It looks like the tasting menu is not going away anytime soon. In the right hands the multi-course, show-off menu is a wonderful thing stacked with quality ingredients, skilled, precise cooking and taking the diner on an exciting journey. Yorkshire certainly has its fair share of talent able to pull this off. The county also has a number who cannot, and how I wish they would just go back to what they know best and leave it alone. These are the few giving the tasting menu a bad name.
A couple of years ago I reviewed the newly opened Park Restaurant in Sutton on the Forest. Chef-proprietor Adam Jackson had left the highly acclaimed Black Swan at Oldstead to start his venture. Bravely he chose to serve only two tasting menus, one meat and fish led, the other vegetarian. I raved about the food, the creativity of the cooking and railed only against the number of courses and was worried the lack of choice was not sustainable. Well, it was.
That said, Adam has now left the countryside and taken his concept to the city. There are fewer courses on the menu, but otherwise all remains the same, or does it?
Adam is now operating the Park out of Marmadukes Hotel in York. The boutique hotel went through an unpredictable period with, what seemed like many changes of ownership and is also the only restaurant in 20 years of reviewing where I came away with food poisoning. That was some years ago, and now the hotel is in the capable hands of the HRH group who own Guy Fawkes Hotel, the Lamb and Lion and several other notable venues in Yorkshire. I hope this has been a good move for Adam.
Happily, the menu looked familiar even though the surroundings didn’t. Adam still looks carefully at the provenance and seasonality of his ingredients. My only disappointment was through a misunderstanding; I had not been aware I needed to order my vegetarian choice in advance. I was asked for dietary requirements when booking, but I am “flexitarian” (I flit between meat and meat-free depending on how I feel) so never thought to say. It could be a problem for those less willing, though.
There is a freedom not having to choose what to eat; just sit back and let it come. And it did, with six courses in perfectly timed succession. Portions are carefully measured so after almost three hours we were not full, just pleasantly fed.
Adam took us on a journey through flavours, textures and techniques. On the way, we met peas, beans, asparagus, sorrel, girolles, herbs and delicate seasonings. There was a fillet of lamb and a soft mound of slow-cooked neck. Sea trout represented the fish course; cherries, chocolate and hazelnut the puddings. There was a playful amuse-bouche of broad beans and tzatziki and a pre-dessert of a meltingly soft panna cotta and champagne jelly.
The star was by far the lamb course even though a little heavy on the tomatoes. The only questionable part of the meal was a chunk of focaccia with ragu and fennel. There was nothing wrong, they simply seemed discordant with the rest of the menu.
There is a wine list but also a wine flight carefully married to the menu. Each wine, its story and virtues with the food came delivered by a knowledgeable, young sommelier (if she is not a sommelier, she should be). Whoever had chosen the wines knew their stuff as they worked incredibly well with the food though an El Castro de Valtuille fought a little with the tomatoes on the lamb dish.
The place I found the most changes at the new Park was in the surroundings. The entry into the hotel needs a little sprucing up, and the dining room is the modern pared-back style with minimal decoration and thanks to a wooden floor, a little echoey. Tables have no more than a couple of slates, two glasses and a candle. The service was more than capable but lacked the personal touches found at the former Park such as being whisked to our table without any offer of a drink at the bar. There was some interaction through the meal, but even that was minimal. Adam has again pulled it off with the food and wines, but I sense a little compromise in his former standards where service and decor are concerned. Those elements, though, are easily remedied.
What did please me immensely was that the restaurant was full on a mid-week night, which naturally bodes well. I feel Adam’s style of food and approach is suited to the city, and I wish him well as he continues to push the boundaries. I think he has made a smart move.
Anyone wanting to know what a good tasting menu is, pay the Park a visit.
• Two Tasting menus and one shared wine flight, £131. The Park Restaurant by Adam Jackson, Marmadukes, Town House Hotel, 4-5 St Peters Grove, Bootham, York, YO30 6AQ. 01904 540903 Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 7pm - 9pm