Last Saturday (Nov 26) marked the final service at Le Cochon Aveugle in York. It was no surprise. Owners Josh and Victoria Overington had announced the closure date in the summer, saying it was “time to start a fresh adventure”.
Adventurous summed up the restaurant, whose French name translates appropriately as ‘The Blind Pig’. Guests ordered a six or eight course tasting menu and that, wine pairings aside, was the last choice they had to make. Only when it arrived would they discover what they were eating.
Rab Adams worked there for Josh. Each trained at Cordon Bleu school – Rab in London, his mentor in Paris. After the thirtysomething Scot branched out (via Roops, a Bramley sourdough bakery named after his dog) to open his own restaurant, Hern, fellow chefs’ support was there for the tiny bistro on Stainbeck Corner, two miles north of Leeds city centre.
Josh guest-cheffed as did, more recently, Al Brooke-Taylor of the mighty Moorcock at Norland, itself about to shut for good in January. Quite an accolade – Al has rarely cooked outside his own moorland kitchen. So what were they coming into? Not much more than 20 covers in a white-walled, spartan space behind a plain shop front. Just the quality restaurant cookbooks on a shelf giving away the ambitions of the man in the cramped kitchen out back. From the likes of Relae, The Sportsman, Pierre Koffman and zero waste crusaders Silo. Rab’s personal cv includes Hedone and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
On the evening I visit his own project two blackboards provide their own reading material, which proclaim ‘no choice’. Which is why I’m here on the back of a similar ethos at an old favourite, the Michelin-starred White Swan, Fence, now offering a five course set menu.
Co-owner Gareth Ostick defended the decision to discard the several-choice a la carte of yore. Their five course tasting menu has been a success with punters beyond the obvious cutting down of possible food waste. It has also re-energised chef Tom Parker, giving him the opportunity to roll with what’s fresh on the market as the menu subtly transmutes week by week.
Location, location. The White Swan is relatively remote, so that Michelin star is a welcome magnet. In contrast Hern is in the prime foodie territory of well-heeled Chapel Allerton, surrounded by places to eat out. The real giveaway, though, is the cluster of high class food and drink shops – notably Tarbett’s Fish, George & Joseph Cheesemongers and Wayward Wines. I’ve shopped at them all on recent trips to Leeds but somehow Hern had passed me by. My loss. Everything about the four courses for £40 appeals.
Bread and snacks such as gossamer light panisse and delicate cod’s roe (oddly with crisps) are followed by a sublime assembly of smoked eel, beetroot, celeriac and some bracingly bitter radicchio.
I resist the £10 cheese supplement but do cough up the same sum for an extra fish special, which arrives next and is my favourite dish of a solo evening when I am spared the tyranny of jousting with a ‘lovely review companion’ over who eats what.
The wild sea bass is all mine and I’m wild about it in its whey sauce, laced with bottarga, stems of bitter puntarelle peeping out. Once again it’s a case of that’s amaro and I’m not complaining.
Then onto pleasingly pink duck breast in a pumpkin puree, the bite here from chunks of pickled pear and further uncompromising greens. With it I can’t resist a glass of tonight’s red special, an under the radar Grolleau from the Loire, where my modest bottle for the evening also originated – a La Pente de Chavigny Sauvignon Blanc from the talented Mikael Bouges.
Baked cream with apple and oats completed the evening’s entertainment with a sense of little wasted, with everything to gain. Rab in the kitchen with one young assistant and Ben, knowledgeable front of house, who has served his time in London. Less is definitely more at Hern.
Hern, Stainbeck Corner, 5, Leeds LS7 3PG. 0113 262 5809. Open Wednesday to Saturday from 6.30pm. Also open Saturday lunchtime with a small a la carte menu to road test new dishes.