After so many years involved in food writing, there aren’t that many dining experiences that have not crossed my path. After all, there are only so many ways to present a restaurant, surely?
This week’s review was a first for me and, hilariously, I only realised I had no preconception or understanding of what lay ahead as I was heading up to a food production unit for dinner.
Barker Park, near Melmerby, is full of industrial units and at its heart is True Foods, which supplies the catering industry with (amongst other things) high- quality, freshly-made meat stocks.
Founder and innovator Mitch Mitchell started making authentic stocks on a tiny scale 10 years ago. So good were they that the company now turns over £10m plus with the products now utilised in a staggering number of top restaurants and hotels.
But I digress.
Why I was here a few months ago is because Mitch and his small but hugely talented team in the development kitchen started to host a twice-monthly chef’s table for just six diners a time. I was compelled to ask Mitch, why when you have a successful business to run are you donning chef whites and heading to the stove at the end of a busy day? Well, it seems they all miss the buzz of cooking for an audience.
The set- up is super-smart with a very slick demo kitchen which once belonged to the hugely-famous Claude Bosi. Any nervousness at being so few at the table quickly dissipates with the warmth of the welcome. There is no waiting staff, the three chefs – Mitch, head of development Aled Williams and Hugh Carruthers, all assisted by Karina Kusca, take on all roles this evening, cooking, waiting on, pouring wine and water and even washing up.
There are eight courses on the Tasting Menu and chefs take turns cooking with assistance from the others, and nothing is hidden. Everything is carefully explained, from the sourcing of ingredients and the cooking to the technology used as the toys these guys get to play with are mind-blowing, and I left the table many times to watch them using the gadgets and gizmos.
We start with an array of snacks of tiny tacos with prawns, salsa and Mexican marigold (tagetes if you are a gardener), a paella came as a lollipop of freeze-dried, saffron-infused chicken stock, pancetta and marshmallow. Bread was served with Yorkshire goat’s butter, duck liver fat, and the surprise of the evening (for me) rendered beef fat which was doubling as a candle and was also for pouring on the bread and when eaten is best described as posh dripping.
A classic and beautifully executed terrine of guinea fowl came with foie gras, and shiitake mushrooms and was a small plate with a massive presence. A fried-poached Maran egg with sweetcorn, fennel and a muesli-based mixture of grains and seeds, an exciting journey of textures and taste.
For me, the sensational plate of the evening was fish in chips, a smart, artful dish of spiralised potato wrapped around a chunk of squeaky fresh Dover Sole and served with Amalfi lemon compote. I could have eaten this one dish alone and left happy. A block of tender salt-aged duck with beetroot, pickled Bedale cherries and nasturtium also got the other vote for its excellent cooking and presentation. A panna cotta and elderflower jelly was wobbly, sweet and creamy with the thinnest chocolate tile balanced precariously on the side and topped with intense-tasting freeze-dried raspberries.
And if you imagine things couldn’t get better, there is a small but carefully selected wine and drinks list to match the foods that have a deliberately low mark- up, making them even more enticing.
Just as Mitch insists on premium sourced ingredients and an uncompromising attention to detail in his products, the food and cooking of the food on the menu here is the same. On an industrial estate they have a herb garden, their own chickens and bee hives.
With three such culinary whizzes at the stove, I wanted great things and was not disappointed, what a fabulous experience. Good luck bagging a place at this table as this is surely one of the hottest tickets in the county just now.
Chef’s Table at True Foods, Hallikeld Close, Barker Business Park, Ripon HG4 5GZ. Tasting Menu £75 and wines from £25. Call 01765 640927 for future dining dates.