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Café Concerto/J. Baker's/4 High Petergate

Café Concerto

Location: 21 High Petergate, between the Minster and Bootham Bar. York. YO1 2EN

For years we've been coming back to Café Concerto, even when merely changing trains in York en route from one place to another. Their usually sumptuous tomato soup wasn't as rich as I remembered - its parmesan topping was modest, the chunky soup thinner, the pesto less generous; it might have been having an off day. The chicken and avocado baguette was solid, but overwhelmed by British-style mayonnaisse. The banoffee pie though - that lived up to my longstanding memory of its wonders, a mountain of whipped cream stiffened to crown the fresh banana slices, caramel goodness, and crumb base. An engaging café with mismatched tables and chairs and a slew of daily specials, the venue's walls are covered with old sheet music. The location is fabulous too: nab one of the window tables and you've a view down the street of the Minster.

J. Baker's

Location: 7 Fossgate. Just beyond Pavement from Colliergate. York. YO1 9TA

Rich woods, pale walls, and reasonably spacious tables, all with clean lines, show off how very modern the focus on this highly-rated bisto are. Lunch (unlike dinner) offers a small plates menu. I ordered three, plus dessert, but could well have done with one less.

The Whitby crab salad was comprised of three dishes whose plated unity didn't make it into unity of flavor. I wanted to eat its parts and pieces together, but it was too much of a logistical challenge to manage. The mild crab salad was served in two tidy scoops, each in its own lettuce leaf; the herbed prawn crackers were, as usual, large, ungainly, and crisp; the chilled tomato tea was spicy and rich, easily my favorite part of the overall dish, but served with a small spoon unsuited to the other parts of the dish.

Scott's York Ham was, as an overall dish, the best of my mains, mostly because I could put all its parts together and eat it coherently, spreading hazelnut peas pudding on toasts, and topping with ham and pickled onion. I loved the tart/sweet edge of the accompanying pickled hazelnuts. The cauliflower dauphanois was exactly what it promised to be, a piping-hot Le Creuset dish full of molten cheese and cauliflower, served with a nicely-dressed side salad. In retrospect, the cauliflower might have grown on me more with a pinch of salt - available on the table, but which I never used.

For dessert, I had "The Flavours of Peach Melba", a collection of parts so entertaining, it kept me smiling throughout. The intense raspberry jellies were a little too sweet for my liking, and the spiced peach puréed - served in an individually-sized glass bottle with straw! - was heavy on its own. Still, the almond croquant was wonderful, and I quite liked the vanilla and peach bavorois too.

Eating at restaurants is, in large part, an education in one's own taste buds. I'm slightly sorry to say, therefore, that I'm not sure what to think of this restaurant. It's doing very, very interesting things, with high quality ingredients, in very pleasant circumstances, but I'm not certain - based on the dishes I happened to try - that what they're doing necessarily appeals to my own taste buds. Based on the general acclaim for the place - they've been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand, for example - they obviously do have appeal. Perhaps this just means I should go back and try more of their food though, to help make up my mind. Especially now that I noticed on their website that they have a dedicated chocolate room.

4 High Petergate

Location: 4 High Petergate, right by the city wall at Bootham Bar. York. YO1 7EH

I had a leisurely hour-and-a-half to eat before going off to catch my train. Based on The Good Food Guide's recommendations, the Tasting Room sounded - from quality and location - to be exactly what I wanted for my dinner. Alas! They've changed hours and are no longer open on Tuesdays. My major planned alternatives were all in the wrong directions, so I settled on going to a place I'd heard verbally recommended among locals.

4 High Petergate is both a hotel and a bistro, located just a minute or so away from York Minster. They not only had room for me, but their prompt, attentive service and consideration for my schedule meant I could even fit in dessert at the last moment and not feel unduly rushed. The space could easily feel crowded if more people were there, with tables tucked efficiently into corners. Pale bare tables and candles in a rich maroon room set the tone.

My endless weakness for blue cheese led me to order the daily soup special, in this case stilton-and-watercross. The intense stilton-infused consommé was rich and smooth, but served in copious abundance which - given its richness - made it hard to finish. Slow roast belly pork was round into a spiral with fresh sage tucked along its inner lines. The outside layer had caramelized into wonderful chewiness whose flavor was supported by the accompanying cooked spears of rhubarb. The pomme anna - made with thinly sliced potatoes and lots of butter - was the least interesting part of the dish (but that's also a commentary on me and my tastes in potatoes). The vanilla pannacotta with roasted fig was a straightforward rendition of the dish, but topped with a delightful - in part because unexpected - light biscuit wafer.

In summary: a strong, classic showing, with a few special notes along the way, and high praise for the service.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2007 06:01 pm (UTC)
A chocolate room? Ooooh. Next I'm in York, I am definitely going to splurge a bit and check that out :)

Thank you for the reviews! Very fun to read.
Jul. 27th, 2007 06:36 pm (UTC)
I think I would like to eat some sumptuous tomato soup right now! I might even go and make some.

I don't think I entirely understand the small plates thing — I keep reading the phrase in reviews but never get around to going and looking it up. It's basically letting you order three or four starters instead of a starter and a main, is that right? (If so then I thoroughly approve of the idea.)

I see what you mean about the crab salad being a logistical challenge! By herbed prawn crackers, you mean the Chinese-restaurant kind of prawn crackers, yes? Chilled tomato tea sounds gorgeous. In what sense was it a tea? Was it significantly different from something you'd describe as a chilled tomato soup? Am most intrigued by this.

Hazelnut peas pudding! Pickled hazelnuts! OMG.

Slow roast belly pork in a spiral... made into a spiral before cooking? I'm trying to figure out how this works. I've cooked belly pork but only in fairly basic ways. I like it a lot though.

Thank you for a great post, and I hope these aren't too many questions!
Jul. 30th, 2007 04:50 pm (UTC)
Small plates is basically ordering a bunch of starters, yes, exept that's how the restaurant is intending you to it. It's a generic, non-culturally specific, name for tapas or dim sum. Exactly how much to order, however, depends on the restaurant's choice of sizes, in addition to one's appetite.

Herbed prawn crackers = Chinese-restaurant prawn crackers with herbs cooked onto their surface (I've only seem them without in Chinese restaurants. I presumed this restaurant made their own.)

Chilled tomato tea. I'm not sure whether or not it actually had tea in it or not. It may have. There were enough strong flavors happening in it that I'm not actually sure. It was an infusion however, to the degree that the liquid had been steeped for a long time in its ingredients (possibly including dried tomotoes - I'm not sure how else they would have accomplished that intense tomato flavor without having any look of tomato about it). It wasn't at all like chilled tomoato soup because it was transparent; not clear though - a light brown perhaps, although it was hard to tell since it was served in a stainless steel cup.

Loved the pickled hazelnuts! So good!

Slow roast pork belly in a spiral: take a footlong strip of pork belly. Line it with fresh sage leaves. Curl into a snug spiral. Tie with cooking string (I suspect). Bake. Cut string but leave spiral intact to serve.

Not too many questions at all!
Jul. 30th, 2007 08:34 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure how else they would have accomplished that intense tomato flavor without having any look of tomato about it

It might have been tomato water.
Jul. 27th, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC)
British-style mayonnaisse

What's the difference between british and american style?
Jul. 30th, 2007 04:44 pm (UTC)
It's advertising as mayonnaise on the menu but looks and tastes like salad cream when it shows up in my sandwich.

I'm under the impression that mayonnaise really does differ from country to country, but I really don't think that was mayonnaise on my sandwich that time.
Jul. 28th, 2007 05:53 am (UTC)
4 High Petergate was lovely - stayed there recently for a wedding. The hotel rooms are a bit small and expensive, but then it is York I suppose. Their bistro, however, was just yum. I had lots of fish there and was very happy indeed.
Jul. 30th, 2007 04:44 pm (UTC)
It's also very centrally-located York.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )