Selby might often be overshadowed by Leeds and York when it comes to restaurants, but Abbey House is worth seeking out, says Elaine Lemm.
I will be the first to hold up my hand that Selby is not somewhere I eat often; it is an hour’s drive from where I live, but truthfully, good restaurants in the town rarely hit my radar. I am not saying they aren’t there, but if they are they need to shout a little louder.
The Abbey House on Park Street is an exception. They didn’t exactly shout out, but they do do an outstanding job on Instagram and other social media and have been popping up everywhere. The deliciousness of the food in their images certainly caught my attention, and after a little research I heard good things and that they remarkably had the only AA Rosette in town.
Lee Patrick and his wife Emma opened in late 2015, he in the kitchen, she out front, though she wasn’t there on my visit. The restaurant is all but in the shadow of the Abbey and housed in a row of elegant Georgian houses, which, in any other town would have seen the heavy hand of gentrification long ago. Within, the decor is minimalist with unadorned walls, windows, floors and simple wooden tables. On a quiet Thursday evening, without the buzz of a busy restaurant, it felt a tad stark.
Any misgivings heightened when presented with a flimsy piece of A4 paper that had seen more hands than my own. OK, simplicity is good I thought in its defence, but perhaps it’s a good idea to check and chuck out grubby menus regularly. The dishes on the paper though were engaging if not a touch ambitious given that Lee does not have the support of a large brigade in the kitchen, though five starters and sides plus six mains should be manageable for a competent chef. They reflected many current trends with pig’s head, guinea fowl, cured fish and pickled veg and appealing vegetarian alternatives. Lee has cleverly also forged links with a few select local farmers, growers and brewers including the lovely Bert’s Barrow at Hillam, and one of my favourite breweries, Little Black Dog.
Beetroot cured bream with a chorizo jam, hummus, pickled cucumber and lime dressing was the opening act, showing great promise for dishes to come. The fish was lovely; so fresh and beautifully cured that other parts of the dish seemed superfluous though they did bring their own merits to the plate.
A curried carrot risotto where the carrot also got to be pickled and star as the main ingredient in a feather-light bhaji, supported by mint, yoghurt and coriander, was not only a genius of a dish, its originality made it possibly my favourite of the evening.
I may, however, have peaked too soon in my delight, as a medium rare flat iron steak with chips and pepper sauce was a stunner. For those who don’t know this cut, the meat has a short grain with intense marbling making for incredibly tender steak. Lee’s cooking was bang on which further heightened the all-around sweetness-cum-caramelisation.
A more stringent test of the kitchen though was the guinea fowl, given that the number of dry, tough birds I have had the displeasure of eating is immense. Not here. Though I had only a much-begged for couple of forkfuls, it was exemplary. Tender and juicy in part by being wrapped in a polenta pastry, a modern take on a wrapping of suet. Lovely flavours accompanied the meat with apple butter, celeriac, charred onions for a touch of bitterness and sprouting broccoli for a splash of colour.
There was to be no choice in puddings. I had seen the development of a plate of doughnuts, cream cheese, cherries and caramel on Instagram and had been looking forward to trying them ever since. They did not disappoint in any way as the sweetness of the sugary balls met the acidity of the cheese, a tang of the cherries with the caramel bathing the whole in sticky sweetness.
Lee is talented, and his restaurant should be heaving on a Thursday night because not only is his cooking outstanding, the prices he charges are ridiculously low for this quality. Three courses at £24 is unbelievable; I would be hard pressed to find one dish of this quality and intensity of work for that price elsewhere.
An hour’s drive from home? I would drive much further for this food and so should you.
Abbey House, 8 Park Street, Selby YO8 4PW. 01757 290643. Open: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 5.30-9.30pm; Friday & Saturday, 5.30-10pm; Sunday, 12-5pm.