A brief stroll from York station and you’re in the ‘burbs, away from the ceaseless torrent of tourists. Nestled here is an unexpected little bistro that’s cute as a button. The website is ultra basic and the odd soft furnishing is ever-so-slighty shabby, but our meal is nothing short of delightful. It’s the antithesis of stuffy, self-regarding establishments, and its raison d’etre is, quite simply, a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The walls are dominated by murals that are pretty rubbish and equally dated, but this adds to their bizarre charm and I rather like them – I defy you to see them and not smile. So too to the suggestions box, pad and pen that you’ll find in the ladies lavatory cubicle; pretty odd, but inoffensive and fittingly quirkly.
I’d never say no to an amuse bouche so I was pleased when a rich, truffled, white onion soup appeared; a perfect portion in its tiny espresso cup, and flavoursome to boot. Warmed golden beets with goat’s crème fraiche to start were as perky and sweet as scallops with caponata, all washed down with a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet at just £18. (With a cracking Chablis at just under £25, it was tempting to make a day of it).
Service was great. As we awaited the next course, the elder generation of a family next to us was positively encouraged to let its hair down and order a third bottle at lunchtime. This was done in the spirit of pure merriment rather than beady-eyed opportunism by the waiter, who was rewarded with an unexpected hug when the old folks left. The personal touch seemed natural, uncontrived and ultimately reassuring. (And don’t get me wrong; I’m ordinarily way too grumpy to be charmed by gregarious or super-slick hosts, but this place earned my affection with a more earnest and quiet charisma).
Mains were pretty as a picture, with skinned baby broad beans hand-placed around chicken from neighbouring Loose Birds farm in Harome. Seasoning could’ve used a heartier touch and the herbed mash was a little too smooth, but the chef sure knows how to deliver a crisp-skinned, juicy morsel. Pork three ways – with pig’s ear ‘n’ all – was top notch; it had a touch of the St John about it, perhaps on a more polished day.
Despite creaking at the rafters we were powerless to resist the mammoth cheeseboard, and it really was ace. There were a few belters, including an outrageously oozy local brie-style cheese that was making a dash for the door, and a mellow Yorkshire Blue. Then there was the mouth-puckeringly sharp lemon tart that had us in rapture, tempered by a raspberry coulis and amaretto ice cream. Nothing short of lush, albeit at more inflated prices that you might expect from these parts… or so we thought. When the bill arrived, we realised we’d inadvertantly had the £25 lunch deal, with bread, coffee and petit fours thrown in. Result.
There’s nothing brassy at Melton’s. It’s not the kind of venue where a night descends like the last days of Rome. But it’s warm and welcoming, and they’ve nailed the feelgood factor. Plus you can bank on the menu being free from unintelligable pomp, so it’d make an unintimidating place for a date.
There’s a huge focus on local sourcing and – while I’d query how different rare breed meats taste when they’re trussed up as Merguez sausages, for instance – you have to hand it to Melton’s: they are bigging up the nearby farms and artisan producers like there’s no tomorrow. And heaven knows that this rural community will have taken a battering, given decades of bio-scares and pricing skulduggery at the hands of supermarkets. It feels like the local focus is not only authentic but deserved: it relates as much to provenance as it does to community spirit and the unpretentious ambience. The restaurant feels like the fruit of collective labours – like the ‘Big Society’ initiative there never was – and I’d venture it’s all the better for it.