Trying to get some definitive history on the Monks Walk in Beverley is a tough task. No-one seems to have any hard facts. Maybe it’s the oldest pub in the town (possibly dating from the 14th-century) or maybe – as my dad insists – it’s a former monastery where the monks used to tend plague victims. Maybe it’s neither. Maybe my dad has an overactive imagination. At least my mam thinks so. What is definite is that it’s a fine old building and the pub it used to house until a year or so ago didn’t do justice to the handsome, historic walls within which it plied its dull trade.
Lately, new owners have been attracted, money has been invested and the whole building has been redeveloped. Actually, it’s two buildings separated by an alleyway – the actual Monks Walk. One side used to be cellars but has been turned into a (somewhat inhospitable) bar and the side that used to be a pub has now become a dedicated restaurant. There are further rooms being turned into accommodation and a function room and terrace are on the cards elsewhere.
All of this has been done under the watchful eyes of two very august bodies. The first is English Heritage, who ensured the work was within the restrictions of a strict grade II listing, and the other is long-standing Franglais restaurateur Francois Primpied, a man who has been plying his trade in East Yorkshire since arriving here from Lyon as a 14-year-old trainee chef some four decades ago.
Francois’s culinary style has always, to my memory, been on the French side of Mediterranean and evenings at his establishments usually involved pretty good food accompanied by the man himself serenading the room on his accordion. He has a loyal constituency of regular customers and it is likely these and his undoubted ability to run a tight ship inspired the money men to convince him to postpone his planned retirement long enough to oversee the opening of what may (or may not, it’s hard to tell) be called Francois at Monks Walk.
With an eye on the future, Francois has engaged keen young chef Callum Williams – late of Winteringham Fields – to design the menu and head up the gastronomic side. The idea, it would appear, is that once the place is up and running Callum will take the reins and Francois can re-immerse himself in relaxed old age.
“Enough history,” I hear you call. “Is it any good?” Well, yes it is. The refit has cheered the place up, the menu features plenty of familiar favourites mingled with more interesting fare and it’s clear that chef Callum is talented and has studied well under Colin McGurran. For the first time in many years, the Monks Walk stands a chance of living up to its heritage.
We (I took my mother, just to wind up my dad) ordered the five-course tasting menu and were offered no information on what we might be eating beyond “the fish course” or “the meat course”. Sadly, none of the dishes that subsequently arrived were quite as intriguing as this précis promised. Almost all, however, were very good.
An amuse-bouche of sweetcorn veloute and diddy cheesy brioche buns left both us and the table next door wishing we had a proper, big bowlful of the stuff, so light and zippy was it.
The fish course consisted of a twist on the well-worn scallop and black pudding combination. The scallops were seared and served with apple cubes (interesting), apple puree (very sweet) and “black pudding cream” (looked like Nutella, tasted of nothing).
I didn’t think the dish worked, but this being a tasting menu it was scoffed and replaced before we had too much time to fret.
Next came slow roast boneless chicken with a fricassée of wild mushrooms, artichoke puree and game crisps. Without wanting to sound lazily simplistic, it was ace. As good a piece of chicken as I’ve ever had.
The sauce and other bits on the plate were good, but the chicken really stole the show. Have it, if you’re going. ...or have the roast beef cheek with pomme purée and veg. It turned up next and was utterly delicious. The cheeks of most animals are hugely undervalued and extremely tasty in the right hands. Here they were cooked for four hours in wine and stock and the resulting meat falls apart at first sight of a fork and tastes rich and deep and so moreish that you could eat it all day, only worrying after 16 or 17 helpings that you may be doing yourself serious harm.
Next, a palate cleanser of coconut panna cotta with “flavours of pineapple”proved impossible to make last longer than 12 seconds but was lovely stuff. Finally, a crème brûlée. Regular readers will know that I am particularly picky when it comes to my crème brûlée. I’m glad to report that this had a crack factor of 8.3 (which is acceptable) and that the underneath was an 8.7 (again, perfectly serviceable).
All round, the Monks Walk is fairly reasonable value – the tasting menu is £38 on an evening, £28 during the day – and should easily attract discerning but not-too-adventurous diners. I wish they’d let Callum experiment more. You can get scallops and crème brûlée anywhere – go crackers, son, give us something worthy of your obvious talent.
As we were leaving my mam said: “Did you notice that three of the staff mentioned how busy the place has been? Makes me think they haven’t been very busy”
Wise words and we dined with only a handful of others on a Thursday night, but I hope they are doing well, if only so Callum prospers and Francois can finally get some well-earned rest.
The Monks Walk, 19-20 Highgate, Beverley HU17 0DW. Tuesday to Saturday, noon-2pm and 6pm- 9.30pm, Sundays noon-2pm. 01482 888122, www.themonkswalk.com.