Some things in life are forgettable due to no fault of their own, like the brown jumper your Grandmother bought you for Christmas (sorry Nan), or lunch at Pizza Express, they’re just a little bit boring. There are other things which you actively try to forget, for Arthur Reynolds, dinner at Melton’s falls into the latter category.
Upon arrival, looking through a window, I was greeted by the sight of a pot-wash, dramatically waving pots and pans around — taking the idea of an open kitchen to another level. After ordering, a selection of canapés swiftly arrived; among them were cheese sticks with hummus, some form of cracker and gloopy lukewarm soup, whose flavour has, fortunately, been erased from my memory. All were utterly tasteless. Forty minutes passed before “freshly baked bread” arrived. The brown was very sweet, and had an unpleasant, cake like texture. That said, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it would have been a far better pudding than the one I sampled later in the evening. The white bread was pleasant enough, although a touch dry.
My starter, poached egg with polenta, artichoke crisps and truffle oil, was comparable to the large painting which I sat opposite all evening. It depicted miserable looking people having dinner (perhaps they were customers at Melton’s) with a backdrop of York and some cheese — there was just something not right about it. The crisps had become soggy from sitting in the oily polenta, leaving the dish devoid of any contrast in texture. When cutting into the egg, I longed for a creamy yolk to ooze out into the polenta. Instead, what I got was a grainy, hard yolk — is there a more disappointing feeling? Yolks aside, the whole dish was under seasoned, and the truffle oil totally overpowered the other elements; the old adage ‘less is more’ is certainly applicable here. My companion’s scallops were no better. Strangely huddled on one side of the plate, they were overcooked, and the accompanying cauliflower purée was lacking in flavour.
The Whole Hog’ was the title given to my main course; belly pork, gammon, pork ballotine, boulangére potatoes and soured cabbage, what’s not to like? The belly was wonderfully succulent, the crackling had a real ‘crack’ to it, and the ballotine was skilfully prepared. However, the poor pig was let down by its arable neighbours. The boulangere potatoes were typically bland, and there were far too many of them on the plate alongside vast amounts of heavy pork. There is just no need, I want to enjoy as much delicious pork as possible, and not be filled up by flavourless potato. The soured cabbage was there to cut through the fattiness of the pork — I get that. But, there is a point where sour becomes unpleasant tasting, this was it and more. The carrot purée sat under the ballotine, was smooth and sweet, although the dish was crying out for a bit of actual carrot, to provide some bite. To make matters worse, the sauce was sickly sweet, and the whole plate was practically swimming in it. So, there was plenty not to like after all.
If I had to compare the other main course to a person, it would be the somehow Tory, MP, Ken Clarke – it was dazzlingly wet. By virtue of sitting it atop reams of soggy purple sprouting, and a pool of red wine reduction, it was as if the chef had endeavoured to return the (ironically dry) trout to its natural habitat. The hazlenut garnish, which resembled boats, lost in a sea of red wine reduction, did not compliment the trout whatsoever, and was almost impossible to cut into. As for the white bean purée, it only served to add to the overwhelming sogginess of the dish. The dish’s only impactful flavour came from the horrendously out of place dry cured bacon, which perched above the wholly unnecessary second layer of purple sprouting. I adore bacon just as much as the rest of you — apologies to any vegetarian or vegan readers — it deserves better than this.
I like deconstructed puds — they are good fun. The ‘apple and custard, bramley ‘misu’ was a different matter. The centrepiece of the dish was a custard filled warm apple gel, the gel possessed the same grainy texture as a rotting apple, and an artificial flavour reminiscent of the twenty pence bottles of apple soda we consumed as children. Inside, there was a feeble amount of thin, unsatisfying custard. For what it is worth, the sorbet that sat beside the gel was refreshing and the accompanying apple compote was tasty. Nevertheless, these elements felt like added extras, rather than part of a harmonious dish.
Melton’s is a restaurant of contradictions, for some dishes the kitchen seemed to be trying too hard, and on others, not at all; as for the service, that was slightly slow throughout. It’s not cheap either, three courses will set you back around forty pounds.