I have spent a pleasant evening at this Loch Fyne address in York, which has almost expunged the dreadful memories of the now defunct Crouch End branch. There were one or two cultural differences to be surmounted, however.
Customer: The Chablis, er… whose Chablis is it?
Samantha (or Stephanie, or Sadie, or someone else beginning with S): It’s Chablis.
Customer: Yes. I know. I would just like to know who the producer is, or the négotiant…
Samantha: It’s French.
Customer: OK! Show me the bottle.
The joke was on me. It was just about possible, with a magnifying glass, to establish that it was a French wine. Three visits to Chablis in the last two years went for nothing.
Also, after the oysters.
Boss person: Did you enjoy the oysters?
Customer: Oh yes!
Boss person: Loch Fyne are the best, aren’t they?
That one required a very long answer, or silence. In any case, I was off in a reverie (Gillardeau No.3 creuses, Fines de Claire d’Oléron whatever No., les petites perles No.5 in the Brasserie Lipp, Belons, English native oysters from just about anywhere, those amazing things from Bouzigues, and that was before she had got the last syllable of ‘aren’t they?’ out.
I smiled approvingly, as you do to the Archdeacon when he says something ‘insightful’ (you may not understand that word, but Archdeacons do).
Anyway, I had a bottle of Chablis, nine oysters (the best!), a lobster, and some ‘Celtic’ cheese. Quality throughout was good. The oysters were mainly not milky at all (3 July), the lobster had, I thought, been frozen, but not for long. There were those tell-tale secretions of water from the claws, that are a bit of a giveaway. The flavour was good, and it had not been cooked to death. Well, it was dead (I think), but you know what I mean. If it wasn’t dead, it was very well-behaved. The cheese was OK – it was Celtic, but we all get a bit Celtic after we have had a few on a Saturday night.
A couple of points. The side salad, to which I have not admitted so far, had some very large leaves in it. These were, no doubt, from the Caledonian Plate Lettuce, from which plates derive their name – being of the same size and shape. Well, if you have a side salad in a little bowl in sloping sides and a plate covered by lobster with no room to spare, you can’t cut your salad up. The French are wise to this one: they cut side salads up so that you only need to use your fork. I tried to eat mine with my fork, and liberally daubed my chops with the dressing used to dress the Caledonian Plate Lettuce (and other leaves, not to mention the Sporran Apple tomatoes - another Scottish delicacy). I then gave up, and used my fingers, not wishing to seem like a stuck-up southerner (I am a stuck-up southerner). The other thing is that I was presented with a finger-bowl of warm water with a slice of lemon in it – Jean-Pierre Coffe would have approved. The trouble was that the water was nearly to the top of the bowl. I fell into the trap and plunged my thoroughly lobster-squidged mitt into the bowl and liberated a cleansing experience over most of the table.
It’s the little things that make a great restaurant. You don’t expect a chain to get things like that right – although they could, of course, but I don’t expect to get that lucky or live that long.
Let me not seem ungracious. This is the best Loch Fyne restaurant to which I have been. It is reliable, with warm and enthusiastic service. The product is respectable. What is done with it is more questionable: a seafood platter with both warm and cold items in it? Crayfish on display that aren’t on the menu, but which are slipped into some dish or other withour being given star billing? When did you last see crayfish in England? Why remove all the good stuff from the head of the lobster and throw it in the bin? (he did - I saw him). I know it looks icky, but it tastes delicious and some people (including moi) eat it. Why roughly turn the oysters over after opening? It's one of the little rituals of oyster eating to be able to sprinkle lemon juice on your oyster and watch it shrink slightly - proving that it's still alive and good to eat. Once cut out and folded over, that doesn't work anymore and the oysters look less - well... beautiful. Enough complaints. The cadre is attractive, in a warehouse sort of way, and you have enough room around you to feel comfortable. The chef, working away to my right, smiled at my expert demolition of the lobster in front of me.
‘Not a bad way to spend a Friday evening…’ he said.
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