One of the joys in having friends around the country is that Yorkshire is halfway up or down – making it the perfect place to meet up for the weekend. Don’t worry, this post isn’t sponsored by the Yorkshire Tourist Board; I’m not going to warble on about the beauty of the countryside and coastline, the magnificent splendour of our cathedrals, Minsters and historic ruins, nor witter about the fabulous shopping, fantastic food, and all round wonderfulness of my home county*
When one of my beloved London friends announced a weekend stay in York with her mother was on the cards, I was over the moon. This particular friend is a Kings Road girl through and through – cut her in half and you’d find a map of Chelsea. She knows her restaurants and is hard to impress. So for her to be coming shopping ‘up north’ was a true testament to the fact that York is halfway between her stomping ground and her parents’ house; and the fineness of the shopping and eating emporiums which abound. To be invited to join them for dinner was a real treat, and I looked forward to it immensely, although I was on more than one occasion giving serious consideration to turning up for dinner in my pyjamas.
The reason for this is that the only table available at The Blue Bicycle was at 9.30pm. Now to The Londoner, this is perfectly normal. To The Provincial, this is the middle of the night and about time to turn on the electric blanket and put the kettle on for a final cuppa. So my hopes were high – if I was giving up at least 3 hours sleep, it had to be for a good reason. A preliminary nosey on their website helped to crank up the anticipation (beware the car parking though, for although the NCP car parks marked on the Blue Bicycle’s website are indeed just around the corner, they close at night, resulting in a last minute panic and a dash down Piccadilly).
We started off the evening with a drink in Masons Bar & Bistro on Fossgate, just up the road from The Blue Bicycle. An underrated wine bar, it’s pared back, nicely spaced, with friendly staff and a decent wine list. I find it bemusing that little gems of places like Masons are nearly empty when nearby chain pubs are doing a roaring trade – but am happy for this trend to continue as it means I get to have a drink in peace. I’m not 102, but I do appreciate being able to have a drink with friends where I can hear what they say, have a comfy seat, and my shoes don’t stick to the floor. I’ll definitely head back there in the future, not least to try out their food, which looked delicious – no time for us to indulge, the clock was ticking and my stomach was rumbling.
The Blue Bicycle does indeed have a blue bicycle outside. It’s an unpretentious cosy nook of a restaurant, which for some unknown reason has arty pictures of naked ladies plastered all over their marketing material. I still can’t fathom this connection out, but I don’t suppose it really matters. It was busy but not overfull, with a nice buzz of conversation for a Saturday night. My guess is that the table turn around was not running as smoothly as planned – we had to wait five minutes for the table to be laid, not the end of the world to be fair, but hopefully not indicative of things to come.
And by and large, it wasn’t. The service was good, attentive without being overbearing, not rushed and polite. The menu wasn’t overly long and was clearly playing to the chef’s strengths, focussed on fish and traditional ingredients. The wine list was wide ranging, knowledgeable and reasonably priced. Our Gavi was perfectly chilled, and with its dry fresh palate, a great match for fish. Pre-dinner bread came in a plant pot with delicious butter and a bulb of roasted garlic, a nice touch. Shame the bread wasn’t quite up to scratch, overly doughy and starchy. Our starters made up for this in spades. My pan-fried haddock with crab and chive risotto was sublime. The poached egg yolk was timed to perfection, gooey on the inside and firm on the outside, clearly organic from very happy hens, with the yolk gushing a sunburst of colour onto the plate when I cut into it. The Visitor from the North happily tucked into her beautifully presented Pakora King Prawns, whilst the Southerner at the table enjoyed her fishcake but reported the outside to be a touch too crispy for comfort.
The highlight of the main course was, for me, the vegetables. Not because the mains were bad, they weren’t at all – but because the vegetables crunched with flavour, were beautifully cooked and dressed. My generous portion of ginger and lime salmon fillet was accompanied by a delicious soy emulsion, although the dish was let down by over-cooked pak choi and too few shiitake mushrooms to really pack a punch. The others enjoyed their monkfish and halibut, with the puy lentil veloute standing out from the crowd.
If I have one minor, and it is minor, quibble, it is why chefs these days use pea shoots to decorate everything. What did we do before the pea renaissance? Which humbler ingredients were used to decorate and add colour to the plate? It may be fashionable but it should be applied with good sense not to every dish! Grumble over.
With no room for dessert we contented ourselves with eying up those of our neighbours over coffee. And they did look delicious – but at 11.45 at night, even my dedication to Sticky Toffee Pudding can’t overcome my body clock.
So overall, a good evening’s food and drink. I’d go back, although I do think the prices were a tad on the heavy side. The company was sparkling and the conversation flowed freely. The visitors were extremely happy, I felt Yorkshire had upheld our side of the bargain, and we’d had a great time. What more can you ask? Apart from the reason for the naked ladies, of course.
* Although all of these are true!
You can find The Blue Bicycle at 34 Fossgate, York or check out their website here