Ta­ble talk

Tommy Banks’ new restau­rant is ec­cen­tric but bril­liant, earn­ing a rare four and a half stars

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - News -

Michael Dea­con at Roots of York

TRIPAD­VI­SOR MUST BE a night­mare, if you run a restau­rant. So much to worry about. Your av­er­age star rat­ing, and its im­pact on your book­ings. The threat of fake one-star re­views, writ­ten by the own­ers of ri­val restau­rants. And, of course, the threat of gen­uine on­es­tar re­views – de­served or un­de­served. Ev­ery week, judg­ments of your restau­rant are be­ing pub­lished on­line in their hun­dreds, for all the world to read. And if those judg­ments are un­fair, or mis­guided, or spite­ful… There’s not a lot you can do. Your restau­rant, your busi­ness, your very liveli­hood is in the hands of un­trace­able pseudony­mous crit­ics who, for all you know, may never even have set foot in your premises. The para­noia must gnaw at you like a rat at a rope.

I do sym­pa­thise. Per­son­ally, how­ever, I love Tripad­vi­sor. Mainly be­cause it takes power out of the hands of dread­ful peo­ple like me.

Put it like this. If you think it’s hard run­ning a restau­rant in the age of Tripad­vi­sor, imag­ine what it was like be­fore. In those days, crit­ics from news­pa­pers wielded ter­ri­fy­ing and un­con­scionable power – be­cause theirs were the only opin­ions in town. The ver­dict of some yawn­ing broad­sheet blovi­a­tor could make or break your busi­ness. In fact, even once Tripad­vi­sor was up and run­ning, AA Gill found him­self con­fronted in the street by a man who jabbed at him with a fu­ri­ous fin­ger, shriek­ing, ‘You owe me £500,000! You closed down

my restau­rant!’ To which AA Gill calmly replied that it wasn’t his fault the food was dis­gust­ing.

This may well have been true (I don’t know which restau­rant it was, and in any case it closed many years be­fore I started re­view­ing). But even so: I’d hate to think some footling cri­tique of mine could cause peo­ple to lose their jobs. What a hor­ri­ble, and wildly dis­pro­por­tion­ate, responsibility. Which is why I’m so grate­ful for Tripad­vi­sor. Thanks to it, the power to wreck a restau­rant is no longer the pre­serve of a pompous, spoilt, un­feel­ing few. It is, in­stead, the pre­serve of the pompous, spoilt, un­feel­ing many. Which, if noth­ing else, is a lot more demo­cratic.

Any­way, Tripad­vi­sor re­views can of­ten be help­ful, and cel­e­bra­tory. Last year, its users de­creed that the very best restau­rant in the world – the whole world – was The Black Swan: a lit­tle coun­try pub in the North York­shire vil­lage of Old­stead. The place al­ready had a Miche­lin star, but a Tripad­vi­sor Award, some­thing be­stowed by or­di­nary cus­tomers, peo­ple who have paid to eat your food, rather than been paid to: that must feel spe­cial. If I ran a restau­rant, that’s the prize I’d want most. No mat­ter how much of my time I spent grum­bling about the site in gen­eral, and telling my­self that all the bad re­views I’d re­ceived must have been fake.

The good news is that the chef at the Black Swan, Tommy Banks, has now opened a sec­ond restau­rant, this time in York city cen­tre. It’s called Roots, and the food is made from the pro­duce of the Banks fam­ily farm at Old­stead.

The at­mos­phere at Roots is easy and re­laxed, with a com­fort­ing back­drop of Dad FM soft rock (I heard REM three times in 90 min­utes). The food, though, is bristlingly imag­i­na­tive, at times dis­play­ing Willy Wonka lev­els of in­ge­nu­ity. My bread and crack­ers, for ex­am­ple, came not only with but­ter but a lit­tle pot of freshly made cus­tard. Se­ri­ously: cus­tard. Then again, it didn’t taste as sweet as nor­mal cus­tard. Nor­mal cus­tard prob­a­bly wouldn’t have worked quite so well. So don’t take this as a cue to tip a car­ton of Am­brosia on your Kingsmill.

If you think bread with cus­tard sounds odd, though, wait till we get on to the eel dough­nuts. Yes, ac­tual bits of eel stuffed in­side three ac­tual dough­nuts, each perched on a bit­ingly sweet squidge of ap­ple purée. My taste­buds didn’t know whether they were com­ing or go­ing. Mad, but lovely.

Also among the starters were sour pea falafels, served with dreamy whipped pork fat. The pork fat tasted like cream. No, not cream: cream’s evil brother. Speak­ing of fat, an­other starter, the beet­root, had been cooked for four hours solid in beef fat, then served with cod roe, goat’s curd, and tiny seed crack­ers (the crack­ers jut­ting out of the top of the beet­root at in­ter­vals, like the plates on a stegosaurus’s back). I wasn’t quite so keen on this one. For all its tech­ni­cal ex­trav­a­gance, and pretty pre­sen­ta­tion, flavour-wise it was the dish with the least piz­zazz.

Great main, though: ox cheek, with cheese, cauliflower and crispy kale. The meat could not pos­si­bly have been softer. Never mind fall­ing off the bone. It prac­ti­cally fainted.

Pud­ding was bub­bly white choco­late with le­mon ver­bena and a wob­bly blob of panna cotta. Shiver­ingly cold, a real teeth-freezer, and the le­mon as sharp as a pin.

I loved both it and Roots in gen­eral. For Tommy Banks, an­other win­ner. I’ve given it four and a half stars out of five – which, at the time of writ­ing, hap­pens to be the av­er­age score it’s get­ting on Tripad­vi­sor, too. If any of those re­view­ers are fakes, they’re highly dis­cern­ing fakes.

The pork fat tasted like cream. No, not cream: cream’s evil brother

Above Ox cheek, cauliflower and kale. Be­low White choco­late, Dou­glas fir and le­mon ver­bena

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