I’ve long been ambivalent about York’s Micklegate. Of course, it’s one of the city’s loveliest streets from the historic entrance to the city down the cobbles past Tudor and Georgian buildings, medieval churches, a glorious second-hand bookshop and more. Until weekend nights when it becomes the magnet for every hen and stag party pouring off the trains and the infamous Micklegate Run that ends up staggering into seedy nightclubs or the ‘gentleman’s’ lap dancing joint.
Recession hit Micklegate hard with 11 businesses going under, but the place is looking healthier these days. Empty shops are re-opening and, within a few doors of each other, two new restaurants are making their mark. The Rattle Owl that opened in January to enthusiastic reviews, and now, Skosh.
Skosh? ‘A little or a small amount from the Japanese word sukoshi,’ the website explains. Not you might think, the best moniker for a restaurant, but if you are not up to speed on contemporary dining, it’s all about small plates now. The manager brings the menus: “We have snacks, but don’t think of them as starters, they are quite small, you might want to choose three or four followed perhaps by small plates. They will come out as and when they are ready.”
Hmm, not only does this sound like a recipe for a fast growing bill, it also suggests the kitchen’s running the show, and not the customer. Our sourdough bread and butter with ‘gunpowder’ salt came out last of our six (between three) snacks. It would have been good to have had it with the first dish, an exceptionally good cod’s roe.
Not much else jarred. Everything from the modish grey walls to the bright yellow metro tiles, from the industrial lighting, to the upholstered seating and the hand thrown plates bearing the Skosh logo, asserts progressive, modern dining, even more so when you read the menu. Pass the gastro-glossary; here come sorrel emulsion, fermented vegetable slaw and kombucha pectin. There are influences from India, Japan, the Middle East, USA and Thailand, though none is characteristic of any one cuisine. On the pass is a larder of dukkah, gunpowder salt, togarashi, edible flowers, nuts and seeds.
Call it modern fusion? Call it eclectic? No matter, it’s all done with such assurance that any temptation to take the mickey soon dissolves, reinforced by the fact that the chef/patron is Neil Bentinck, former head chef at Van Zeller’s, the Harrogate fine dining restaurant that ceased trading in July. “I left some years ago,” explains Bentinck hastily. Since then he’s worked all over, including the Star at Harome and Northcote Manor in Lancashire.
So perched on bar stools at the stainless steel bench overlooking the kitchen and its hipsterish brigade, we launch into sharing ‘snacks’ (small: £2.50-£6.20) followed by three ‘small plates’ (a bit bigger £10-£14).
Smoked cods’ roe cream with salmon caviar is whipped to a cream so delicious that three of us fight to wipe the plate finger-clean. Cubes of bright pink, wild sea trout cured in molasses are topped with cubes of what I take to be marshmallow and then finished with peanuts and lime. I’ve never had the like before and it’s sublime. Saddleback pork is slow cooked then somehow formed into cubes, breadcrumbed and deep fried. Three tasty falafel with aubergine puree and item six, a battered lobster ‘corndog’. OK though I’m not a great fan of messing around with lobster.
Then came the mains, sorry, small plates. Lamb belly, crisp-skinned and just fatty enough, with pomegranate and little gem lettuce it worked well. A shining plate of scallop ‘ceviche’ with radish, yoghurt/curry sauce and charred watermelon was loaded with refreshing goodness. Who knew you could char watermelon? Garnished with nasturtium leaves, cresses and flowers it was as pretty as it was tasty. But possibly the best dish of all was the humble hake with cauliflower puree, an amalgam of soft and soothing with a hint of sweetness. It was topped with dukkah, a mix of nuts and spices, and finished with miso.
Desserts were an adventure. Two of them very pleasing: goat’s curd, marshmallow, raspberry and lychee and an ice-cream cone alongside a white chocolate lolly filled with ‘strawberry and elderflower flavours’, but best of all was a rich chocolate mousse topped with a remarkable fennel ice cream and given a black olive sauce. Weird and wonderful.
Six snacks, three small plates and three desserts between three came to a reasonable £25 each. While I’m not a total convert to the small plates idea, I’m coming round to it when it’s this good.
But the food is good. Bentinck barely puts a foot wrong either in technical skill, originality, or in his combination of flavours.
Skosh, 98 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX, 01904 634849, skoshyork.co.uk. Open: Wednesday to Saturday, 12-2pm & 5.30-10pm; Sunday 12-4pm. Price: £85 Dinner for two with bottle of wine and service.