York celebrity chef Stephen Andrews has come a long way since opening Fish & Forest as a street food restaurant in Spark:York.
Two moves later – first to the Gillygate pub, then to a stand-alone restaurant in trendy Micklegate (nestled between Partisan, The Rattle Owl and Skosh) – Fish & Forest is now listed in the Michelin Guide.
It’s even more of an achievement considering Stephen’s timing – he moved to Micklegate just as the country entered the first lockdown.
But two years later, he and his small team are enjoying the fruits of their labor.
The last place is compact – only 26 covers, 18 of which are inside. There are two cabins and a bench in the back yard which also looked inviting. But that’s quite a leap from Gillygate where Stephen and co only had six tables and a private dining room for six!
Following a press review I wrote when they were at Gillygate in 2019, Stephen invited me to come back to give my verdict on the Micklegate adventure.
I admit to having a little apprehension. I remembered my visit to Fish & Forest at Gillygate as something special and was extremely impressed with not only the quality of the food and flavors but also the five star service. Could Micklegate match?
Well, I didn’t need to worry. Arriving with my husband on a Friday evening, we were brilliantly looked after by Stef and Millie, two enthusiastic and passionate servers who not only knew the menu but delivered our dishes with reverence. And all the diners here will understand why. The care and attention given to the food is worthy of a bow.
There’s definitely a bit of culinary alchemy going on as self-taught chef Stephen layers the ordinary with the unusual, blending textures and flavors to create his own magic and cast a spell over the restaurant – and before you didn’t say anything, yes I had a G&T and a delicious glass of Picpoul in the evening. But even sober, these dishes would impress.
We started with starter plates of wild trout ceviche (£11) and the tomato tartare (£8.50).
Both were light and perfect for a hot summer evening, but hit at opposite ends of the flavor arc. The ceviche – marinated raw trout – was fresh and elegant, with dots of orange honey and green chive oil adding color and pockets of flavor.
At the other extreme, my entree was basically a salsa of chopped tomatoes tossed with strawberries and ponzo (a citrusy soy sauce) and it was like having disco in your mouth. Served with a thin cracker, I loved the intensity of the sweet and savory flavors and the fluffiness of the salsa against the bite of the crispy cracker was just perfect. Lip smacking would be the word!
The meal continued in this vein as we feasted on venison with green pepper (£27) and plaice with provencal sauce (£25.50). The venison consisted of two large chunks, beautifully cooked to be as tender as you could have hoped; my plaice was delicate and lovingly married to the big guns of Mediterranean flavors – tomato, garlic, olives and capers. I liked that the sauce resembled a soup, more of a bisque than a stew.
We shared a small side of roast potatoes with greens (£4.50) but wish I had ordered two!
When it comes to desserts, could we continue our winning streak? We opted for the summer pavlova (£8.50) which consisted of a stack of meringue, whipped cream, ginger crumble and berries. No complaints, but it turned out to be the bridesmaid next to the chocolate offering from the menu. Its mere name of ‘Chocolate delice with blueberry’ (£9) didn’t do this five-star show stopper justice. The delight – a generous finger of rich, creamy chocolate pudding, almost like a fixed ganache – would normally get the spotlight, but it was overshadowed by its co-stars. Calling for a standing ovation, the raspberry meringue slivers, so thin they seemed to defy the laws of possibility. The whipped cream was berry flavored and was simply delicious while the blueberry mousse was absolutely scrumptious due to its thick and velvety texture.
So I’m happy to report that while Fish & Forest may have crossed town, it hasn’t lost its way.
Learn more about: www.fishandforestrestaurant.com