Ron Godfrey and Mrs G eat where time stands oh-so-still…
It got curiouser and curiouser in that Alice in Wonderland-ish world of the Ate O’Clock restaurant in High Ousegate, York, where Mrs G and I stopped for dinner.
And not just because of the seemingly dozens of clocks frozen at 8pm that surrounded us (plus the clock-symbol insignia woven on to the shoulders of the black staff uniforms of all the waitresses).
But also because we were surrounded by the disparate and strange, the delightfully silly and mysterious.
To get to that cosy place you go by way of a lamp-lit alleyway full of neon signs lit up like joyous “eat-me” portents announcing Ate O’Clock Restaurant, (although no waistcoat-and-watch storybook rabbit to lead the way) while inside the mysteries begin…
Why, for instance, surrounded by static clocks, are there wood-sculptured bald eagles emerging from a single oak tree trunk with another sculptured eagle stretching its wings on a shelf?
What is the significance of the signed red shirt framed on one wall?
Through a window to the alleyway, like a Perspex pane in a pop-up book, infra-red light morphed from green, to turquoise to blue, lighting up fierce wall messages: No Loans to Any Woman Whatsoever – and – No Swearing or Blasphemy.
Then there were the his ‘n’ hers clapperboards outside the tiny toilets suggesting that you may be walking into a film set (make sure you show your best side!)
Why? Why? Why?
The answer may be that it reflects the personality and sense of fun of the proprietor Kenny Noble who, I understand, built up a huge reputation as the chef of The Blue Bicycle restaurant in Fossgate, York, before starting this venture in 2005.
That fun is reflected in the sassy and happy attitudes of the waitress staff.
On arrival one of them identified me playfully as “Mr Fruit Salad?” for the good reason that having studied the restaurant’s B4 Ate menu online I phoned to book and seek an alternative dessert, one which would be easier on my diabetes. They were happy to oblige.
That added to my cheer that what you saw online was what you got on the menu, a happy change from some of my recent rantings about those restaurants which inadvertently mislead the public by not updating their websites.
There was nothing frivolous about that three course B4 Ate menu which is offered from Tuesday to Thursday between 6pm to 7.55pm and costs £19 per person.
After ordering drinks – a house wine for her and usual medicinal Diet Coke for me – we studied the starters. There were only four, but each of them tempting.
Mrs G and I were seriously lured by the hot oriental vegetable salad sautéed in sesame seed oil and ginger, tossed with rocket leaves, and by the black pudding and strawberry hash with black pepper syrup.
But she went for the salmon fishcake and marvelled at its coating of cornmeal polenta and the lime mayonnaise with which it was served.
My choice: freshly made soup of the day (broccoli) plus croutons, almost thick enough to stand your spoon in and energising, though not salty enough for my taste.
Main choice options left us completely neurotic. One day, I suppose, we shall find out what the cray fish and pea risotto served with green salad tastes like; and, well, neither of us were in the mood for halloumi, that unripened Cypriot cheese made from goat and sheep milk, with vegetable kebab on a bed of herb-scented rice with sweet and sour sauce.
To my surprise, Mrs G plumped for the slow-roasted outdoor-reared belly pork because she had always rejected the dish before.
It arrived with a container of Chinese hoisin sauce; a sparse but pretty salad in a miniature colander; and just as much of a novelty was a cute little pail containing twice-cooked chips.
Her verdict: “Once you’ve cut through the crackling the pork was lean and tender which surprised me because I’ve always imagined it to be a bit too fatty. Those chips were delicious.”
My main course: chicken breast, filled with ham and cheese on a bed of fresh and heavy spaghetti in thick tomato sauce.
Ordinarily I would not have appreciated my chicken as rare as it was, but then the taste of that hollowed little slipper of flesh blended with the worm-holed flavour of Swiss emmental and the tang of the tomato sauce. The effect on the taste buds was stunning.
I urged Mrs G to order one of the puddings which I craved but my diabetic nurse strictly forbade, namely lemon posset with cranberry jelly and rolled oat granola but she set her sights on plain old cheese and biscuits.
Oh come on, I said. Posset was originally a medieval drink potent enough for Lady MacBeth to use to knock out guards outside Duncan’s quarters – but now it’s a thick cream, honey-flavoured dessert you could drive home on!
Or how about the sticky chocolate pudding in chocolate sauce?
But no, she had her way, delicately spreading farmhouse cheddar and Yorkshire blue cheeses with celery and apple compote on savoury biscuits and sighing.
Her sigh turned to gasp when my fruit salad arrived – a star burst of bananas, huge unripe but tasty strawberries, raspberries, kiwi fruit and pineapple.
Even the waitresses admired it, clasping fingers and staring at it sweetly as though it were a newborn baby, then scattering with shock when I pointed out that they had not given me a spoon and fork. “Sorry,” one of them giggled. “It was such a work of art that I clean forgot.”
Catching them on the cusp of laughter I asked them about the Wonderland-like mysteries. The red shirt? “That’s easy. The boss is an ardent Man U fan.”
The lit-up wall messages? A bit of fun. The eagles? Oh, he owns an eagle and loves them. He has an owl too. The loo clapperboards? No idea.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Especially as no one served us After Eights…
Ate O’Clock is at 13a High Ousegate (look out for the bright entrance to that alleyway). Best to book – the 40 seater place quickly fills up. Monday is a steak and burger night 5.30pm-9pm
House red wine £5.25
Diet Coke £2
Broccoli soup, stuffed chicken breast and fruit salad £19
Salmon fishcake, belly pork, cheese and biscuits £19
Food: Imaginative and well-presented ★★★★
Service: Seven out of… eight ★★★★
Ambience: Mysterious and playful ★★★★★
Value: A bit steep for an early evening menu ★★★
Overall rating: ★★★★
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