Harrogate is a town of many and varied assets – not least, says Zoë Perrett, Michael Carr’s Restaurant 92
Miss T. and I are delighted that the first genuinely chilly day of autumn coincides with our visit to Harrogate, because it means we feel fully justified in donning our (faux) fur coats – hers shaggy, mine smooth.
Said attire not only keeps us snug as two bugs in rugs; it’s also befitting of the well-heeled, very lovely town we’re visiting in order to dine at Restaurant 92. Said venue is the culinary home of 26 year-old Michael Carr, and is recommended by both the Michelin and Good Food guides. If location and these accolades are anything to go by, we’re in for a treat.
The good signs continue as we enter the bijou bar/reception to a very warm welcome, and further points are gained as we’re seated. Frequent restaurant-goers will be all-too aware of the Tiny Table Problem which pervades dining rooms from high street through to high end – and of the resulting distress caused by being elbow-to-elbow with your neighbours whilst frantically rearranging cutlery, glasses and condiments to accommodate your food.
You’re spared the trauma at Restaurant 92, where the pale marble tabletops are wide and well-spaced. Their fancy metal legs look like those of old sewing machines – a detail Miss T. and I like very much, along with the black-and-white illustrations on the walls and the room’s overall aesthetic, which makes us feel at once cosseted and comfortable.
Nature dictates that Autumn is a time of joyous abundance, providing chefs with more seasonal ingredients then they can shake a Sabatier at. This is, of course, every bit as as pleasing for the diner as for the cook – especially when said diner is currently gleefully reading Michael Carr’s five-course tasting menu with her just-as-delighted mate.
But first, bread. Not for Carr the conventional basket of loaves and slices. Instead, we work our way rapidly – and rapturously – through chicken fat brioche, a silken quenelle of whipped beef fat brown butter, taramasalata with crispy onions, and spiky shards of lavash flavoured with rosemary and bee pollen.
Were I to die right now (or, less melodramatically, be summoned homeward to deal with an immediately-pressing issue), I’d take my leave happy. Three canapes later, I thank my lucky stars I’m still here, because the triumvirate of puffed squid ink cracker, lamb skin crisp (yes, that’s A Thing, and a beautiful one) and truffled parmesan arancini is probably equal to anything you’d find in heaven and definitely better anything I’d encounter on the train back to Leeds.
Eighties pop legend Yazz might have famously claimed ‘the only way is up’, but that statement can only really be made when there’s still somewhere better to go. The question Miss T. and I are currently ruminating over is ‘how on earth can Carr top what we’ve already eaten?’.
With his oyster starter, the chef shows us how. Raw, the briny bivalves are not on my desert island food list (indeed if they were my sole option, I probably wouldn’t make it off that island). But when encased in crisp batter, dotted with yuzu mayo and served in their shells atop aged beef tartare, I’d score them 10/10. Goodness knows how an existing fan would feel about this dish.
The glasses of dry, peachy white rioja which accompanied the oysters are replaced with a Sicilian rose which both smells and tastes of strawberry leaves, with enough grippy tannins to stand up to the robust flavours in our second course: smoked partridge with confit blackberries, red cabbage studded with shredded dark meat, and smoked potato puree whose ratio is skewed far enough in favour of butter that to remind us that, treated like this, there is nothing humble about the spud.
From a choice of three options, Miss T. selects the same main course as I do. Under normal circumstances I’d passive-aggressively ‘suggest’ my dining companion reassess their options in order that I can eat what I want but also try something else, but a) I love Miss T. so much my mouth inadvertently smiles when I even think about seeing her, and b) the venison sounds amazing. Accordingly, I feel like she really deserves to enjoy a full portion too.
Paired to a light pinot noir whose summer berry character is echoed by the fruit on our plates, double venison proves the right choice. A hunk of ruby-red haunch is cloaked in a sticky redcurrant jus, the fresh incarnation of the same berries strewn across a braised and caramelised parsnip along with bacon crumbs and crisps made from the tuber’s skin. Sweet, earthy, salty, meaty, mellow, acidic, soft, crunchy – it tickles the palate’s every erogenous zone.
So far, so early autumn. But our pudding screams summer, featuring dehydrated and macerated strawberries, micro-basil leaves, fluffy pistachio chiboust, and a smooth sorrel ice cream whose flavour is as refreshing as biting into a crisp green apple. Pieces of balsamic cracker have the friable quality of a biscuit, but the sweet, bright acidity of the vinegar with which they’re flavoured. It might not be seasonal, but it is sensational.
Post-prandial coffee is really just an excuse for us to sample the after dinner treats we’ve ogled on other tables, and the salted caramel truffles, pina colada pate de fruits and cinnamon macaroons we’re presented with render the effects of the late night caffeine worth weathering. If these are the petit fours, I’d love to stay and sample Carr’s petit fives, sixes and sevens – because this chef’s cooking is pretty damn close to a perfect 10.
Make it happen
Restaurant 92, 92 Station Parade, Harrogate HG1 1HQ
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