It’s a glorious sweep down through the North Yorks Moors from Whitby to Hovingham. En route 30 odd miles of heather heaven in high season with the pastoral lushness of the Howardian Hills at the end of it. I just wonder if the legendary Captain Cook ever made the journey? We always associate the adopted Whitbian with seaborne expeditions to the furthest corners of the globe. Did he know this Tyke hinterland of ruined abbeys and fine local produce?
He was certainly familiar with tetragonia, the spinach/sorrel like leaves now on my plate at Mýse in bonny Hovingham. Back in the 18th century he enlisted what the Antipodeans also call warrigal greens or New Zealand spinach to ward off scurvy among his crew on the Endeavour’s long voyages.
There’s little chance of me contracting this disease of vitamin C deficiency over the course of Josh Overington’s beautifully balanced 10 course tasting menu, among the highlights of which is the Herdwick lamb ‘main’, where three tetragronia leaves are draped over Herdwick lamb, fillet and belly, cooked over coals and served with an anchovy-umami rich garum sauce on a base of pearl barley, tiny cubes of lamb tongue and addictive garlic capers. The tetragonia is tangy, slightly chewy, grown specially for Josh by a local farmer.
Such a dish is typical of Josh’s spanking new project. At the end of last year, after a decade in York, he and his sommelier wife Victoria sold up their acclaimed Cochon Aveugle restaurant and wine bar Cave du Cochon. Their new home is a restaurant with rooms in the former Malt Shovel opposite that most eccentric of 18th century Palladian big houses, Hovingham Hall (clue: its architectural focus is the stable block).
The makeover of the premises has been stylishly managed. What was a village local is now the crucible for the French-influenced ‘Bistronomie’ food that once had critics swooning, despite the no choice menu being served blind (Cochon Aveugle = Blind Pig). The big difference in Hovingham is you get a printed menu.
According to Josh in a newspaper preview the food focus has also shifted. “This is our chance to create something more ambitious and a reflection on our incredible Yorkshire surroundings. I grew up here and it has been home to Victoria for 10 years, so we wanted to create a welcoming, homely spot, each dish a nod to dinners that my Yorkshire grandmother would cook for me, but elevated and refined.”
Maybe that’s a culinary leap of faith along with naming the destination Mýse, apparently the Anglo Saxon term for ‘eating at table’ (pronounced meez). The word does translate as ‘table’, but I’ve dusted off my old copy of Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer (revised edition 1970) and got no further. My bluestocking spouse suggests it might even be a Latinate derivative similar to mesa. Surely there’s also a play on the French term mise en place (everything chopped and measured out before cooking in a professional kitchen. None of this bothers me over much. With food this sublime they could call it Beowulf’s Magic Mead Hall and I wouldn’t fall on my sword.
So what did I eat there that sun-dazzled July noon time?
A trio of snacks – a postage stamp sized tranche of smoked eel dusted with bilberry powder poised on a cup of eel and apple broth; on a wooden spoon delicate shards of razor clam given rare oomph by a tangle of salted rhubarb and lightly pickled elderflower; ox cheek fried in Yorkshire pudding batter with fermented cucumber. I‘m sure granny would have loved the latter without knowing it might rate as a beignet. I saved some of the seeded sourdough to mop the juices of the next-up Orkney scallop. The temptation was to keep on smearing it with the proffered Ampersand Dairy cultured butter and chicken drippings. The fat hand-dived mollusc was a classic Overington dish, baked in the shell with a sea urchin butter for a sweet salty kick. A crumble of bottarga-style crisped coral enhanced this further.
Josh told me the broth for my line-caught cod had been created by simmering in-season senshyu onions with water for three days. The pearly North Sea fish itself was poached in aged beef fat, senshyu and lemon verbena. Then followed that lamb – Herdwick not Swaledale as predicted, but the perfect taste of the North following Josh’s brief.
My fave pudding of a trio was ‘day old bread’, which meant soaking yesterday’s brioche in vanilla custard then caramelising the edges, so it superficially resembles a fat fish finger. It came with a trio of preserves for messy dipping, the best of which was a little raspberry and rose number but honourable mentions for goat’s milk caramel and a ‘hidden’ hazelnut crème fraîche main image – serving for two).
Simpler was a plate of four strawberries ‘dipped in their own jam’ with a citrus marigoldice cream. Then came a petit four like tab of linseed caramel that called for coffee and a tempting local cheese offering that I declined.
I also restricted my wine intake to two glasses because I was driving. A vinho verde and a Greek xinomavro. Such a shame when the wine list is heavily weighted towards Keeling & Andrew’s remarkable ‘Noble Rot’ roster.
The obligatory tasting menu costs £80 at lunchtime (wine pairing £65pp); £110 in the evening (wine pairing £85pp).
Wheat field ramble, Tristram Shandy, Tommy Banks’ new boozer
Poppies line the Ebor Way out of Hovingham. If I keep to the dusty footpath for an hour and more I’ll be sure to reach Oswaldkirk, the sign says, but the sun is relentless over the fields of wheat and broad beans, so after a brisk stretch walking off lunch I retreat to my car and drive 10 miles east to Coxwold and Shandy Hall. Cock and Bull Story (2005) was Michael Winterbottom’s appropriately absurd attempt to film the unfilmable – Laurence Sterne’s anarchic, baggy 18th century novel, Tristram Shandy. The groundbreaking novelist’s home lies at the top of the sloping village. Now a museum, Grade 1 listed Shandy Hall is open to the public at weekends, the two acre grounds most days, but not today (‘private function’). Instead I take a table and a Harrogate Water at the Fauconberg Arms in the centre of the one-road hamlet. An umbrella shields me from the sun as I bask in the charm of a place that almost defines unspoilt.
It’s the base camp for my exploration of another pub transformed by an accomplished chef. Back in 2017 Tommy Banks and Josh Overington were part of a trio of chefs representing the North East in the BBC’s Great British Menu. Tommy now holds Michelin starts at Roots in York and his flagship Black Swan at Oldstead three miles down the road from Coxwold.
En route to the Swan you’ll come upon Byland Abbey. A ruin under the care of English Heritage, it’s hardly in the same league as Rievaulx up the road, but that fellow casualty of the Dissolution of the Monasteries doesn’t have an idyllic pub garden opposite where I’ve been served the finest beef burger I’ve ever tasted outside Hawksmoor.
Yes, Tommy has taken over the Abbey Inn – where as a lad he washed pots – and its menu follows the sustainable tenets of his restaurants. The Dexter chuck brisket and short rib for the patty is from the Banks family farm. Topped with bacon and chicory jam, oozing cheese, tomato and cucumber pickle, it is accompanied by beef fat fries (less impressive). It will cost you £21 from the garden menu or inside, even now at the steep end for a burger, but it’s worth it. The menus here are very much posh pub, not dedicated restaurant. Once a farmhouse built by the monks, it has been a hostelry since 1853 and is staying that way. At 70, the Abbey Inn has double the covers of Mýse; each, though offers three luxury rooms to stay over. Hard to resist ordering the extra Timothy Taylors or Xinomavro red or two and crashing. This is a wonderful corner of England.
Restaurant Mýse, Main Street, Hovingham, York, YO62 4LF.
The Abbey Inn at Byland, York, YO61 4BD.