Over a thousand people came together in Harrogate this year for the White Rose Awards, the grandest celebration of the talent in tourism in Yorkshire. As a judge of these distinguished awards, I am, of course, rooting for every finalist but my eye is always firmly on those involved in food and drink and this year was no different.
The Restaurant of the Year is a hugely prestigious award, and I was delighted when chef proprietor Neil Bentinck, of Skosh in York, walked away with the prize he and his team so richly deserve.
Skosh is still young, having opened two years ago on Micklegate, a street once famed for boozy hen and stag parties but now one of York’s best food addresses. In those two short years, Skosh has captured the attention of food lovers across the county and well beyond. The lovely independent restaurant is small, with a lightly pared back look. Tables are comfortably packed in, the kitchen is open to the room, and if you are lucky (ask at booking), you may be able to grab one of the tables at the counter, now considered the hottest seats in town. Here you can watch Neil and his brigade seemingly effortlessly turning out a swarm of plates of food from the kitchen.
It feels almost disingenuous to call Neil’s food small plates, or the ubiquitous grazing menu now found everywhere it seems; that is the premise of his style but what he delivers is anything but.
Skim down the menu, and you will find it starts small from a Lindisfarne oyster with a pickled ginger granita at £3 – which I had to begin with and was a startlingly power-packed morsel – the menu then works its way up in both weight and price. At the top is another dish we shared and my overriding favourite of the night, miso glazed cod with hispi cabbage, mussel and pine nut, at £15.50. We are recommended six plates to share, advice we duly follow, adding two desserts on at the end. We order a carafe of a stunningly good Pecorino from Abruzzo, a versatile wine I feel can do justice to the complex flavours we are about to embark on, and I am not wrong.
The hardest part of dining here is choosing what to eat. Neil keeps a close, but not cloying attachment to Yorkshire produce where possible and weaves through eclectic, complex flavours from across the Middle East, Japan et al. Carrots meet pomegranate and dukkah, venison with roast onion ponzu and tiny pickled girolles. Partridge says hello to tikka, braised ox cheek is dressed up Thai style. If all of this sounds a little fluffy, it is not; this is seriously considered food and for the most part, works beautifully.
A hen’s egg with St Andrew’s cheddar, mushroom and Pedro Ximenez sherry is a close contender for the signature dish here it is so popular and no wonder it is a smart little dish that sets up the appetite for what is to come. I never thought cauliflower could be as sexy as the one served here bathed in a sticky, rich Indian-Chinese Manchurian sauce; unbelievable deliciousness and my stepdaughter and I fight for every last speck in the dish. Venison dumplings with a cep puree and elderberry vinegar are not to my taste. For me, they read better than they performed and, compared with all the other dishes I have enjoyed at Skosh, look and feel a little clumsy, but I am being very picky now. We both agree that the char-grilled Galician octopus with pear and black bean is stunning. And, then there’s the cod mentioned above, which is sublime. A heavily scented cardamom bhapa shake and elderberry jam doughnut are so exceptionally well received across the table that I have dessert envy, which makes me less enthralled with my custard bun which is nonetheless very good.
Service is delightful and fast paced, which it has to be to keep up with the quantity coming from the kitchen, and watching them working with front of house is like a well-rehearsed orchestra. There are respectable pauses between dishes and, though I am guessing they can turn these tables round several times (and do), we are not rushed or forced at all.
I love this place, it is vibrant, exciting and entirely lacking in any pretension. It is not faultless but their willingness to put themselves out there at the edge of creativity, their originality and the exciting and diverse menu they deliver make it easy to let any slip up go. Worthy winners for sure.
Skosh, 98 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX Tel: 01904 634849 Open: Wednesday to Saturday, 12-2pm and 5.30-10pm, Sunday, 12-4pm.