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No. 3 York Place

Location: 3 York Place, at King St. Leeds, UK.

After a week of cafeteria food, wouldn't you be pining away for a good meal? That's not really why I went to No. 3 York Place last Thursday. The real reason is that I'd spent the past several months reading the eGullet UK boards, which included repeated recommendations for both No. 3 and Anthony's in Leeds. And since I knew I was going to be there anyways for a week, it made perfect sense to take advantage of the oppotunity to eat well.

No. 3 is located a few minute's walk from the railway station, in the heart of Leeds' city centre, on a relatively quiet side street. White walls and ceiling, judicious use of glass, and a few walls of mirrors helped make the room feel spacious. It helped too that no one was ever really seated next to me, so I had an effective amount of space to myself. (Technically, three people briefly sat down at the next table, but one of them started to make unhealthy noises, and then they left.) White linens, dark brown and white leather upholstery: they achieved a nice balance between classic and modern decor.

Their apperitif meny immediately endeared itself to me with its confections made from freshly squeezed juices. I chose a "Berry Fizz" for its use of juices, complete with a bit of fruit liquor and champagne, with which to browse my menu options. I'd arrived early enough that their notably inexpensive prix fixe lunch-or-early-dinner was an option; so was the à la carte menu. But I am weak in the face of a degustation menu (especially after a week's cafeteria far), and so I opted for the multi-course tasting menu, small servings of à la carte menu highlights, coordinated together. It's just as well there was no coordinated wine list, for I really didn't need that much alcohol. I saved my other drink for the dessert wine menu, and stuck with sparkling water for the meal.

I had most of a warm, brown roll, served with creamy-rich butter, while relaxing into the soothing atmosphere, jazzy lounge music playing in the background. The maître d', thinking I might be bored while waiting, thoughtfully left me a handful of high-end property magazines, but I wasn't the least bit bored. I was having a lovely time. Eventually, I started writing... and writing and writing. I wrote primarily about the meal, but also about the conference from which I'd just come, a way of winding down from the end of hectic socialness, a way of conversing with myself through paper.

The meal began with a tomato consummé in which floated a goat cheese raviolo, like a flower in a field of potent basil, sun-drenched with broth. The broth was light, the tomato ripe, image framed in an expanse of circular white bowl.

The lightness continued with an extraordinary poached oyster. I'd only ever had raw or cooked oyster, each a bit chewy in its way. The poached oyster melted in my mouth, all softness, liquidly tender. The dish was strong on unity of texture, topped with sevruga caviar and underscored with fluffy scrambled eggs and vermouth cream. The oyster shell, in turn, rested on a mountain of large-crystalled salt, glimmering like diamond shards of ice. Thankfully, the waiter warned me not to eat the salt - unless I really, really wanted to.

The roast wood pigeon breast was more substantial, served with roasted foie gras, mouth-meltingly warm, port sauce, and pieces of cherry. The pigeon and foie gras perched atop a tangle of finely-shredded cabbage, a dark-and-pale green fluffy scoop of confetti. The cherries particularly made this dish come together for me - but you know my feelings about fruit.

Next, a fillet of curry-roasted pollock arrived, accompanied by puréed cauliflower and an orange velouté. The other dishes worked well as units in their entirety. For this dish, I prefered the flavors of fish separate from the sides. The orange with the cauliflower made for a light, citrusy purée, the orangeness achieving a candy-like intensity. The outside of the pollack of flavorful, rubbed with an understated curry blend. For all it tasted good, I'm not sure unity of color is worth achieving in a dish, when it's primarily oranges and browns.

By this point, I really did need the ten minute wait which was thoughtfully suggested, to digest and rest from the food thus far. I spent the time continuing to write: idle notes on the style of lamp-fixtures, salt-and-pepper grinders, my first pen running out of ink.

The main course was a "roast canon of local lamb", cooked to a tender medium, as requested, with an intensely-flavorful shoulder confit, and a disconcertingly smooth braised tongue. (Admission: I've never eaten tongue before; the texture threw me, but is probably just as tongue ought to be.) It was served with a wonderfully mint-saturated new potato and perfectly cooked pieces of tomato, courgette, and aubergine. Despite all the other good things in the dish, my favorite part was a fennel purée, smooth and rich.

Full, but not too full for dessert, I looked over the dessert wine menu, a small, but thoughtfully chosen list. There were four dessert wines, four ports, and a variety of champagne. Best of all the dessert wines and ports were each also available as a flight of four samplers! But I wasn't up for that much of it, however good it sounded. At the waiter's recommendation of what might go best with the (unkown to me) selection of desserts, I ordered a glass of Pacherenc du Vic Bilh (Chat. d'Aydie 2002), a lively, intense golden dessert wine with a full, acidic initial feeling full of strong, clean tropical fruit notes, and a smooth, lingering aftertaste. It tastes of passionfruit and vanilla, with a hint of mango. It did indeed complement the desserts nicely - especially since vanilla and passionfruit were two of the major flavors involves in dessert.

Dessert began with a "pre-dessert" of vanilla custard, chilled to stiffness, served over cooked rhubarb, soft, but not sweet. (Rhubarb is often over-sweetened to compensate for its tartness.) The pre-dessert was a pleasant, quiet dish, served in a tall shot glass.

I loved dessert. There was a lovely scoop of vanilla-flecked ice cream crowned in mint-leaves. There was a textbook-perfect slice of tarte au citron passionfruit, with a deliciously caramelized top and a lovely, crisp pastry crust. And then there was the orange soufflé with an underlayer of liquidly crunchy brown sugar. As I'm fairly sure H. once said about something else, it was "fun in my mouth". It was fluffy and full of orangeness and golden-brown on the top. It was extraordinary.

Somehow, I managed to spent over three hours having dinner by myself, with never a dull moment. I wrote, I talked briefly with the waitstaff (who were attentive, but not especially chatty - but then, they were busy), I ate. The evening drifted by in a sequence of very pleasant dishes.

The food at No. 3, for all its achievements and aspirations, is really quite accessible. The dishes are almost never more complicated than advertised on the menu. The dishes are sophisticated and honestly straightforward, a very comfortable balance. The room is welcoming, the staff knowledgable and attentive. And there's a UKP 18.50 three course menu available if you go at lunchtime or before 7:30 for dinner. By the standards of high-end UK restaurants, that's a bargain.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
madcatlady
Jul. 22nd, 2005 08:21 am (UTC)
Fois gras? You evil woman :-)

Come see us on August 6 :-)
owlfish
Jul. 22nd, 2005 09:31 am (UTC)
I wish I could, but I have a prior - and much more expensive - date with Worldcon that weekend! C. might well be available, though.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )