Putting my name to a site like this makes it all too inevitable that you’ll be asked on occasion what the ‘best’ restaurant in York is. Defining ‘best’ is hard enough, but one name that keeps cropping up is the Park Restaurant at Marmadukes Hotel just off Bootham.
Our mysterious and respected contributor the Puboholic said that “it started well and each course was even better than the last” so it was well overdue a close look. If you want to get further into the definition of what’s ‘best’, the Park also resides at the top of the TripAdvisor rankings for York. Personally I prefer using that site to look for the most amusingly bad reviews, but the ranking alone is still a further endorsement from a wider audience.
Offering only a tasting menu priced at £55 for eight courses alongside paired wine at an additional £48, you’d not call this a budget evening, but I’ve dropped significantly more than that on meals before and still called them good value. The surroundings when we arrived certainly lived up to the cost as we were seated in a comfortable bar area and started with an excellent glass of sherry.
The first thing to eat was an amuse bouche served in the bar area before we were shown to our table. A demitasse-sized cup of minted pea soup with crunch of cucumber in it and a touch of tzatziki gave a light and fresh sensation on the palate. Perched next to this, a parmesan cheese straw provided just enough body to fire up one’s appetite without compromising it before moving to the dining room for the next course.
The menu labelled each dish by its principal elements (no overly verbose descriptions here) and first up we had “Crab, avocado and tomato”. It goes without saying that such a reductive description doesn’t portray the complexity of the dish and the care taken in its preparation. Clean flavours from sharpness in the tomato, soft avocado and delicately shredded crab meat had a wonderful companion in the fennel seed crackers that speared the dish. Paired with this was a Nyetimber classic cute; a perfect counterpoint to the clean flavours on show.
Next up, the first meat dish: “Crusty white, beef, beetroot and horseradish”. A disc of pressed ox cheek sat next to a fresh white bread roll and came with whipped beetroot butter. While every element of the dish was undeniably superb, I’m not 100% convinced on this one. The beetroot butter was wonderful and the meat just as unctuous as one would hope, but I didn’t feel like all the elements gelled. Onwards to a pasta dish.
“Spinach, ricotta, peas and beans” was presented as a single piece of ravioli under a crisp disc of truffle, with peas and leaves. While the solid disc of truffle wasn’t as overpowering as might have been expected, the truffle flavour permeated the plate to a perfect degree. Crunch from the croutons rounded it out perfectly as we enjoyed a crisp Vinho Verdi that made great friends with the ricotta.
Powering toward our seafood course matched with a Californian Riesling, it was time to enjoy ‘Sea trout, lime, chilli and coriander”. There was more heat than expected which was cut through perfectly by the wine and pleasingly failed to linger on the palate so as not to overpower the greater subtleties of the dish. Meaty fish fell apart under the fork and toasted rice and sesame seeds varied the textures wonderfully before moving on to the last savoury dish. This was, for me, the highlight of the evening, a perfectly judged combination of flavour, texture and sensation.
“Lamb, asparagus, samphire and girolle” took the form of a lamb shoulder croquette and lamb loin under a bisected asparagus spear. Alongside another Californian wine, pinot noir this time, the lamb was cooked to perfection and revealed hints of lemon in a deliciously savoury sauce. Perhaps the girolles were a little overwhelmed by the other elements, but it was time to move onto the sweet courses…
“Strawberry and basil pavlova” presented strawberries prepared in more ways than I could count. Pickled, jellied, sorbet…you name it! A nice piece of theatre was carefully adding strawberry ‘soup’ to the dish from a glass teapot at the table. The shortbread pieces and basil jelly worked wonderfully with the sharp sorbet and we moved onto our final course of carrot cake. Set on crunchy walnut granola with, by this time, an unsurprising variety of textures and presentation methods, we happily ended the evening with this. It put me in mind of carrot tubes filled with mustard ice cream served at Alimentum, a very happy memory.
So is it the best in York? That’s a matter of opinion and taste, but it’s certainly among the best and the list of candidates for that accolade is much longer than a decade ago. However you class ‘best’ though, the Park earns its place at York’s top table with style!