Josh Overington talks to Katherine Price
"I believe customers now want choice and not be dictated to by a tasting menu," aid chef Daniel Clifford after announcing his two-Michelin-starred restaurant Midsummer House in Cambridge would no longer offer tasting menus. A backlash against the format has been apparent across the industry, but Josh Overington, chef-patron of Le Cochon Aveugle in York, says he won't be dropping his.
"There's room to do both," he insists. "My restaurant would have closed if it was just Á la carte. I wasn't in a position to throw out six portions of cod a week because they hadn't sold. It made my business viable because we could control that margin per head."
Le Cochon Aveugle offers two menus: a £40 four-course set lunch and a £60 eight-course taster menu. The menus are 'blind' tasting menus - no menu is available for guests to read before dining.
After training at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris and working as a private chef in Europe, Overington returned to his native York to work for Michael O'Hare across the Blind Swine and Le Cochon Aveugle. When O'Hare closed the restaurants in 2014, Overington took the opportunity to take over the lease.
"I just thought, why not? I never wanted to go to London," he says. "When we started we had £800. The only reason the restaurant is still called Le Cochon MenuwatchAveugle is because I didn't have any money to change the name."
In four years they have grown the team from just Overington and his wife Victoria to 20 members of staff across the restaurant and the wine bar down the road, Cave du Cochon. In April, the businesses had £60,000 worth of investment in new kitchen equipment and refurbishing the restaurant dining room, £50,000 of which was from the Business Enterprise Fund.
"It's just about getting closer and closer to my dream restaurant," says Overington. "A nicely laid-out kitchen means everything has got its place, so it's very easy to maintain standards."
Menus are designed around what their vegetable supplier Ken Holland delivers, a flexible way of working Overington observed in Paris. "It might be courgettes today, it might be green beans tomorrow," he says."
Vegetables are delivered on Tuesdays and they design the menu before ordering meat and fish from suppliers such as R&J in Ripon, Yorkshire and Hodgson Fish in Hartlepool.
They open from Wednesday to Saturday, and the 30-cover restaurant will do approximately 100 covers across the four days.
Overington has adopted the European attitude that tasting menus don't necessarily equal white tablecloths. "I've never enjoyed the stuffiness of proper fine dining, so I've stripped away anything I don't like about it," he says.
The menus start and end with an egg - the starter being an "Arpége egg" in homage to the signature dish served at Alain Passard's three-Michelin-starred L'Arpége in Paris, Passard being one of Overington's idols. They then finish with a crème caramel 'egg'.
The most popular dish is a boudin noir macaron: complaints ensued when it was removed from the menu earlier this year, so it returned after two weeks. The macaron is made by mixing almonds, squid ink and sugar in a pan and adding Italian meringue. The finished macaron is sandwiched with blow-torched slices of boudin noir, which are warm with a crisp exterior, but soft and creamy inside.
Scallops from the Isle of Mull are another favourite, cooked in their shells with their roe, which has been dehydrated to a powder, and butter whipped with lemon zest and sea urchin uni.
The two shell halves are tied together, baked over salt and opened with scissors at the table.
"That dish is often on because it breaks up the monotony - it gives the customer a bit of theatre," says Overington.
Following the refurbishment, his focus is on developing the quality of the food and the restaurant's reputation further - but one day he would like to open a bakery/pizzeria.
"I've been very close to doing it a few times but it's never quite been the right time," he says. "I'm always open to doing new things but my two restaurants right now are what I'm really concentrating on - we've just had the refurbishments so it's really important that we get our heads down and really make it work."
From the menu
•Tomato and 36 month-aged pÁ¢te de fruits
•Smoked kumamoto oyster with vin jaune granita
•Boudin noir macaron
•Sourdough with cultured butter and beurre noisette, homemade sea salt
•Rose veal tartare, sauce tonnato and smoked bonito
•Nasturtium ice-cream with English peas and pea velouté
•Hand-dived scallop "Á la ficelle" with sea urchin and scallop roe powder
•Waterford Farm lamb rack cooked over charcoals, vegetables from Ken Holland, salsa maro and sauce navarin
•English cherries with Brillat-Savarin and buckwheat honey
Eight courses, £60 per person
37 Walmgate, York YO1 9TX
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