Small plates as you might have noticed, are everywhere. Wetherspoons started doing small plates a year ago. That's how beyond mere trendiness things have gone. Now, theres a proper heavyweight of Yorkshire's food scene getting involved too: the mysterious Mr P is Andrew Pern of The Star Inn the City and The Star Inn at Harome.
We were a little apprehensive: the idea of a mightily respected chef following the small plates trend felt a little like an unnecessary grab at voguish relevance when that relevance has already been earned many times over. It’s a bit like asking David Hockney if he wouldn’t mind having a go on an Etch-a-Sketch: the results would probably be great, but you’d think it’d be a bit beneath him.
The vibe at Mr P’s is relaxed and understated, with deep olive walls and exposed beams everywhere you look; but you’d not really get away with anything else this close to the Minster. Living North turned up with a vegan in tow, which, happily, is no impediment to getting a decent meal these days – not too long ago you’d be lucky to get more than a confused expression and a query as to whether that meant you could eat Dairylea. With a little forewarning, Mr P’s sorted out parallel vegan options to complement the plates from the main menu.
To start, there were salted, smoked and paprika’d almonds so moreish they were scarcely on the table before they’d been scoffed. The light, bright steak tartare that followed showcased Pern’s policy of focusing on high-quality Yorkshire produce and taking it on a tour of the continent and beyond, and it was tricky not to keep pinching bits of my dining partner’s superb, botanically-accented Brunoise ratatouille.
Then there was a very impressive sashimi of tuna with blobs of wasabi, which had unexpected but entirely welcome floral overtones to it, and a fragrant, delicate saffron risotto. Next came the absolute highlight: a soft-boiled duck egg with toasted crabmeat sandwich and potted shrimp which combined gooeyness, crunch and a briny tang. The chunks of lamb loin with purple artichokes, radishes and sauce vierge were almost as good, and the couscous with artichokes and olives earned two very enthusiastic thumbs up from our vegan.
The feasibility of having not one but two puddings is one of the massive advantages that small plates places have over more traditional restaurants, and Mr P’s were completely brilliant: an unfussy, tart full moon of raspberry curd and a passionfruit panna cotta made positively tropical by the use of coconut milk, and finally a raspberry sorbet, unexpectedly dense and rich, and a truffled Tunworth cheese from Hampshire, which sits somewhere between brie and camembert, with grated truffle on top and pickles. As a full-stop to a meal, it couldn’t really have been any better.
The small plates thing was, despite our initial reservations, all completely necessary. Rather than being a pointless sop to a trend that went overground ages ago, Mr P’s is a way of bringing the tasting menu experience of The Star Inn to the city and making it accessible. It uses small plates for what they should really be used: focusing attention on a few excellent ingredients cooked with real skill and imagination.
Mr P’s Curious Tavern
71 Low Petergate, York YO1 7HY