It’s very easy to be a fan of Ambiente, with its winning combination of good food, sensible pricing, relaxed atmosphere and fabulous range of sherries spread across two branches in York, with outposts in Leeds and Hull. It’s clearly struck a chord with a wide audience, some of whom I was lucky enough to meet at a Txoko event held on Fossgate during York Food & Drink Festival.
The term Txoko comes from the Basque region and is used to define a formal or informal group who meet regularly to enjoy good food. This event was based around that theme, with communal seating putting strangers at ease, while a series of dishes to share came from the kitchen. With some wine thrown in too, this was looking like a pretty notable bargain at £35 for a ticket.
We were pretty much last arrive, despite being five minutes before the advertised time. Clearly the audience were enthusiastic about the evening, so we took the last seats at the end of the communal table and started off with a glass of Txomin Etxaniz, a light fruity white with a hint of fizz that formed a good basis for conversation along with bread, olives, balsamic and oil.
The wide range of dishes came in quantities appropriate to satisfy the group. There was certainly no need to compete for scraps of the most popular dishes. First to arrive were an artful swirl of cured sausage presented on a bed of smooth butter beans and bowls of roast new potatoes with spinach and Picos blue cheese. It was a pleasant surprise to find the cured sausage (Chisttora) more lightly flavoured than I expected and interacting well with the butter beans that were slow cooked to almost dropping apart while remaining moist.
Despite having inflicted a pretty stomach-churning blister on my hand while cooking them, I still adore pig cheeks (if you ever want to see the blister pics, just ask). The examples served here lived up to my high expectations, cooked in sherry and with a delightful sheen, and shredding with minimal effort when the diners jumped in to grab a share. They were served with an apple puree that contrasted on the plate but, perhaps unfairly, got lost in my enthusiasm for the meat.
The final plate of meat was a piece of Iberico pork served with sweet and sour braised peppers that suffered only from being served between those wonderful pig cheeks and the striking salt baked sea bream that was delivered immediately afterward. The meat was tender and not subject to any unnecessary fiddling to compete against the sharp peppers.
Alongside the pig cheeks, that salt baked sea bream deserved to headline the menu. This came complete to the table ready for our server to break the crust and help us flake the meat onto our plates; another example of good produce, well prepared and not subject to any further hyperbole. An approach I shall reciprocate here!
To accompany all this, we were served several wines that maintained a convivial atmosphere, amongst which was a wonderfully smooth Rioja that achieved consensus amongst the group as another highlight of the evening. As I recount this now, it’s even harder to believe that all this came for £35 a head, including a more generous quantity of wine than expected. Ambiente is always a nice place to visit, but this event represented even better value than usual and the chance to enjoy a well curated selection of food and wine. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend booking.
Disclaimer: No charge was made for my attendance. Opinions are as impartial as always.