Low Petergate is in that enchanting part of York almost touching the penumbra of the Minster, chock full of snickets and alleyways, and now a new tavern. Not a pub, not an inn, but a tavern conjuring up Dickensian images of jugs of frothy ale, platters of food, mystery and curiosities. Even the name of this new place is set to create intrigue – well done to whoever came up with Mr P’s Curious Tavern.
Mr P is none other than the illustrious chef of chefs, Andrew Pern, who will need no introduction for regular readers of this column. For those who aren’t, Andrew is chef-patron of the renowned Michelin-starred Star at Harome and executive chef/director of the Star Inn the City, York.
At the tavern, Andrew has taken a slight swerve from his usual style of food and service and embraced the current favourite of the food world with a small-plate, grazing-style menu. The deviation is slight as those who know his food well will quickly recognise that his brilliant style of weaving provenance, seasonality, texture and technique effortlessly onto a plate is still here.
So has he pulled it off again? The food at Mr P’s is loosely described as “tapas style” so order your dishes (three or so choices each to share is recommended) and they will arrive in no particular order – that decision comes from the kitchen and notions of when and how need abandoning. Easier said than done, but more of that later.
There are no fewer than 10 sections to choose from on the menu. Add to that specials and if you are up for total abandonment a Taste by Surprise by letting them choose for you. That is a lot of food which to decide upon and no easy feat.
Our eventual choices come first from the “sea” section with citrus-cured salmon, poached gooseberries, avocado and dill (£6.50) and white crab with marinated fennel, Granny Smith salad and pink grapefruit (£7). And from the “land”, beef black and blue crapaudine beetroot, burnt leek mayonnaise (£11). These three impeccable dishes confirmed the magic of the Pern touch when developing a menu, all three so clever in their construction and faultless in the execution.
From the “oddities” segment (I guess these dishes did not work under other titles) was a rather robust Strasbourg “Haute Dog” with juniper, cabbage coleslaw, fried onions on brioche (£7). The dish was a far weightier offering than others and apart from an over-toasted dry bun was pretty good and well deserved its posh title.
From “fruit and veg” came heirloom tomatoes, burrata, ciabatta and basil (£6) which brought back some delicacy to the table. But, without a doubt, and what we both agreed on were the fries (£3) being the best we had eaten for quite some time, in fact, longer than I can remember, that’s how good they were. Not sure what they are doing to make them that good, but I’d like to know.
“Puds and cheese” were surprisingly small in content with only four and a cheese selection. Boozy apple crumble stumbled a little in the adventure stakes. It was more than acceptable but seemed a little safe for Mr P. More exciting and with a good twist to it was the oddly sounding egg ’n’ toast which was by any other name a creamy panna cotta with tropical fruit puree and delicious.
The food ticked just about every box going with the crab and the fries outstanding. The delivery didn’t fare quite as well. I know this is at the behest of the kitchen, but that shouldn’t be entirely random surely? Three dishes came so swiftly we couldn’t find room on the table; there was a long wait, then some fries, another wait and another flurry. The staff are lovely, helpful and managing it all well, but table clearing, in particular when there is no food on the way, would make for a better experience. These are small gripes and perhaps seem a little unfair, given the quality of what is on offer here, but are peeves easily remedied.
Mr P’s Curious Tavern is in a timber framed Grade II listed building from the 17th century. Latterly it was a cafe, and converting must have been a nightmare. What is here now is stunning. Two floors packed with curios and artefacts (collected by Mr P himself allegedly), there are hams and great hunks of charcuterie waiting to be sliced and two bars groan with an array of drinks and plenty of gin, which was, at one time, the drink in taverns of old. The place is supremely welcoming, relaxed and entirely befitting of the building.
So in answer to my earlier question, yes, he has pulled it off, big time. The food surpasses expectation even with those slight niggles, and he has evidently put a great team in the kitchen. He has chosen well too front of house; there are just a few who need a little more time to settle in. I love the whole concept, and this is an excellent addition to York. The boy did good.
Mr P’s Curious Tavern, 71 Low Petergate, York YO1 7HY; telephone 01904 521177; open Monday to Saturday, 11am to 11pm (last food orders 9.30pm).