In Marco Pierre White’s now famous country restaurant, the Yew Tree Inn, which is just outside Newbury, Berkshire, you walk through a dining room which is populated by caricatures of the upper middle classes pretending they have no money; they are slightly embarrassed about it, so wear corduroy trousers, checked farmers shirts under well worn jackets and drink the house wine. Marco’s tables aren’t well worn, with ironed, white linen. Log fires give that wonderful smoky aroma that makes Gordo feel warm and loved and, well, a bit gooey.
You walk through the restaurant, watched by forty six diners to a door that leads to the gents. Everyone appears to be wondering whether it’s a number one or a number two. They seem to be timing you. They definitely didn’t like the look of Gordo, who had just pushed the boat out with an order for two good bottles, Condrieu, Domaine Cuilleron, 2005 (£55) and a Robert Arnoux Vosne Romanee (£82).
The single loo is served by a cast iron cistern that is suspended half way up the wall. It’s cast in one piece, with no lid but a circular hole with enough space to allow, as it was cast in 1896, a small child’s hand, the child probably employed by a plumber who also sent the lad up chimneys. That plumber being the latter day equivalent of Phil Jones, the gaffer of the Manchester Food and Drink Festival, who also stunt doubles for Gollum and aspires to be as good as Gordo.
(All decent folk, please look away for the next three paragraphs – Ed)Gordo knows all this as unfortunately, having just had a big chunky number two, the chain, well pulled, didn’t work. So Gordo, who knew that if he didn’t get the monster down the lav would no doubt be castigated by the next diner to go in the bog after him, begins climbing. He perches on the toilet seat, shoves his hand into the antique cistern which is full of freezing water, to fiddle with a ballcock, successfully. What isn’t so successful is trying to get his arm back out. It’s firmly stuck.
The minutes tick by, the arm gets colder and Gordo’s face redder. What the hell is he going to say to the retired Brigadier-General who would discover him at any moment? No way is Gordo going to be shouting for help. Ten minutes goes by. It’s no good waiting for Gordo’s dining companions Howard ‘let’s have a sharpener’ Sharrock or Andy ‘three fingers’ Egan to come to his aid, they would have been served the Condrieu by now. Time slips for those two when their noses are in big fat glasses.
One last try. The hand comes out. It’s shrivelled with the cold. Walking back through the restaurant is similar to that dream where you find yourself walking down Market Street with no trousers on. But real.
Sitting down, Gordo is feeling foolish, but, the three starters had been delivered. Calf’s tongue, celeriac remoulade (£8.50), croustade of quails egg maintenon, sauce hollandaise (£9.50) and Morecombe bay potted shrimps (£12.50). All three look terrific; Pierre-White fully understands that people eat with their eyes first. Gordo’s quail’s eggs are soft and runny in the middle, sat on a bed of minced mushrooms which are in turn on top of an oblong of buttery, crispy flaky pastry. First class. The hollandaise is a masterpiece, with a slight tartness supplied by just the right amount of lemon dropped in at the last minute.
The menu here is a work of art. It starts with hors d’oeuvres, then fish and sea food, pies and puddings, roasts and grills, rib eye steaks (with four different sauces) and finally puddings. It is a system that the Connaught for fifty years used, before Pierre-White’s bastard child, little Gordon Ramsey fucked it up. Before that, copied by the Connaught and the Savoy group, it was Escoffier at The Ritz. Main courses are Yew Tree fish and chips (£14.50), honey roast belly pork Marco Polo, apple sauce, roasting juices (£16.50) and roast partridge, ‘properly garnished’ (£14.50). Oh how Gordo gets excited at ‘properly garnished’. And, so it is.
The partridge has been partially cooked through, left to go cold then heated off at the last moment. This works well, as the main course comes swiftly and is cooked to the point of still being juicy; that’s what happens normally, this one is ever so slightly not steaming hot enough for Gordo. The ‘proper garnish’ is proper indeed with sprouts, chipolata sausages, mushrooms and thick crunchy bacon. Fish and chips are described as the best eaten for a while whilst the belly pork would be ordered ‘again and again’. Vegetables are £3 each, the table scoffs fresh peas and cauliflower cheese, both on top of their game, but doesn’t really need them.
We eat five puddings. Gordo can’t believe he’s writing this. F-i-v-e. Yes 5. Soufflé of raspberries, caramelised apple pie with cream (two person portion, actually the best tarte tatin ever), Box Tree Eaton mess and a clafoutis of cherries. These are all on at £7.50 and knock our socks clean off and across the dining room.
Pierre-White has fashioned a traditional 1950s country restaurant out of a coaching inn built hundreds of years ago, keeping the glamour of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn having a dirty weekend in the country (there are very nice rooms).The menu takes the best of his mid range dining (his work of art from Mayfair, Omelette Arnold Bennet is on the menu) nicks stuff from The Ivy and Sheekeys, finishing with a menu that if transplanted to Manchester would push in between San Carlo and Piccolinos to become the busiest gaff in town.
Why does Pierre-White so often pick classics and perfect them? Believe it or not, he is not a prima donna and knows when a classic should be recreated properly. Unlike so many other Northern cooks who have egos the size of planets with talent that wouldn’t fill the Master’s tea mug.
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Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away
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