It’s a couple of brave chaps who take a once-popular York pub, oust the customer base (though, to be fair, it was the brewery which did the ousting), revamp and then reopen as a restaurant. The chaps in question are local businessmen Martin Bridge and Andrew Whitney. Martin had kept an eye on the then Yorkshire Hussar pub on North Street from his nearby base as manager of The Living Room Restaurant-Bar.
The Hussar dates back to 1895 and though once would have been a fine example of a proper Victorian pub, Martin could see the glory days were long gone. When the brewery decided to sell up, Martin and Andrew struck.
In place of the old boozer, there now sits a 50-seater gentrified steak and ale house. Take your pick as you enter; right to a bar complete with fine ales and a good choice of wines and spirits, straight on takes you to the main restaurant and left to what is ostensibly a private dining room. This room has suffered from a little over-zealous, idiosyncratic decoration of silver quilted walls, chandeliers and a budgie. Still, each to his own and at least the décor creates a talking point; we discussed it for quite some time.
The main room and bar, thankfully, are much calmer and pay great homage to the Victorian roots of the building though the builders and decorators could do with popping back to complete a bit of snagging – specifically the missing heating vent near our table.
The hub of the menu is steak with plenty of excellent Yorkshire produce playing a supporting role. There is nothing quirky, just a good, solid menu with the meat neatly balanced alongside fish and poultry, but – not unsurprisingly for a steakhouse – little choice for vegetarians.
The steak menu is comprehensive: 28-day aged sirloin, rib eye, fillet and T-bone with prices from £18-£27 respectively. Not too badly priced when you consider they come served with hand cut chips, mash or sweet potato fries, slow roasted tomatoes and pea shoots. Sauces are extra, as, so it seems, is bread and nibbles of olives or fried gherkins. If you really want to push the boat out, then order the 40-day aged steak; the flavour and tenderness increase in direct proportion to the price.
A whitebait starter (£5.75) came unadorned in an earthenware bowl with a small dish of aioli on the side. The fish were squeaky fresh, clean-tasting and without the slightest trace of oil. They could only be bettered by dipping into the silky garlic-infused mayo. Pan seared scallops, Chorizo with sweet sherry poached pears came slightly more expensive at £8.75 but worth it. Each component of the dish was pretty faultless though the pear could have been better trimmed and cored.
The T-bone was spot on. Cooked rare – as it deserves – it was tender, juicy and packed with flavour both from the meat and the light caramelisation from the cooking. Given the size of the steak it certainly needed the thick, wooden board it was served on. The chips, though a little limp, equally had a good flavour. Though I had dithered over a café de Paris butter or Bearnaise sauce, I had chosen the latter and was very happy.
The choice of vegetarian dishes was limited to just two mains, with both at £10. There was a mushroom, Yorkshire Blue cheese, broccoli pie with mashed potato or – the one chosen – chargrilled courgette, field mushrooms, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, with Halloumi and a balsamic dressing.
The dish was fine but lacking in imagination. The veggies were tasty enough; the Halloumi added texture and another flavour; the dressing rounded them together. With such an emphasis on meat, I guess it is understandable but a shame nonetheless.
A piled-on-the-plate dessert of chargrilled pineapple, fig, strawberry, pear, and plum suffered a similar fate to the vegetarian dish. There was nothing to complain about, but I felt it a little lazy in approach. The cheese didn’t do too well, either. Three tiny slivers, one an Old Peculiar was fine; the Yorkshire Bowler disintegrated, and a Shropshire Blue had seen better days. At £8 I would have expected more from this dish.
Our food had had mainly ups and a few downs, but overall we were pleased with it. We were also very happy with the young, willing and extremely pleasant staff. However, I would suggest they put their mobile phones away, as well as think about clean aprons for evening service, if they want to be taken seriously.
Despite my pernickety observations, in fairness, the Whippet Inn has only been open a few months and already has a lot going for it. It is a “work in progress” and by fixing the bits and bobs that need attention, they can so easily fulfil the potential they unmistakably have. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.
The Whippet Inn, 15 North Street York, YO1 6JD. 01904 500660, www.whippetinn.com. Open daily, 12am-12pm. Oh, and a word of warning, if you have children, the Whippet Inn is adult dining only.