme Green and gave it a dramatic transformation with a sleek new reception area furnished with banquettes, low tables and an elegantly back-lit bar. The bright mezzanine dining room has doors to the lovely St Anthony’s Garden, one of York’s hidden gems.
It was our first meal out since lockdown and it felt good on a balmy spring evening to be handed a chilled glass of rosé, a selection of snacks and a mini iron pot of asparagus, garnished with flowers and finished with a sweet garlic velouté with the prospect of a good meal ahead of us.
Our first course was their take on prawn cocktail using lightly cured halibut in place of prawns, then cucumber, lettuce and a pink grapefruit emulsion. For my pal Liz, scallop ‘‘lasagne’’ was made up of finely sliced and grilled scallops beside layers of tender squid and a rich tomato sauce served with a whole loaf of their signature sourdough.
Beef olives are rather out of fashion these days. I haven’t had them since I disastrously cooked them to impress some foodie friends when I was a young novice cook. The recipe involved parcels of fillet steak filled with a rich stuffing. I cooked it for so long the whole thing collapsed into what in effect was a tray of mince, gravy and bits of string. Naturally Adam Humphrey knows how to cook a beef olive and he does so very well, his skirt steak enclosed a rich filling of minced beef and calves liver and sensitive spicing from nutmeg and mace. This he served with generous slices of sirloin, a celeriac remoulade, the smoothest artichoke purée and a rich, bone marrow sauce.
I say he served it, but in truth the chef was at home that night, putting his two young children to bed. It turns out that like many restaurants they are desperately short staffed, so for now Adam works daytime then swaps with Lovaine who takes over front of house for dinner.
Despite the crisis back-stage, it was all calm out front. Food and service was spot on, especially at dessert. Rhubarb compote with a burnt butter custard, poured over hazelnut ice cream with meringue shards and the pinkest of pink rhubarb granita like a fluffy mound of cherry blossom. Pandan leaves have a fragrant, subtle, grassy flavour and here were partnered with chocolate in a sort of posh choc-ice made of wafer-thin Venezuelan chocolate filled with a pandan mousse, then a pandan sponge topped with chocolate caramel, pandan ice cream and finally an earthy black sesame biscuit filled with ganache. A riot of contrasting tastes, textures and colours. Sweet but not too sweet.
It was fun to be out again after so long and it’s good news that restaurant bookings are healthy and that hospitality is starting to bounce back. But staff shortages now threaten to frustrate an industry already so decimated by the pandemic. For now, we can help by honouring bookings, avoiding late cancellations (Arras had an empty table all evening due to the latter) and support the likes of Arras to recoup their losses and stay afloat.
Open: Wed-Sat 12-2pm Tue-Sat 6-9.30pm.
Price: Three course a la carte lunch £27.50/Dinner £49.50. Kitchen Menu: £60 wine pairing £40.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.