Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Chef's Table at the Dean Court Hotel, York

As regular readers will know, D and I lived in York when we were first together and a little piece of my heart will always belong there.  But York, in common with a lot of British city centres, suffers (when it comes to food) from a preponderance of middle of the road chain restaurants that squash out many of the more exciting and innovative independent ventures.  York is heavily reliant on its tourist trade and what the tourists want, it seems, is certainty.  And they can be certain that they will get something perfectly decently edible in Pizza Express or Jamie's Italian or Wagamama.  I wouldn't be such a hypocrite as to criticise people for it, but it is a shame that the UK food scene, outside of London at least, is at constant risk of becoming homogenised.

I always felt that York was missing some good, high-end-of-middle, quirky little bistro type places, especially once the late lamented J. Baker's Bistro Moderne closed its doors.  Le Cochon Aveugle got a fantastic write up in The Guardian earlier this year, and I've enjoyed the meals that I've had at The Star Inn The City, but you'd have thought (hoped) that there would be scope for more.  Well, the team at the Dean Court Hotel are very keen to make their restaurant a contender.  And with that in mind, a group of hungry people were invited across to a Chef's Table event last week in the stunning DCH dining room, which is situated literally in the shadow of York Minster.  If there is a better view in the city, I'd be very surprised.

We had to admit, while chatting to the hotel manager, that as York residents it would never have occurred to us to go there for dinner, and apparently this is a perennial problem for them, as is the fact that their guests tend to favour the safety of the City Chain Restaurant over their own hotel's dining room.  And that's a shame, because there is a lot to like about this venue.

There is the view from the dining room, of course.  But there is also a snug little bar in which to enjoy a pre (or post) dinner snifter, there is a very friendly team of front of house staff and there is, potentially, some very nice food.  The chef, Benji Thornton, is a lovely chap who is obviously extremely passionate about what he does.  He not only has an excellent eye for plating but an instinctive knack for interesting flavour combinations.  As it was a Chef's Table, Benji cooked the first couple of courses in front of us in the dining room, talking us through the ingredients and techniques he used (and throwing out a few extremely useful tips including the fact that if you want your food to taste good you need to add butter.  Lots and lots of butter).  Also in attendance was one of his suppliers, a forager who had brought with her the biggest mushroom that I have ever seen.  Seriously look at the thing!

Giant mushroom

Chef at work
I really loved the fact that Benji was so excited about making using of foraged ingredients - not just the mushroom but beautiful herbs such as wood sorrel as well - and that he drew so much inspiration from his home county and its amazing produce.  The pairing of Yorkshire rhubarb with duck and a five spice jus was particularly successful and one that I fully intend to "borrow" for my own kitchen.

Pigeon, beetroot, mushroom
Duck, rhubarb, five spice
The main problem with a Chef's Table is that it is taking the chef away from the kitchen.  The team downstairs, who cooked the dishes behind the scenes while Benji was entertaining us, were, I think, a little timid with regards the seasoning (Benji himself was very generous with the Maldon Sea Salt, so I doubt it is generally an issue).  The other problem is that it is difficult to time things perfectly - the food wasn't served until after Benji had cooked and plated his sample dish and, with regards the duck especially, the meat had started to cool by the time it reached the table.  Again, I doubt that this would be the case if you were a guest at the restaurant ordering from the standard menu.

Chocolate, salted caramel, strawberries
I've since studied the DCH menu in more detail and there are some seriously exciting sounding dishes on there (the idea of confit chicken wings with pea and wasabi soup is making me feel very hungry indeed).  When we talked to Benji, he said that he was very keen to create plates of food that celebrated the ingredients without being over complicated but nevertheless there are some cheeky little twists that sound most intriguing and, I am sure, everything is presented absolutely beautifully, as evidenced by the pictures above.  If you're in York and fancy something a little different then why not give this place a try?  The enthusiastic team there deserves our support and York itself deserves more eateries that are prepared to do something a bit different and a bit exciting.

I was invited to the Chef's Table event at the hotel and did not pay for the meal - however, all opinions expressed are my own and are honestly stated.  I am impervious to all forms of corruption, even edible ones.

DCH Restaurant at the Dean Court Hotel
Duncombe Place
01904 625082

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