Hipster restaurants. They’ve been around long enough now for us all to know what to expect and for it all to become a bit old hat (or, more likely, old deerstalker-style lumberjack chapeau). The location for this review, however, is Hull; a city where such flagrant affectation is neither welcome, wanted nor tolerated.
The uniquely blunt and no-nonsense nature of the denizens of East Yorkshire may be why hipster culture has yet failed to find noticeable purchase. The closest the city has yet been to embracing hipsterdom cuisine is to be found in the Old House pub/bistro/craft beer bar, where mobile catering company Shoot The Bull have taken up permanent residence.
When you enter Old House – it’s in the Old Town and the longest-surviving residential building in the city, hence the name – you begin to notice many of the motifs associated with hipster eateries. There are wooden clipboard menus, enamel dishes, food served in mugs and other such past-its-sell-by-date nonsense. The heart begins to sag a little.
When the waiter responds to every query about the menu by saying ‘so…’ and then launching into an extended and over-rehearsed spiel about provenance and cooking methods, you realise that you are definitely being sold an ethos whether you want one or not. I like it that Shoot The Bull is trying to create an offering carefully designed and delivered, I just think it’s a pity that it’s something that has quickly become so hackneyed.
It’s very fortunate, then, that the food is so good.
Shoot The Bull has been set up by 1884 Dock Street Kitchen alumnus Chris Harrison, and he and several other former 1884 staff run a mobile street food operation concentrated on offering steak, burgers, pork belly and mac ’n’ cheese style dishes. This they do with great success.
The residency at Old House is their first and for it they’ve created a solid menu packed with locally sourced produce. Specials included tempting dishes such as asparagus and duck egg, a sausage and mash board and locally shot venison cottage pie (always nice to know that your dinner’s been gunned down nearby), but we stuck to the main menu and ordered a sampling of the smaller dishes to start.
Deep-fried pickles were good and the smoked salt and vinegar pork scratchings were excellent and arrived in a paper bag so I pocketed them to eat while watching the football the next day. Best were Yorkshire Wagyu braised beef tongue, which came served with pickled baby vegetables and wild garlic mayo and was a delicious and clever use of a cheaper cut of meat. Despite being served – for no good reason – in a mug, soy, maple and ginger chicken wings were superb; juicy, quality chicken in a perfectly balanced sticky and sweet glaze. The kind of thing you could happily overdose on.
Cheaper cuts of Wagyu also featured on the steak section. The flank we tried was – at £15.50 – easily as good as many pricier steaks I’ve had, and the accompaniments of ‘beef-dripping cracked fries, smoked applewood salt and cracked black pepper’ (or chips, as they’re known in my house), grilled tomato, wild mushrooms and wasabi butter all ganged up to complete a fine plate of grub. Equally good was the 36-hour cooked lamb breast. This is three breasts pressed together and slow cooked for a day-and-a-half until they are crispy and juicy and really, really tasty. Served on a Moroccan-style couscous with sweet potato fries and a marinated courgette, cucumber and mint salad, it was as good a way of spending £11.50 as I can imagine.
Pud-wise, the chocolate orange with chantilly cream and salt caramel ice cream was a bit dry but perfectly serviceable. I had rhubarb & custard, which was far odder than it sounds. It was a deep dish with rhubarb compote at the bottom, vanilla custard rice pudding on top and a crème brûlée-style blow-torched sugar coating on the top. It was the type of dish that you might make when arriving home from the pub to find you have nothing in so decide to raid the pantry and get experimental. It was also surprisingly nice. I’d have it again.
Our bill (with a couple of drinks apiece) came to just £58 as they knocked off the price of the desserts because they took a while to arrive. This wasn’t necessary; the service had been good all night and the puds didn’t get to the table that late. Still, I’m not going to turn down a freebie.
I like Shoot The Bull a lot. They know and care about their ingredients and aren’t afraid to experiment. I wish they’d go further, though. A lot of the menu is over-familiar and what Hull city centre really needs right now is more distinctive and adventurous cuisine.
There’s the skill in the kitchen and the business savvy to do something really special and, with a bit of determination and bravery, Old House could be host to one of the best places to eat for many a mile. The hipstery patina Shoot The Bull have coated their offering with needs stripping away and the underlying character polished and allowed to shine. Then they could forget the bull and shoot for the moon.
Shoot the Bull, Old House, 5 Scale Lane, Hull. 01482 210253, shootthebull.co.uk. Open: Wednesday to Sunday, 12pm to 12am.