Elegant comfort food and superlative service make this a dining experience not to be missed in York
Good Food’s restaurant critic enjoys elegant, adventurous food and superlative service at Skosh in York
Three memorable things occurred at Skosh before I had eaten my first mouthful. Firstly, I was taken with the manager’s easy, ironic riffing on the awkwardness of taking someone’s coat. ‘The very thing that should be hospitable suddenly makes you feel rushed,’ he smiled, as Mrs N tangled herself up in her jacket like Frank Spencer.
Then, after placing an emergency toastie order to placate a small child (my own, I should add), the same bloke returned, unprompted, with ketchup for Naylor 2.0. Call me a bad parent, but that’s what I call service. Finally, when the waitress came to take our order she reassured us that – HALLELUJAH! – Skosh’s globetrotting small plates would arrive not, as is common, in one overwhelming, speed-eating splurge, but sensibly staggered. The cold dishes came first, hot ones in the next wave. We added others ad hoc. Memo to all restaurants: this is how you do small plates. Evidently this is a restaurant where the small details really do matter. I was immediately at ease in this modest room (all chic greys and mustard yellows), which exudes a relaxed self-confidence.
As I passed the kitchen, I heard a chef almost sigh, ‘oh, that’s gorgeous,’ presumably about a colleague’s plating. It makes Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen tantrums look ridiculous. Here is the future of pro kitchens: enthusiastic, calm, supportive, cerebral.
Well, bar one dud. I was drooling at the prospect of Skosh’s cheese toastie made with the raw-milk, brie-style Baron Bigod and grated truffle. It was messy to eat and the pickled turnip and mustard sauce were weak counterpoints to its voluminously earthy flavours. It was heavy-going, where, otherwise, Neil Bentinck’s food is balletic in its light-stepping precision. Unusually, he is a chef who can deploy the zingy ingredients of Thai cooking (he has worked in East Asian-influenced Australian kitchens), as deftly as the classical techniques he honed at Michelinstarred gaffs such as Northcote. Not to mention the Indian flavours inherited from his dad. And all without this volatile mix boiling over.
Each dish has its own rigorous internal logic. Thai-inspired lettuce cups of plump, painstakingly seasoned cured sea trout come, amid bursts of lime and fish sauce, intriguingly laced with faint aniseed notes. Bentinck’s ‘hen’s egg’ – Dale End cheddar velouté, set yolk, PX sherry gel, mushroom duxelle, fragments of browned cheese-on-toast – is a paramolecular masterpiece. Beautifully charred Galician octopus disarms even Mrs N (‘Octopus? It’s just a rubbery delivery vehicle for other, better flavours.’), with its weird-but-it-works garnishes of jammy black olive caramel and pickled artichokes. Likewise, a stark white plate of raw turbot with delicate white soy and fermented turnip is clean, fresh, persuasively different. In contrast, with its rich, borderline cheesy brown butter hollandaise, Skosh’s fried chicken is pure filth. And a crispy lamb dish unfolds like a gripping TV drama. Each new character – charred hispi, sumac yoghurt, pickled onions – brings a different dimension to this story. Bentinck’s dishes are clever, daring even, yet utterly unpretentious in their delivery of big, compelling flavours. He is a very bright talent. I didn’t touch that ketchup once. Honest.
Tony Naylor, who lives in Manchester, writes regularly for Restaurant magazine and The Guardian.
next month Cargo Cantina, Bristol
Where 98 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX 01904 634849 skoshyork.co.uk Cost Dinner for two around £100 Best dish ‘Hen’s egg’ with Dale End cheddar, mushroom & PX sherry VERDICT Ace. Delivers some real ‘Oh my Skosh!’ moments