Tag Archive for: Menu

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.

One bane of a food writer’s life is reviewing a restaurant only to discover post haste that the menu’s about to change. Big time. Fortunately when I wrote up a September visit to Kala in Manchester my focus was on the glories of their featherblade steak, a signature dish across all the Elite Bistros group. 

This perennial stalwart remains on the new Autumn Menu, along with the obligatory truffle and parmesan chips, but there’s a whole raft of new dishes. I was alerted to their arrival by a chance meeting at a wine tasting of an old sommelier friend, who works out of Hispi, Kala’s sister restaurant in Didsbury. He was raving about a dish just created by Elite exec chef Richard Sharples  – a spiced field mushroom doughnut with sesame creamed spinach and caramelised celeriac gravy.

Solid reason to swiftly revisit Kala. It felt like fate when an invitation to sample the new menu suddenly dropped in my inbox. The doughnut turned out to be terrific, but the surprise package – and what a package – was the whole stuffed guinea fowl to share. OK, we were gannets to order both this and the surprisingly substantial doughnut as mains, ‘Mais nous ne regrettons rien’ as they say in Montparnasse or Montpellier.

Indeed there was something quintessential French bistro about this bird (let’s call it Le Pintade), while the fennel and apricot stuffing summoned up all our Christmases coming early. Better early than never with the current prophecies of festive dearth this year.

Our bird, encrusted with fennel and caraway seed, the moist stuffing lubricating the legs, came boned and ready to slice, a pool of pickled pear puree a neat enhancement for its  succulent interior. I couldn’t resist ordering the chips, but the bowl of the most delicate sauerkraut would have sufficed as a side.

We’d preceded the guinea fowl with that doughnut, its stretchy carapace harbouring  a teeming interior of braised fungi. Did it count as vegan? Jury’s out on the earthy creamed spinach, but the celeriac gravy was an inspired plant-based conceit.

Since the return to comparative dining room normality Elite Bistros boss Gary Usher has given his six venues leeway to branch out from the standard group menu, particularly with changing fish of the day picks. At Kala that Wednesday it was a choice of grilled whole plaice or pan-fried stone bass. 

My starter came from the fish specials because I’m a sucker for octopus and I was curious about how Kala’s daring combo would work, pitting the flamed cephalod against equally charred smoked corn and pickled currants. Maybe a red currant hot sauce gilded the piquant lily too much, but it’s typical of a hugely to be trusted menu that is still not afraid to push bistro boundaries.

An unqualified success was my partner’s starter, even if her initial qualm was: doughnut and dumpling in the same lunch? Fear unfounded. The dumpling was a light, gnudi-like pillow of great delicacy, as beautiful to look at as it was to eat, topped with grated Killeen cheese, all nutty and floral, a cauliflower puree base dotted with blobs of lemon and chive oils plus pickled shallot.

We finished off with Chocolate ‘Oblivion’ and poached pear with Sauternes jelly, the former with mint choc chip ice cream, the latter with walnut praline ice. Comforting autumnal bistro staples both. Wines by the glass had been appropriate for each dish and special mention for the Delicioso ‘En Rama’ Manzanilla that got us off to the perfect start, partnering Gordal olives and Don Bocarte anchovies. Isn’t autumn really rather wonderful?

Kala, 55 King Street, Manchester, M2 4LQ. 0161 839 3030. Reservations 0800 160 1811. The three course menu costs £40 for three courses, £35 for two. There’s a £16 supplement for that guinea fowl. There’s a limited choice bistro set meal available lunch and early evening.