Simon Richardson heads to Harrogate for gloriously fishy air and baffling desserts
Generally speaking, it takes a particularly robust crowbar to prise me from Leeds on a week night. I’m a typical Monday-to-Thursday hermit, living for the weekend. This particular crowbar though, involves Michael Carr, a chef who has worked at Claridge’s and Yorkshire’s own Pipe & Glass, and has an impressive reputation despite only aged 26. Last year, Carr won Harrogate’s Chef of the year and over the last few years he has developed his own restaurant – Restaurant 92 – into an affordable fine dining experience that is attracting foodies from far and wide.
I suddenly feel conspicuously under-dressed in jeans and a t-shirt
From the outside, Restaurant 92 has a bistro-like feel to it, its logo and name splashed across an awning that covers a small, rattan furniture terrace surrounded by flowers. Inside though, it’s quite bare and cold, reminding me of a hotel dining room. It feels a lot more formal than it looks from the street and I suddenly feel conspicuously under-dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. The waiting staff add to this, with rehearsed explanations that are rushed and somewhat impregnable under the heavy cloak of thick accents.
We’ve travelled with the specific purpose of attacking the five course summer tasting menu, which we order in all its glory – paired wines and all (£50 per person, or £70 with wine pairing). From the very start, this is knock-your-socks-off haute cuisine, with stunning presentation and interesting flavour combinations.
The bread course could have been a starter, served with a fluffy taramasalata that tastes like glorious fishy air, accompanying melt-in-the-mouth chicken fat brioche and some crisp chilli flatbreads. There’s also beef fat, whipped into a delightful coronary of a dip.
The canapés keep the momentum going, with a crispy squid ink crisp acting as the centrepiece, supported by a tongue-tingling meringue and a delicate, yet warming truffle arancini. I could go home happy now and we aren’t even on to the starters.
The first of these is a fantastically meaty scallop with a creamy Yorkshire fettle cheese, which is rich but doesn’t dominate. Meanwhile, the tropical fruit notes on the paired wine compliment the heritage tomato perfectly. We then move on to an absolute showstopper of a dish; ox cheek ravioli with courgette flower tempura and a wonderfully rich veal consommé. The aftertaste lasts forever and I almost can’t speak, I’m salivating at such a rate. The red grape rosé is a clever choice, as the main course presents a choice between meat and fish, so could come with red or white.
My money is on the grouse to beat the fish and I’m not wrong. The meat comes cooked to perfection, complete with a delightfully macabre claw still attached. A jam stuffed cabbage works well with the grouse but presents too much of a quandary for the wine pairing. The stone bass, meanwhile, is a classic case of overdoing a dish. The saltiness of the fish is lost within a sauce that is far too rich, creamy and plentiful. Then there are some mushrooms, a slightly burnt spring onion and… is that crispy chicken? It’s a main course with a serious case of split personality disorder and the wine’s acidity doesn’t quite work either. It’s not that the individual components aren’t cooked well; it’s that there’s too much going on.
My partner didn’t enjoy her stone bass at all and chooses to tell the waiter when he asks if everything was alright. It’s a most un-British moment and completely disarms the young man, who has virtually made his escape halfway into the next county before finishing the sentence “Well, we value all feedback…”
A classic case of too many ideas
The one thing we don’t disagree on is that the dessert is completely baffling. If the stone bass was a classic case of too many ideas, the troubling mixture of sorrel, balsamic, pistachios and basil, leaves a taste of grassy pesto in the mouth. Even more confusing is that the main draw of the dish – the prestigious gariguette strawberries – have been diced, therefore losing their succulence and aesthetic. Neither of us get through more than a couple of mouthfuls. We head off to catch the last train home on a disappointing note.
There’s no denying the talent of Michael Carr. Some of the dishes we sampled were stunning, comfortably justifying his name being mentioned alongside some of the more established names in Yorkshire and beyond. Perhaps it’s the pressure of going through such a broad repertoire in fewer courses than other tasting menus that has led to a couple of chaotic dishes – the tasting menu is two starters, a main and a dessert plus bread and canapes.
This wouldn’t stop me returning though; I’d go back for the bread or the ox cheek on their own. The main problem is that the atmosphere and surroundings are quite stale, not at all matching the quality of the food. Then there’s the waiting staff, who desperately need some help with their English – they weren’t comfortable with conversation and the sommelier rushed so much that I didn’t catch even half of his lengthy wine pairing explanations. It ultimately feels like Restaurant 92 could be on the verge of greatness – but there’s certainly more to be done.
Restaurant 92, 92-94 Station Parade, Harrogate HG1 1HQ
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Bread 10, canapes 9, scallop 8, ox cheek 10, stone bass 6.5, grouse 8.5, gariguette strawberry 5
Overly formal and struggled with unnecessarily wordy explanations
Not a place where you can really feel relaxed