Review of Middleton’s, York, England by Claire Stewart
York has been gaining a reputation for innovative cuisine in recent years. There are now Michelin-starred restaurants within driving distance, family-friendly Gastropubs within walking distance, first class artisan beer brewed locally – seemingly everywhere – and inviting street cafés becoming an increasingly familiar part of the historical scenery. Beyond that well-trod ground, however, for those searching for a comparatively unique culinary experience, look no further than Middletons.
Middletons is a warm and welcoming retreat in the heart of York, opposite the Ouse River at the end of Skeldergate. This treasure of this restaurant still feels like a well-kept secret.
My partner and I have been visiting Middletons for a couple of years now– not for the hotel, but for a place to kick back, enjoy a good glass of wine and nibble on something yummy. Though we have never had a bad meal there, an ambitious new menu has been available since this spring. I was asked to test their new, six-course taster menu and
The restaurant and bar is located within the hotel, but is separated from the guest rooms. Since we first walked through the doors, and were struck by our luck at being so nearby.
In recent months, it has gone through a significant makeover. At one time festooned with black and white pictures of Chaplin – with even a Chaplinesque hat and cane on the coat stand – Middletons has been slowly transforming itself into a modern rustic experience. Now complete, the dining area radiates earthy colors and rich textures,
with a choice of upholstered seats or couches.
Middletons’s atmosphere reflects owner Craig and Henny’s style. The duo are masters of hospitality: both generous and passionate about what they do; their love of all things Yorkshire really shines through.
In part, this has led them to source local, organic food.
Owner Craig explains, “it wasn’t long ago that gathering wild food was a normal part of British culture.” Foraging is the age-old process of gathering food from nature. In fact, during the Second World War rosehips were commercially marketed due to their high Vitamin C content.
Healthy perhaps, but none too tasty.
In woodlands, fields, or even on hedgerows, you can find a surprising range of wild fungi, leaves, fruit, nuts and berries. (Although not all of it edible!) Genuine treasures can be gathered nearly all year round. As Middletons shows, these can be used to create a gourmet delight from the honest, rich pickings of the land.
As Craig happily explains, “we’ve been seeing a ‘real food’ renaissance taking a hold for awhile now, but I believe it takes a real cook with deep rooted knowledge to appreciate this type of ingredients” When it comes to what my partner calls ‘rabbit feed’, I find Craig’s and Henny’s down to earth excitement infectious: “to put it simply, our vision is to create an affordable dinning experience for everyone that puts the best of Yorkshire produce onto a plate”.
Sounds simple, right?
Not really. This approach has meant working to create lasting relationships with local producers over time. Hiring an expert forager – I didn’t even know such a thing existed – is but one indication of the seriousness of their endeavour. Apparently, a commercial forager has both the skills and old-time knowledge to harvest from the surrounding countryside. Yet no matter how many wild berries, foraging is little more than vegetarian gristle until a chef is able to make use of it.
Middleton’s head chef, the fittingly born and bred Yorkshireman, Andy Hill, believes his youth on a working farm made a huge impact on his cuisine: “we were constantly surrounded by rich pickings such as honey from our bee farm or the most wonderful beautiful range of game meat such as pheasant, partridge, rabbit, and fresh vegetables to prepare the most delicious meals with, I thought this was how everybody ate. Little did I know!”
This marriage made in food heaven between chef, restaurant owners and – yes, that’s right – foragers – has brought about an explosion of creativity in Middletons’ kitchen.
Listening to Andy describe growing up on a farm gives a real sense of appreciation for Mother Nature’s vicissitudes. Her seasonal face provide direct insight into the food he creates. “The vision we have here”, he explains, “is to bring innovation with seasonal elements”.
He calmly mentions that, in one plate alone, there are least 12 processes that go into making the end result. Between then (farmboy) and now (head chef) Andy has also worked in some of London’s top restaurants. He tells me he was classically trained, describing his food as traditionally motivated, yet inspired by modern techniques.
Incredibly, their menu is due to change every two weeks, in the spirit of keeping the menu seasonal and the produce fresh.
Needless to say, I was curious to see how Middletons’s vision to bring innovation with seasonal elements could be turned into six very different dishes.
I was not to be disappointed: the menu reflected quality local produce such as Cumbrian lamb, turnip gratin, salmon, Artic chard, beetroot puree, nettle puree, cucumber granide, sweet cicely, quails eggs, English asparugus and chive flowers.
Amuse-bouches set the tone early on. An ever so light but flavorsome, sweet cicely voloute with a Whooky hole foam, was introduced in what looked like a delicate flower cup. It brought on a sense of the countryside. Seved alongside this was a black olive and caramelised onion loaf, which tasted like a country house smells when baking. An element of rich comfort was offered via a doublechurned, creamy truffled butter for spreading. This was emphasised by the wine: a beautiful Alasia Roero Arneis 2013 Roero, Piedmonte, which brought out the herb-y, morish flavours of the valoute.
This was followed by a vibrant plateful of food, which playfully resembled an artist’s paint pallet. It seemed radical at first glance, but one could see nonetheless that careful thought had gone into creating a provocative sensation for both the eyes and mouth.
The salty goat’s cheese in fresh cucumber gel, with tomato pressing – which can be dipped into splashes of red and yellow puree – filled my mouth with summary freshness. It was complimented by tapenade and a chive flower, which evoked a delicious picnic. But it was the oh-so-very-tender rump of Cumbrian lamb, served with textures of
parsley, sharp nettle puree, and earthy turnip dauphinoise, and a smooth full bodied glass of Vino e Aglianico di Benevantano 2012 Campania, which truly brought together the essence of foraging.
If you like your deserts, I would advise on asking for an extra large portion of the Cucumber granita. This is a secret recipe that chef Andy Hill guards with his life, and one that owner Crag and Henny have been trying (unsuccessfully) to get hold of for sometime. His sorbet is full bodied and cleansing, with a yoghurt espuma and some
honeycomb sprinkled on the side, bringing sharp and sweet together, a very surprising and successful food combo.
I must admit, before trying this six course delight, I was a little nervous. With these types of menu, I have had a fair share of what felt like forced-feeding experiences. Yet this experience, left me perfectly satisfied, and not painfully bursting at the seams.
Lastly, I found the balance between portion sizes was well-judged, the combinations exciting, and most importantly the food delicious.
Middeltons will surely leave both foodies and everyone else content – especially as we were presented an unexpected, seventh course in a form of handmade petite fours, which went well with my coffee, marking a perfect ending. True, I would love to be selfish and keep Middletons to myself, but Andy Hill’s cuisine is too good to stay hidden for long. A table at Middletons should quickly become the hottest reservation in town.
Middleton’s is located at Skeldergate, York YO1 6DS
***The meal at Middleton’s was comped, but Claire’s opinions are unbiased by this.