I will confess to a few happy tears as I dusted down my notebook and searched desperately in the bottom of the wardrobe for my heels last seen some 15 months before.
Boris gave the green light to May 17 for the reopening of hospitality, and a day later I was sitting in the bar of Grays Court Hotel in York pen at the ready. For someone who even eschewed supermarkets during the pandemic, this was a brave moment for me, and I wobbled variously between a dizzy excitement at being out and the sheer terror of being in the presence of strangers.
If I was nervous, I have no idea how chef Adam Jackson felt. For Adam, latterly at the Feversham Arms, this was his first evening as the head chef here at the Bow Room Restaurant; he had to contend with a new team, kitchen, menu and me. I wouldn’t usually visit a restaurant so quickly, but we are coming out of strange times. Besides, I had every confidence in Adam; he is one of Yorkshire’s best.
The award-winning grade-1 listed Grays Court is one of York’s most beautiful hotels tucked between the Minster and the medieval city walls; the location is glorious and steeped in history dating back to the 11th century.
The Bow Room is a classy dining room with high, beautifully decorative ceilings, tall windows overlooking a magnificent garden where guests took in the last remnant of a sunny evening over drinks. There is oodles of space around our table, and covers are deliberately low on this first evening – I doubt it will stay that way for long – and I will admit any anxiety started to ease. As I expected, this is a Tasting Menu.
Some time back, pre-pandemic, I mentioned that I was growing bored with this style of food; be careful of what you wish for. Now I was beside myself with excitement, not least as Jackson is the master of this genre.
Once we started, food flowed from the kitchen, placed and explained by Alex, who I found out later, was on his first, proper full-time shift too, and he didn’t miss a beat. Reading the menu with just six-courses seems restrained.
Still, add on the canapés, amuses bouche of asparagus velouté, a brick pastry tart with asparagus and Exmoor caviar, plus a palette cleanser, and we are on full throttle. Rarely is bread and butter a course in its own right, however here, two bites into a sourdough using yeast from Ainsty Brewery and (mine) slathered with Marmite butter, I demand it has top billing.
This course alone could well have been my entire dinner and my review several hundred words shorter; it took every ounce of willpower to stop eating, so good, was it.
Wasn’t I glad I did stop, though?
The beef came as tartare, tongue and Bresaola, with soft-cooked egg yolk, nasturtium and a potato and tomato terrine. Wild sea trout with cucumber, pea, mint, chilli, fresh pomegranate, sesame and fennel leaves.
Pork as both brawn and a bon-bon with cauliflower, Monks Beard and wild garlic. Our first dessert was a sheer work of art on the plate accompanied by a little theatrical dry-ice drifting over the table. There was a tiny lemon drizzle cake, set lemon custard with elderflower sorbet, pressed gooseberry and almond tuille.
The utterly fantastic combination almost but not quite eclipsed the final dessert of chocolate parfait, strawberry and vanilla. Each course came on, or in, beautiful plates, bowls and boxes. Every detail was so carefully thought through.
Our senses had been bombarded with taste, texture, and beauty, and interestingly, we were so engrossed in the food and excellent wines, it was only at the end I realised, despite all my earlier hesitation, it was joyous to be out. What an outstanding and memorable evening it had been.
One small aspect to an otherwise perfect evening needed attention I announced as we walked out into the now quiet, dark streets of York. The heels were killing me, but thankfully I had my trainers in my bag.
The Bow Room Restaurant at Grays Court Hotel, Chapter House Street, York YO1 7JH Tel: 01904 612613 Grays Court and Bow Room Restaurant
Garden Bar: 12:00pm - 8:00pm (Weather permitting). Evening menu: 7:00pm
Tasting menu £80 per person, wine flight £50.