Noisy fellow customers aside, Ron Godfrey finds a lot to like on Lendal
There is not much rustic about the décor of the latest Rustique, that Gallic restaurant and bistro in Lendal, York.
This is a city-slicker’s place; more specifically, Parisian. Where in a French rural establishment would you find in the hallway such a magnificent mega-chandelier spitting rainbow splinters of spattered light (unless it was nicked from the aristocracy in the French revolution)?
But if rusticity is measured by its good, simply-cooked food, then Ooh lala, it gets my five-tractor rating
Yet it was with trepidation that Mrs G and I decided to go there. A couple of years ago we dined at Rustique’s parent restaurant in nearby Castlegate, York. It wasn’t a happy experience.
Oh, the fayre was terrific, and exactly what you would expect from a restaurant shortlisted in the tourism body Visit York’s Taste of York Awards.
But such was the pressure of demand for tables that we constantly felt that we were on a timer, with frenetic waiters repeatedly looking at us, then their watches. Mon Dieux! Were we to become a thrombosis in the system?
It’s hardly surprising that this new 60 table version was opened to relieve that pressure.
Nor were we amazed at all that heavy crystal glamour, given that the transformation of the former York Antiques & Collectors’ Centre in Lendal is reckoned to have cost up to £250,000 by the time it was completed last April.
Ironically, it shares the 101-year-old building with Zizzi, part of the national chain of Italian restaurants – and why not? This is the Common Market, ain’t it? – but Rustique counters the Zizzi neon glare with its own special come-hither panache.
We could have been directed into the ground floor area with its picture book bar, dark wood furniture, subdued lighting and array of wall images, ranging from French magazine cut-outs of 20th century fashion and Citroën cars to an amazing sketch of the Moulin Rouge in the rain.
Instead we were ushered downstairs into the basement, with a giant mural of a dancing feather-boa’d showgirl wearing little but long sleeved gloves and matching stockings, pointing the way and giving us a flavour of the excitement to come.
Down there, with subdued light gleaming from dark polished surfaces and deep-buttoned oxblood wall sofas, was a Francophiliac feast of images – a tour of impressionist landmarks taking you past the Champs Elysees, the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde etc.
Then there was a plethora of oh-so-French advertisements (Regarde: a pretty mademoiselle gazing at herself in the mirror with Parfumerie scrawled across it).
Slick and quick, our waiter guided us to our table and took our drinks order.
Mrs G hovered wistfully over the range of 33 wines, licking her lips at the thought of a Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne (first-run juice only) or perhaps a Gevrey Chambertain Bourguignon at £39.95.
Instead she opted for a large glass of a sensible house red, Michel Servin at £4.95, tantalised by its description, as “ruby red, with a nose of blackberry, redcurrant and a hint of spice”
Me? Well I sniffed and rolled around my tongue the contents of a Diet Coke. Such is the fate of diabetic drivers…
Given that on offer was Rustique’s set menu (two courses for £12.95 or three courses for £14.95) the range of meals was impressive.
Among the choice of eight starters were Champignons à l’ail – pan fried mushrooms cooked with garlic and finished with cream, served with French bread – or salade d’écrevisses et crevettes – crayfish and shrimp cocktail – or fritot de brie – breaded brie with a mixed berry compote.
But Mrs G, who revels in all things savoury, beamed in on the Pāté de foies de Volailles – chicken liver pate served with French bread and a tasty onion marmalade.
“Yesss…” she declared, finishing with a mysterious Mona Lisa-like smile.
My choice was a Basque egg – a tangy assortment of pan fried flavours, including Toulouse sausage, chorizo, new potatoes and peas, all cooked with smoked paprika and finished with a baked egg.
It was spectacular and so filling that it obviated the need later for me to order a side dish. The choice: French fries, herb mash, Dauphinois potatoes, green beans, ratatouille, braised red cabbage, mixed salads, marinated olives or bread, each at £2.50.
On to the main course, but if we were hoping for mood music it was unlikely we’d hear it.
A screaming gaggle of female revellers with collective laughter that could cut through steel (particularly one who I described as the decibel of the ball) made sure of that.
In order to be heard, everyone else raised their voices a notch and in response came rising terraces of cacophony as ear-splitting as a Caravelle coming in to land.
You couldn’t blame the management. These things happen. But why must it happen to us?
Back to the food: Mrs G tucked into her croquettes de saumon – homemade salmon fishcakes served on mixed leaves with French fries and tartare sauce. “Delicious,” she declared. “Plumper than anything you’ll find prepared at a fishmongers.”
I wrestled with the prospect of Jarret du pork au cidre – slow cooked pork shank braised with cider on a course grain mustard mash; or Loup de mer – fillet of sea bass on creamed sweet potato with lemon dill sauce.
But I opted for neither. Instead, I chose a traditional boeuf bourguignon – large chunks of tender beef, casseroled in red wine with smoked bacon, field mushrooms and baby onions, plus mash which at first seemed to be more solid than creamy, but changed my mind when it softened with the heavenly sauce.
At that moment the revellers left and we savoured both the food – and the relative silence…
Best to book a table. Despite the pressure being relieved at Castlegate, it is safer not to turn up at the Lendal restaurant unannounced.
Opening times are daily from noon until 10pm. There is a lunchtime menu with mussels as a speciality, plus light meals such as sandwiches, baguettes and burgers and an array of omelettes and salads. Gift vouchers are available.
Large glass of house red wine £4.95
Diet Coke £2.25
Pāté de foies de Volailles followed by croquette de saumon £12.95 (set menu)
Basque egg, followed by boeuf bourguignon £12.95 (set menu)
Food: Magnifique ★★★★★
Service: Brisk and smiling ★★★★★
Ambience: Effortlessly Gallic ★★★★
Value: You more than get what you pay for ★★★★★
Overall rating – just under ★★★★★
Rustique | 2A Lendal, York, YO1 8AA | 01904 622333 | rustiquerestaurants.co.uk
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