Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Pipe and Glass, Yorkshire

Nestled in a sleepy East Yorkshire hamlet, surrounded by acres of beautiful countryside, and blessed with a kitchen garden groaning with vegetables, berries and herbs, the Pipe and Glass would seem, on the face of it, to have everything going for it. And it's certainly the case that its achievements, such as they are, have hardly gone unrewarded - there's the Michelin star (held for the last 7 years running), the AA rosettes, the regular top-ten placing on top gastropub lists. My enjoying a meal there was, as far as it's generally possible to be, a Sure Thing - occasionally Michelin can be wrong, occasionally these top gastropub lists can be nonsense, but for everyone to be wrong at once would require quite the conspiracy.

And yet here we are. It's not that I hated my meal at the Pipe and Glass - I enjoyed bits of it very much - but there wasn't quite enough of it going right to settle the nerves and too many things to grumble about to ignore. The Curate's Egg analogy doesn't really apply to restaurants - it is, after all, possible for a single dish to be a complete disaster without ruining the whole meal - so for an evening in a critically-lauded gastropub in an idyllic part of the country to go badly (or at least worse-than-average) requires problems in a variety of areas.

Beginning with service in the bar. Given there were a grand total of two parties in the room, you would have thought the whole business of asking what we wanted then bringing it wouldn't have been beyond the abilities of the person assigned to the task. But maybe our waiter was having a bad day, or maybe he just didn't want to be there, because we spent a very long time waiting to be offered anything, and managed to get hold of a round of drinks just seconds before a different member of staff came over to usher us to our table before we'd managed to take a single sip. Nibbles did appear, though - watermelon and feta kebabs, covered in sesame seeds. They were nice enough.

We'd ordered food with the drinks, and were somewhat surprised to be presented with our starters less than a minute after taking our table in the dining room. Being given food too quickly isn't usually too much of a problem - I'd rather that than have to wait - but nobody likes to feel rushed. My own was a rather bizarre arrangement of sliced pickled carrots - rolled and balanced upright like orange chimneys - in between slivers of crab crackers, on a bed of white crab meat, herbs, flowers and God knows what else. The issues with this dish applied to a large number of the dishes we ate - way too many ingredients, a naff presentation involving too many showoffy techniques, leading to a confusing, unbalanced whole. The pickles were all you could really taste, the crab meat was buried, and it was covered in so many random bits and pieces from the garden (fennel tops, coriander, flowers) that it just looked ridiculous.

I'm afraid my pictures of the other starters didn't come out - it was dark on that side on the table - but all suffered from the same glut of ingredients and confusion of flavours. "Courgette three ways" came with so many flowers and sprigs of herbs and blobs of this and that (plus a deep-fried whole egg with its own ceramic bird foot stand) the main ingredient was completely lost, and "Marinaded Heritage tomato, avocado and burrata" was (thanks largely to a "spiced gazpacho granita" hiding somewhere underneath) cold, wet, and boring.

House bread came in two forms, one of which was tomato and lovage, and both were fine if a little insubstantial in texture.

My main contained turbot, red pepper relish, fennel croquette, lobster, dill oil, lobster bisque, more fennel, fennel tops and the kitchen sink (probably). Frustratingly, some of the individual bits were generally cooked quite well - the turbot was lovely - but the fennel was presumably chosen because they had it, not because it ate well (it was chewy), the red pepper relish battered everything, particurly the subtle-to-the-point-of-non-existent bisque - into submission, and the fennel croquette added nothing other than another level of textural confusion.

Other mains fared slightly better. Again, no photos sorry but "Breast of free-range chicken, tarragon forcemeat, summer truffled peas, gem lettuce, girolle mushrooms and crispy pancetta" got a pass thanks to a fantastic brined flavour in the chicken and bags of fresh summer truffle, and "Yorkshire gin and beetroot-cured sea trout, pickled cucumber, nasturtiums, lindisfarne oyster fritter" involved a genuinely interesting way with cured trout and a lovely fried oyster, even if it - again - could have done with having a few ingredients culled.

So far so bewildering, and it's safe to say once the main courses were cleared away we were wondering what could possibly be in store for dessert. Maybe some attempt at Can Roca's famous "Anarchy 2003" dessert involving 50 or more separate elements? I'm happy to report, though, that my "Raspberry and pistachio delice" with raspberry sorbet and aerated white chocolate was cleanly presented, clear in form and function and tasted great - presumably in part thanks to the use of some fresh garden raspberries we'd seen growing out back.

There was also an opportunity to try a lovely example of Yorkshire Blue cheese. I don't know whether I've ever really tried one this well kept before or maybe just forgotten, but this was a beautiful thing - soft, creamy, and with just enough blue tang. The fruit loaf it came with was pretty good too.

So yes, there were some things to like, here and there, but in the end our meal at the Pipe and Glass was just not good enough. Service settled down a bit over the course of the evening but they did seem to have an aversion to clearing empty glasses and never really approached an attitude described as "friendly". Dishes were, in the main, ugly, overthought and contained way too many ingredients; it's often said that a great chef will make a dish then remove one element to perfect it - in the case of the Pipe & Glass in most cases they could lose about half. And the same accusation of indecisiveness could be made of the menu as a whole - ten starters, ten mains, seven sides and eight desserts, all quite pricey, attempting to impress with size and spectacle rather than flavour and refinement. It was all just a bit... much.

Still, at least we'll have that dessert. And it would be tragic situation indeed if we were to regret entirely a journey to this most spectacular part of the world and a pretty gastropub with a kitchen garden and (very nice actually) rooms with rainforest showers. It's just that next time, if I'm in East Yorkshire I may find myself returning to the glorious Black Swan in Oldstead, altogether a better way of spending £55 per head on a pub with a kitchen garden. And I recommend you do the same.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've never eaten here, but have tried to book twice. On both occasions the gentleman on the phone has been haughty to the point of rudeness. Won't bother trying again.