Michelin Drops the famous Box Tree

The surprise news when the 2019 Michelin stars were announced a couple of weeks ago was that the Box Tree in Ilkley had lost its star. We’ve written before about Michelin’s curious star system and how we are often baffled by those honoured and those serving comparable food that miss out year after year.  I’m thinking Skosh and Cochon Aveugle in York, Home in Leeds and the Hare at Scawton.

Simon and Rena Gueller with friend Marco Pierre White

It’s been a while since I visited the Box Tree so can’t comment whether the demotion by Michelin was justified but I would only say that in the new 2019 Good Food Guide, (IMHO a much more accurate and readable judge of British restaurant food), the Box Tree scored an estimable 6  which translates as ‘exemplary cooking skills, innovative ideas, impeccable ingredients and an element of excitement’.

We have long been supporters of Simon and Rena Gueller from their early days in a little bistro in Harrogate then Leeds and later bringing much needed order out of the chaos that was the Box Tree in the late 90’s. I’m also ever grateful that they came to our house just days after Christmas when everyone else was closed, to cook a fabulous spread for our wedding.

If you care about these things and, of course, for chefs it is the ultimate accolade, and want to tick off the Michelin stars in Yorkshire and nearby here is the list of M. starred restaurants:

The Star Inn at Harome; The Man Behind the Curtain, Leeds; The Pipe and Glass, South Dalton;  The Yorke Arms at Ramsgill; The Black Swan at Oldstead.

Among our near neighbours a star was awarded to Winteringham Fields, a second star for Moor Hall at Ormskirk and for the Raby Hunt near Darlington, a star for Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume outpost Rogan & Co in Cartmel and a new star for the White Swan at Fence.

There you have it. No more nail biting till next October.

Friends of Ham, Chopping Block and Roots

It’s sad that we’re too often writing about restaurant closures, the latest and most surprising being Friends of Ham in Leeds and Ilkley.

According to this report in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, the two satellites – Ham and Friends in Queen’s Arcade and the Friends of Ham branch in Ilkley found it hard to get established and the original branch in Leeds’ New Station Street has suffered from a short term cash flow during this hot summer weather with no outdoor seating.

A local property and investment company Glentrool have stepped in to purchase Friends of Ham and plan to work with the creators of the business Anthony and Claire Kitching, so with any luck we will still be able to enjoy their craft beers, good ham and cheeses in the New Station Street location.

It’s good to be able to report two new openings in York which is fast becoming a hub for independents.

Michael Hjort, chef/patron of Melton’s of York’s and director of York Food Festival is to open The Chopping Block above Walmgate Ale House.  The space above the bar has been run as a bistro for a few years but Michael says “now is the time to up our game here and run a quality led informal restaurant.”

‘The Chopping Block he says will serve diverse modern food like aubergine stuffed with lamb and pomegranate, game burgers with roast venison and sea bream with Yorkshire cider, samphire and summer vegetables’.

Close on the heels of the Chopping Block but in Marygate on the other side of town is Roots, a second restaurant for the famed and Michelin starred Black Swan at Oldstead. Promising a changing seasonal menu of sharing plates that open with such modish dishes as cured trout, fennel kimchi and Meridian apple and ox cheek, cauliflower and kale. Skosh watch out.

The booking site opened a week ago and lines were jammed. Roots opens on 14 September. If you can’t get a table we will post our report. It’s what we’re here for!

Goodbye El Piano, Hello Los Moros

It’s goodbye at the end of August to the long standing El Piano on Grape Lane after 21 years of upholding the values of vegan and vegetarianism and hello Los Moros, the Moroccan and Middle Eastern street food stall that has been trading from York’s Shambles Market for the last three years and who will be moving into the Grape Lane premises in the autumn.

Tarik Abdeladim at his Los Moros stall at Shambles Market, York

El Piano was founded in 1997 by Magdalena Chavez ‘We are moving on’ she says ‘Our job is done. Twenty one years of blazing the vegan and gluten-free trail has led us all to the happy point where almost all eateries in York are now offering vegan and gluten-free options’.

And to her customers Magda says: ‘It has been our absolute pleasure to serve you all these years and we thank you for your loyalty and support. You will still be able to find us and our products, recipes, videos and books at www.elpiano.com.”

Los Moros owner Tarik Abdeladim is a worthy successor and while Los Moros will not be wholly vegetarian, Tarik plans to uphold the principles of El Piano with ‘tasty vegan and vegetarian dishes. One of our most popular dishes on the stall is our vegan falafel’.

‘We’re describing the restaurant as a modern North African kitchen’ says Tarik. ‘We’ll be serving some favourites from the kiosk, like our handmade merguez sausages, but using the restaurant as a space to develop the food in new directions, and play with different techniques and ingredients’.

Los Moros will be open for lunch and dinner from the autumn at 15-17 Grape Lane.

Rascills Still Firing Two Years On

We made a return visit to Rascills the other day, the restaurant at Raskelf that Richard and Lindsay Johns opened a couple of years ago. Fans will know them from their years at the lovely Artisan at Hessle.

 

‘Where’s Raskelf ?’ I hear you say. It’s a bit off most people’s radar but worth finding between York and Thirsk, just off the A19 not far from to Easingwold.

 

Richard and Lindsey Johns

Worth finding not least for the £45 set menu of three accomplished and generous courses. A no-choice menu is never a problem for me. I’m happy for chef to bring me what’s good and what he/she wants to cook and if it saves on waste then that makes perfect sense. Don’t worry; they can handle any dietary requirements if you let them know in advance.

 

On a balmy evening we began with drinks in the little garden they’ve created out front, then dinner that began with a smooth little cup of lemon grass, Thai inspired soup and was followed by a generous piece of snowy halibut and pea and mint risotto, beautiful cooked beef rump – is there a better cook of meat than Richard Johns? – with gorgeous crushed new potatoes and finished with a textbook crème brulee. They keep a good wine list and offer a modestly priced wine flight.

 

They are open Wednesday to Saturday and their £25 lunch is terrific value. As Michelin used to say – worth a detour.

Turning the Tables on the Food Critics

Leeds Indie Food Festival began yesterday and runs until 28th May. There are still tickets for a host of events. Take a look: www.leedsindiefood.co.uk. Having just enjoyed a fabulous five course lunch at Home presented by a very professional team you might want to book for Turning Tables, where the tables are turned on people like us, ie food critics. Felicity Spector from the Telegraph, Rhik Samadder – he does the gadget reviews in the Guardian and Mark Samson from Food and Travel Magazine, will cook for guests in aid of the charity Action on Hunger.

Yorkshire Rhubarb

Yorkshire rhubarb

There’s nothing else like it in agriculture – the low wooden forcing sheds of Yorkshire’s rhubarb producers are quiet, warm and dark. As far as the eye can see, there are slender pink stalks topped with curly yellow leaves. Workers pick by candlelight – harsh light would cause the stalks to lose their colour. Caterpillars brought in on the roots are fooled into thinking it’s spring and hatch into butterflies to flutter around in the ethereal glow. Listen carefully and you can even hear the rhubarb growing. The tissue-like membrane that wraps around the leaves, a bit like a daffodil, pops when it unfurls.

These rhubarb sheds and the dozen or so farms that make up the rhubarb triangle between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield are all that remain of a once thriving industry that began around a hundred and fifty years ago when miners from the West Riding pit villages growing a few spuds in their allotment would also sport a few sticks of ‘tusky’ –  rhubarb grown under an old bucket to keep it pink and tender.

From these small beginnings developed Europe’s biggest forced rhubarb industry. The miners began by splitting a few roots, acquiring some land and building forcing sheds. Surprisingly, the unpromising setting of industrial West Yorkshire proved to be ideal rhubarb country. The night soil from thousands of privies and waste from local shoddy mills was used to fertilise the soil and provided just the right conditions the roots needed. In December they would be dug from the cold wet soil and transferred to the forcing sheds where devoid of food and light they would be watered and kept at  a constant 60°F by the coal that was available and cheap.

By the 1920s there were over 200 rhubarb growers in the ‘pink patch’, an eight-mile stretch between Leeds and Wakefield. A farm might grow up to 90 tons a year and a rhubarb train ran regularly from Leeds to Kings Cross. But devastated by cheap imports from Holland and usurped by fashionable fruits from across the world, the rhubarb trade declined after the war. The number of growers dwindled and the last rhubarb train left Leeds in 1966.

But some growers, like Janet Oldroyd at Hopefield Farm and David Westwood at Thorpe Farm near Wakefield kept the faith and despite the decline in demand and rising fuel prices, they battled on. Then a few years ago chefs began to rediscover the unloved stalk, Delia cooked with it and we all started buying, cooking and loving rhubarb again.

There are still only a dozen Yorkshire growers today, but sales have recovered and the Oldroyds say they can sell all they produce which has climbed from 300 tons a decade ago to 1000 tons of indoor and outdoor rhubarb today.

Rhubarb and pannacotta at the Bruce Arms

Janet Oldroyd has done much to champion rhubarb. She is a leading light in the annual Yorkshire Rhubarb Festival and runs tours of the forcing sheds and in 2010 was instrumental in gaining Protected Designation of Origin  (PDO) for Yorkshire rhubarb which means that only rhubarb grown in the rhubarb triangle can be called Yorkshire rhubarb.

There’s hardly a Yorkshire restaurant worth its name that is not serving Yorkshire forced rhubarb during the November to March season, here are a few who have long championed the stuff. The General Tarleton, The Star Inn at Harome, Swine That Dines, Meltons, Partisan.

… and the Michelin Star Goes To …

Monday saw the launch of the 2018 UK Michelin Guide – streamed live in front of an invited audience. After an interminable build up they finally announced the 16 new stars.

No new stars for Yorkshire, seems their inspectors never get beyond Leicester apart from a star for Moor Hall at Aughton near Ormskirk and Loch Bay on the Isle of Skye. Unusually Michelin announced a third star, (making a total of only five in the UK)  for The Araki, a London sushi restaurant with just nine covers that serves one set menu at £300 per person. Drinks extra!

Happily all the current Yorkshire star holders held on to their badges and remain in the club. Once again congratulations to Skosh and Joro for their Bib Gourmand – recognition by Michelin for a restaurant  (or chef) worth watching.

We wrote way back in 2012 why we believe Michelin to be an outdated and irrelevant award but we understand why it means so much to chefs.  For an interesting article in the London Eater on why Michelin’s matter click here.

 

Michelin Delivers

Congratulations to Skosh, York and Joro, Sheffield on their Michelin Bib Gourmand announced this morning. So glad we visited and reported some time ago, we’ll never get a table now. Congratulations too to our neighbours the Staith House, North Shields for their Bib Gourmand.

The big one, the Michelin stars, are announced on Monday, 2nd October, live streamed at 11.30am. It’s my guess that York’s Cochon Aveugle will be crossing their fingers. It’s too soon for Horto, though the inspectors appear very keen on the small plates Scandi vibe.

There will be a lot of breath-holding among the current Yorkshire star holders hoping to hold on to their stars, the Star Inn, the Yorke Arms, the Black Swan, the Pipe and Glass, the Man Behind the Curtain and the Box Tree. No pressure guys.

 

Ibérica’s Authentic Paella

To Ibérica the stunning, former Bonhams/Hepper building on East Parade to learn about paella. We’d been invited by Marcos the CEO of the Ibérica Group who explained how we’d all been having too many touristy paellas and they were here to show us the proper thing.

The secret said Marcos is in the stock. It must be a proper fish or meat stock. The rice absorbs the liquid and provides all the flavour. There should only be a thin layer of rice, cooked over a high flame, preferably wood-fired and never stirred, this would release too much starch and make it sticky. When the rice can absorb no more stock the remaining liquid is allowed to caramelise so that it toasts a little at the bottom of the pan. This, is called the socorrat and considered the best bit of the paella.

To prove it they brought out a fish and a meat paella. It was thinner than I’d expected and not at all creamy like risotto. One was topped with prawns the other chicken (no mixed fish and meat they said) They were right of course the flavour is all in the rice, and with a special scraper, the chef released the wonderful crusty layer. It was indeed very good.

They also brought out anchovies and a selection of charcuterie, a plate of creamy and delicate croquetas, a strawberry and beetroot salad with an ajo blanco dressing, roasted bone marrow and steak tartar topped with fried quail eggs and for dessert, rice pudding with a brûlée top, churros and chocolate and an apple and salted caramel ice cream topped with whipped crema catalana.

What began as a talk about paella, morphed into a full blown lunch washed down with some rather luscious wines. We’re often sniffy about chains (Iberica will hate me for calling them a chain rather than a ‘collection’) but this we are willing to concede is one of the best, not least for its fabulous setting (make sure you use the loos) and of course the authentic paella.

Ibérica Leeds, Hepper House, 17a East Parade, Leeds LS1 2BH

T: 0113 403 7007

W: www.ibericarestaurants.com/restaurants/iberica-leeds/

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