Some of the best venues in York are hard to spot, little places that you would walk past without thinking twice. Café No 8 is exactly that kind of restaurant, easy to miss, and for those in the know, they’re happy to keep it that way.
Arriving for an early supper on one of the last evenings before the clocks went forward meant we could watch the night set in with a view of the street from our table. It’s also one of those places where you’re glad (and a little smug) to be inside watching the poor souls outside peer longingly at the food being served – not a rare occurrence on the night we visited.
From my cosy alcove, I had a full view of the restaurant. To my left were the patio doors that lead out onto a seating area for diners in the warmer months. My partner and I admired the charming decorative features like the Mondaine Swiss wall clock, which gave the place a European café feel, and the Edwardian-style stained glass which frames the tops of the windows.
Our starter dishes arrived. Mine was an Italian tricolour plate of warm stuffed artichoke served on a green, basil-spiked salad with little intense pops of sweet roasted cherry tomatoes that brought to mind wild strawberries – moreish and, sadly, gone in an instant. The salmon (hot-smoked by the Executive Chef and Co-owner Chris Pragnell), beetroot and horseradish cream trifle was the winner of the two starters. Presented in a clear yoghurt pot, it was a sophisticated spin on the trifle, made with vegetables and a playful way to begin the meal. The trifle’s soft consistency was perfectly offset by the slices of crispy olive toast.
Eager customers who hadn’t booked a table were being turned away and the restaurant was filling fast with groups of friends and couples. Time for the mains. The chef took the classic apple and pork pairing and made a fine meal of it for my companion’s dish. Thoughtful additions included a verdant fennel pesto and a black pudding bon-bon and, luckily, it was being served to a black pudding fan. When I’m eating out, it’s nice to see details that I’d never think of doing myself at home and the candied French baby apple that was placed on top was a nice touch.
My lamb came in three forms: crispy breast, slightly blushing rump cooked in a water bath and finished with North African spices, and Persian lamb shoulder ‘Haggis’ with saffron rice which I much preferred to one I had on Burns Night a few months back. It would have been nice to taste more of the Yorkshire Fettle cheese in it, but then perhaps it wasn’t really needed as the whole dish was flavoursome enough.
While I enjoyed a Café No 8 banoffee pie topped with maple pecans, my partner went to chocolate heaven with a dark chocolate and ginger terrine, poached pear that smacked of dessert wine and an intensely-flavoured cardamom ice cream.
On finishing our dishes, we learned from Martin Gore, who’s the other owner and runs front of house, that they have a place they use as an extra kitchen over in Escrick, just outside York, where Chris prepares everything from the un-butchered meat to the vegetables. I peered into the kitchen and realised why: the place was tiny, but like everything else in York, it makes the best of the little space it has.
01904 653074 www.cafeno8.co.uk