"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, December 10, 2006

There can be few moments in a man’s life to touch the sheer joy of hearing that a friend has bought a pub. Sure, the birth of a first born must come pretty close and those first inelegant fumblings with a person of the opposite genital grouping are fun to remember. But, a mate, buying a pub! It’s paydirt. It’s solid gold at the bottom of the pan. It’s marrying an 80yr old woman with millions in the bank, a weak heart and a gorgeous daughter with low moral standards. It’s everything a boy could wish for.

So, when a chum of ours Gary and his lovely (and long suffering) wife, Sarah announced that they were going to buy The Blacksmith’s Arms in Westow, near York it was a cause for celebration among many of the male members of the food loving community.

We had not had chance to pay them a visit in the year since they opened and decided to rectify that fact by giving up our traditional December trip to Madrid and, instead, heading to the cold, bleak North to pay them an oh so welcome visit.

DH, of course did not want to do this by half measures though and Gary took little persuading to join us as we compiled a formidable list of restaurants to sample during a trip of little over forty eight hours. Given that he lives not so terribly far away and originally hails from York, we also invited my best mate, Paul. Well, he doesn’t get out much these days.

The trip up to York on Day One was harmless enough and by 1pm we had hooked up with Gary, sampled a pint at the tiny Blue Bell Inn and found ourselves at a pleasant table at our first restaurant.

Jeff Baker spent ten years at Poole Court in Leeds where he was awarded a Michelin Star. After the grind of that he had every right to choose the ‘downsize” option and his bistro modern in York is the result.

An odd hybrid of simple food with an odd twist, he has not entirely lost touch with his “cheffy” roots and seems inordinately fond of his foam gun. That being said, it was more hit than miss and proved a good start to a weekend of premeditated over indulgence.

To begin, not counting the most parsimonious bowl of nuts in living memory, we shared two of their “ Grazing Plates” offering a selection of the starters. The highlights being and exceptionally good Whitby crab salad and a small cup of Mulligatawny soup. Less impressive was a plate of overcooked venison strips which were cold and chewy.

After taking the edge off our appetite, we dived into their set lunch menu which, again was more hit than miss. A terrine was suitably chunky and not served fridge fresh which is a good thing and all too rare these days. That being said, Gary’s smoked salmon was really not great. It turned out to be a mousse topped with unnecessary conserve of some fruit or other which totally destroyed any flavour from the fish.

We all opted for the “ Xmas Feast” which again came with lots of “I am a chef and I have a hankering to prove it” touches. Some worked very well. Some really did not. A small venison pie was staggeringly good and cut through with offal which gave a fantastic kick. The ‘chipolata” was made from turkey breast and tasted great when I had scraped the slightly pointless parsnip foam from the top of it. The pie apart, I think the others enjoyed it more than me. Mind you, as we were now on our third bottle of wine it’s hard to recall what we thought.

Desserts were, to labour the point, a curate’s egg of a selection. A fruit salady thing was non descript and a Xmas pudding “ cigar” was too dense and chewy. Best of the bunch was HP’s cheese selection which came with yet another foam, this time a shandy foam which, in some strange way, actually worked rather well. Like eating the head off a good pint of beer with a spoon.

The bill was about £50 a head ( I think ) which is more a testament to our ability to order than to the prices which were more than reasonable.

A mixed bag of a place but I can see myself going back there.

Paul was joining us later and had offered to drive into York and be our taxi back to Westow. Good man. So, we headed off to try a few pubs until he arrived, only distracted by Scott’s Butchers. A York institution where, after a long chat with the guy behind the counter, we were given, free, gratis and for nowt, three of their legendary pork pies. Result.

Being good friends, we of course kept one for Paul although I thought the fact he is married to a Jewish vegetarian would mean he would graciously refuse and the three of us could tuck in without the taint of guilt.

No such luck. The gusto with which he attacked this product of the pig ( see the last picture ) will have him shunned by both those communities in a matter of days. Quite right too. Everyone knows that the second pie is the best.
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