Chef Josh Whitehead wows at the Harewood Food & Drink Project’s smart supperclub where, says Zoë Perrett, flavours are massive, not ‘meh’
A hovel, you say? Surely that’s a rather odd location for a fancy dinner? But stay with me: the Harewood Estate’s Grade Il-listed, converted stable block is anything but the ‘wretched hut’ that term might conjure to mind.
With antlers on the walls, dried seed heads in the vases, and seriously sleek cutlery on the tables, it’s the perfect backdrop for Harewood head chef Josh Whitehead’s modern Yorkshire tasting menu.
Part supperclub, part fine dining experience, all class, the Dining Room at The Hovels is a monthly-ish (given the current climate) occurrence; showcasing the Harewood Estate’s own produce in a menu that’s as close to zero-mile as possible.
And from the off, it’s miles better than anything we’ve eaten in quite possibly years – and very definitely so far in 2020.
The nine-course menu is tucked into a wax-sealed envelope along with a sachet of carrot seeds which my fella somehow manages to strew across the tablecloth as though it were a freshly dug plot. Littered with reassuringly autumnal ingredients like game and mushrooms, the menu is an amuse bouche in its own right.
Two amuses proper arrive, introduced with just the right amount of descriptive fanfare. A well-fired, biscuity pastry case provides a diminutive, 3D canvas for edible-petal adorned cubes of smoked eel; its fatty richness offset by crunchy, peppery kohlrabi, the whole lot bedded on mousse-like cultured cream with foraged dryad saddle mushrooms.
Next, a macaron-like concoction whose shell is made with leek scraps burned to a black ash – think that delightfully savoury flavour of a Krisproll – with mushroom ketchup inside and beneath, generously showered with finely-grated venison katsuobushi which tastes like smoky bacon. Already, our tastebuds have gone way beyond ‘gently tickled’ and are hurtling towards ‘full climax’.
Salt’n’soil baked potato sounds like a contender for Walker’s next Do Us A Flavour competition – however, this particular spud is not so humble. Its freshly-dug flavour sings sweetly enough alone, but delicate raw mushroom slivers and brilliantly bosky fig leaf ricotta act as an exceedingly complimentary chorus line.
Talking of supporting acts, the service at Harewood is absolutely, joyfully exemplary. I say ‘joyfully’ not only because it’s a rare treat to be looked after by such well-informed pros, but also because every member of Eddy Lascelles’ front-of-house team actually seems delighted to be doing what they’re doing… and that’s a lovely thing indeed.
Nine courses may seem rather excessive, but the meal is exceptionally well-paced and thankfully we never feel overstuffed. No matter how good the food, there’s nothing worse than waddling home like Henry the Eighth after an extra-large portion of roasted swan.
The next three dishes take us from turf to surf and back again; a hearty red deer faggot in woodland broth; scallop sashimi in almond milk with grassy lovage oil and salty-piquant pickled green strawberries; 8 year-old, 80 day-aged Angus sirloin and braised shin with a lipsmacking walnut wine jus.
There’s a lot going on in each and every plate: petals and pickles; unannounced, unexpected spices; heavy employment of that wicked agrodolce flavour the Medieval British palate dug but the modern one’s largely forgotten. Flavours are resoundingly, unapologetically as described: sour is mouth-puckeringly, life-affirmingly sour; gutsy is deeply, robustly, stridently so.
Josh’s cooking is brilliantly complex with plenty for the hardcore foodie to – excuse the pun – get their teeth into; but if you don’t fancy getting all cerebral about it, it also just tastes really fucking good. It’s fair to say this is not food for the faint of palate; but it is an absolute feast for those who revel in bold, exciting flavours and dishes that widen the eyes as well as the waistline.
Throughout the meal, Harewood sommelier Iain Silver’s drinks pairings are equally on the money. Even when you’re dubious like The Fella is about the vermouth and tonic offered up alongside the scallop – citing his reason as the fact that the spirit apparently ‘tastes like licking ears’ before being won over at the first tentative sip.
The first sweet course is possibly the highlight – although it’s hard to choose when a meal has delivered nothing but bangers. The fresh, clean yogurt and green walnut parfait has a spritely icy crunch, with nubs of walnut cake, walnut leaves and a raisiny, boozy syrup providing the coronation this terrific treat so royally deserves.
We could eat approximately 2,386,973 of the cherry pate de fruit which is issued as a sort of inter-pud interlude; the sweet salted a la the strangely addictive Dutch treat, salmiac liquorice.
But possibly I could make room for 2,386,974 of the Tunnock’s style arrangement of mulberry marshmallow on a sourdough base, cloaked in rich dark chocolate, snowcapped with a nutty, pleasantly waxy powder made from the mulberry tree’s bark.
Cake closes the show, and it won’t surprise you to know these are no ordinary financiers. Made from roasted broad bean pod flour, their eggy, cakey-bakey character is intensely nostalgic – like a massive hug for the senses.
Winner dinner indeed. Even if in Yorkshire they call it tea.
In a world where a not-insignificant number of ‘fine dining’ establishments seem to specialise in crowd-pleasingly insipid flavours well-sauced with floral descriptions, Josh Whitehead’s food is a shot of pure adrenaline to a palate numbed by the lingering aftertaste of ‘meh’ which follows so many overegged yet underwhelming meals.
Colour us well and truly whelmed…and book us in for the next instalment.