Restaurant review: Fish and Forest, York

Fish and Forest may occupy a room in a pub just outside York’s city walls, but it serves up food that has a bit of soul, and that matters, says Elaine Lemm.

A starter of Wild Mushrooms Mandu , Mushroom Velkoute, Onion at the 'Fish and Forest' restaurant in York.

I don’t think I have ever been as drawn to a restaurant by its logo than I was with Fish and Forest in York. I spotted the clever, witty design held up to the camera by chef-owner Stephen Andrew on Instagram back in October; he obviously loved it, so did I.

I was further impressed with the thinking behind the start-up restaurant, which according to Stephen “was conceptualised to bring the very best in sustainable sourced seafood, fish and game with the use of locally produced veg”. His words captivated me. Stephen had already been working out of Spark, the conglomerate of shipping containers on Piccadilly but having trialled his concept, and hopefully honed it, he was ready to move on and up, so off he went to the Gillygate pub just outside the city walls.

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Despite the temptation to pounce right there and then, I thought it best to bide my time. By February though, I was getting twitchy – Stephen had already made it into both a national and industry magazine, and they had nothing but praise for the place.

A main course of Halibut, Green Peppercorn, Celeriac, Poireaux, Potatoes at the 'Fish and Forest' restaurant in York.

Hilariously I booked for a Saturday night in a traditional pub where the Six Nations was in full flow on the television and the place jam-packed. Fish and Forest is in a room off the open bar, so there was no escaping it but, oddly, it was terrific fun.

You must book here (there’s no phone number so, it’s online only) as this place is tiny with just a handful of tables, but with only Stephen in the kitchen and the charming Yohan out front I doubt they could handle any more.

Even with just six starters (£7.50 to £8) and mains (£15.50 to £18), the range of ingredients involved is considerable. What stood out was the creative and enticing use of a variety of fish and game, appearing as gravadlax alongside beetroot and goat’s cheese, mackerel as a Kiev, smoked haddock croquettes and as a chowder. There’s pheasant in a pithivier as well as appearing later as bacon. Then, smack bang amid these flourishes, Stephen throws in die-hard classics, with distinct French influences, like a hearty and delicious bourguignon listed on the specials menu with “poireaux”, which does make it sound so more exciting than leeks.

As well as the bourguignon, we enjoyed the crisp croquettes of deeply-smoked haddock and an exemplary Bearnaise sauce. Wild mushroom shumi (like a ravioli but heftier) came with a mushroom veloute as the vegetarian offer. There were further French notes with a super-delicious, precisely cooked chunk of halibut and green peppercorns on a silky celeriac puree that I loved. And, to round off the dinner, a textbook, light chocolate delice, with caramel, orange and Chantilly (£7), which we fought over and he won.

A dessert of Chocolate Delice, Caramel. Orange and Chantilly at the 'Fish and Forest' restaurant in York.

As carefully as they put the menu together here, so too are the wines. I’d expect them to work with the food, they do, and it was thrilling to find more unusual wines to try from the eight whites and reds on offer. A Chilean Elki Pedro Ximenez, Villa Fallernia currently tops my favourites list as a deliciously fresh and acidic white yet still fruity without cloying. Thank you, Yohan, for the recommendation.

The meal did not come without the odd flaw, my celeriac could have been warmer and so could all the starter and main plates, but when mentioned were corrected immediately, so fair enough. By the time we were on mains, the place was full, and Yohan really showed his expertise whizzing around yet still taking the time needed in explaining the menu, serving the drinks, and overall being charming. What a team these two are.

Since my visit though, I have heard on the q.t. that the pair have secured restaurant premises and will be moving again in a few months.

In the meantime though, do not go to Fish and Forest if you want to be dazzled by designer chic, sparkles and flashiness. Do go if you wish to have cooking that matters and has a soul, and you are willing to forgive the odd mistake in supporting what I think is a bold move on their part with this venture. They are smart in starting this way, they still have things to learn, but I, for one, find them inspirational, and I wish them the success they deserve.

The 'Fish and Forest' sign at the restaurant.

Fish and Forest, 48 Gillygate, York, YO31 7EQ. To book go to Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 12-4pm and 5-9 pm.

Welcome 5/5

Food 4/5

Atmosphere 4/5

Prices 4/5