Elaine Lemm puts her growing fatigue of tasting menus behind her at The Park in York and is most glad that she did.
In 2017 I predicted that the demise of the tasting menu, for me, might just be around the corner. When once the mere mention of eight, ten – I even once managed 12 – plates of meticulous deliciousness was met with happy anticipation, my reaction now is more akin to a massive sigh of boredom.
The tasting menu has, for the most part, slowly slipped into mediocrity thanks to unfaithful copying by less capable chefs rather than the creative exploration and pushing of boundaries that it once was.
Still, here I am on a Saturday night at The Park in York, ready to hand over all choice and decision for the next few hours of my life to chef Adam Jackson, who is not known for mediocrity or cheffy pretension, so fingers crossed.
There’s no change in the menu layout, seven courses (£60) plus an additional cheese plate for an extra £6. The staccato titling of the food also serves as a description, so it is anyone’s guess as to what will arrive on the plate.
We hit the floor running with a glass of one of my favourite English bubbles, Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, which would make a good start, middle and finish for my taste buds. In fairness to the food though, I tag on a flight of wines (£48) that we choose to share, not for parsimony but, being the generous soul that I am, so my lovely husband-cum-driver can have a tiny taste too. The nibbles to start this journey were picture-perfect with their tiny spots, dots, dips and bite-sized flavours, and all except a crunchy smidgeon of mackerel skin raised a smile. As we launched into the menu proper, that smile did not wane for quite some time.
I had chosen a meat-free-but-with-fish option, safe in the knowledge that Adam certainly bucks any trend on this score. I worked my way through Isle of Mull cheese bread with a Marmite butter whipped into a light frenzy that was so, so good. Hen of the Woods mushrooms was slipped quietly into a bowl of risotto, bathed with a mushroom broth and a blob of mushroom pâté then tickled with a little tarragon and watercress. If you think this all sounds way too fungi-heavy, it was not at all.
A hefty-sized scallop was beautifully cooked to a melting tenderness and came fragrantly dressed with curry, tiny pieces of butternut squash and onion. Another robust chunk from the sea, but halibut this time kept the grin going over here for sure. Again this had spot-on cooking, and the celeriac, samphire and capers may have wafted of classicism, but the crunch of hazelnuts added the precise amount of surprise to give complacency the boot.
Across the way were almost all smiles too. We crossed a few of the same courses and of those meaty offerings, a piece of pork fillet and cheek received a massive thumbs-up, not least because he too had hazelnuts, which with pork was a surprise to me but they work incredibly well. Without wanting to sound churlish after such excellent food, desserts did not fare as well as the savoury side of things.
A pre-dessert of Jerusalem artichoke Tiramisu was something of an “it tried hard” dish but missed the mark somewhere between the concept and the finished plate, and I am still puzzling as to why.
Yippee to new-season Yorkshire rhubarb putting in an appearance and this dish came with the promise of another seasonal great in blood oranges but was peculiarly lacking in their impact when they should have stormed it.
Unfortunately, the only ingredient storming anywhere was smoked almond, enough that across the way he asked why there was bacon in his dessert, so strong was the flavour.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the carefully chosen wines with dinner. Someone somewhere here has an exceptional palette or is getting great advice. As fun as it was to explore the food from Adam the wines indeed were sublime. Service is cracking too, the food and the wine flow and each course is introduced and explained so carefully so as not to be laborious or pompous.
Unless in the hands of those fab chefs here in Yorkshire who do know what to do, I am over the tasting menu. What I am not over is attention to detail, careful thought, excitement, challenges, adventures and the sheer pleasure and enjoyment of food. However Adam and his team present that is fine with me because here they deliver all of those in bucket loads and if that means another Tasting menu, I’ll take it any time, though I did spy a three-course midweek early-bird menu on offer here so I will be giving that a go for sure.
The Park Restaurant by Adam Jackson, Marmadukes, Town House Hotel, 4-5 St Peters Grove, Bootham, York, YO30 6AQ. Tel: 01904 540903. Open: Tuesday to Saturday, sittings from 7pm.