The Yorkshire Meatball Company is a restaurant preparing, cooking and serving meatballs. As such, every jokey allusion to meatballs the father and son owners David and Gareth can find and use – without causing too much embarrassment or sounding overly puerile – they do.
The overt innuendo is what has kept me away from the restaurant this long. I dismissed it as gimmicky. But the Meatball Company were not going to let me get away that easily. They came up in conversation once too often, and when a fellow food writer was surprised I had not been, I felt it was time. At least I could then consider them based on more than a few silly jokes.
I was pleased to find that YMCo (their preferred name it seems) serve more than meatballs. They serve meat-free, fish and dessert balls. And, bar one, starters are not spherical. There is an excellent choice between a Yorkshire pud, soup, ham hock terrine, tortilla (well it is round but not a sphere) and a Yorkshire Platter (£14) to share. We shared.
The Yorkshire Platter is, by any other name, a Ploughman’s. This one looked hastily put together and as a plate to share I initially thought should be bigger (more later). What was there – pressed ham hock terrine, local cheese, flatbread, roasted garlic mayo, soup shot, tomato, pickled onions and egg – belied its dishevelled appearance. Tidy this dish up, serve the grilled flatbreads a little softer and this will become a good dish.
For mains, innuendo is replaced by alliteration offering the choice of Ball, Bed and Blanket. Balls come as Yorkshire (meaty), hot (chilli), smokey (paprika), birdie (chicken) fish and finally fake aka vegetarian. Beds are mash, veg, wilted greens, pasta, lentils or couscous. Blankets are the sauces.
If, like me, choice causes agonising, YMCo has kindly put together four combinations they consider work. As if that wasn’t already enough to choose, you have to tell them how many balls you want. Two (£9), three (£10) and four (£11).
A quick glance at the plates on the next table declared me a two-baller, with the husband a three. There is the bizarre option also to have a free Yorkshire pudding on the side. Why? A touch of overkill on the gimmick, I think.
The flip side of the paper menu offers even more choice. For those not wishing the full-on ball assault there are lighter options plus a range of taster size balls which according to our waiter are perfect for children.
In my contrary fashion, I chose the set meat-free combination but swapped the lentils for a fresh herb and vegetable couscous plus the creamy mustard sauce. I will admit caution ordering vegetarian in a meat-led establishment, especially given that it is not easy to serve chickpea and coriander any way other than dry.
However, they were far from that. Both balls came packed with flavour and spot on seasoning; the coriander was fresh and the texture almost light, which is no mean feat when using chickpeas. The sauce unfortunately swamped the plate and despite it working well with the dish, was, one more time a little bit of overkill, this time on the quantity.
No messing over the table with a quirkily titled Yorkshire Mafia of spicy balls on linguine and a spicy, herby ketchup-style sauce. The meatballs were juicy with a good jolt of heat; the linguine was simply linguine; the sauce a hefty back note to round off the dish. There are three more tasty spherical offerings for dessert or if you are over balls by this point, then a plate of cheeses brings respite.
We both agreed that even though we had thought the starter of a Yorkshire Platter a little on the small side, finishing our mains and a pudding we were more than happy with its size.
The décor takes the same relaxed route as the rest with an abundance of rough wood, old boxes turned into a bar, and the kitchen implements-come-light-fittings are an idea of genius. You can sit at the bar diner-style, perch at the tall tables in the window or bring the whole family and occupy the larger tables down the centre of the room. Be warned, though, getting a table at YMCo is not easy. I lost count of the number of people turned away on a Saturday night.
We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner. But that not simply because of the food. There is a real buzz at YMCo. From the moment you walk in you are looked after. The waiting staff is impressive; they know the menu thoroughly and explain the intricacies of navigating it with novices like us excellently.
Despite dealing with a packed restaurant, they also take the time to chat, both to customers and each other.
They look like they are having a good time.
I take back all my previous misconceptions, balls and all. The YMCo is fun but also takes its food, staff and most importantly, customers very seriously. How happy was I to hear this summer they are opening their second restaurant in York.
* The Yorkshire Meatball Company, 7 Station Bridge, Harrogate HG1 1SS Tel: 01423 566645 Open: Mon - Fri noon - 2pm, 5pm - 10pm, Sat noon - 10pm, Sun, noon - 3pm. Dinner for two, three courses, couple of glasses of wine just over £50.