I first visited Black Market in November, not long after it opened. I was blown away by the food, service and ethos behind the place and gave it one of my best ever reviews, so when I received an invitation to sample their new menu I jumped at the chance. I was a little worried that usual rule of life may apply i.e. when you return to a place which you have loved and told everyone how good it is, it turns out to be a disappointment second time around. I need not have worried.
Arriving fashionably late owing to major roadworks at Pannal, I was greeted by the joint owner, Justina, and shown to a table where a glass of Prosecco was swiftly delivered. I was told that the evening’s treat would be a tasting menu of the meals which would shortly be on offer and so there would be a succession of small plates. The menu listed six dishes, but by the time the evening was over, three more had joined the party.
The first gatecrasher was a selection of appetisers – toasted sourdough bread drizzled with oil, olives, anchovies and tomatoes on toast, croquettes and pulled lamb deep fried in a crumb crust. I must say at this point that, being Billy No-mates, I was at a table for one and on looking at everyone else’s I seemed to be getting almost the same for myself as they were sharing between two.
I decided that, if this is what the appetisers were like, I had better forego most of the bread in order to save space for the main event. Great decision. Jon, the other partner and chef, has a great passion for big flavours and they were certainly in evidence even at this early stage. The croquettes and lamb had a comfort food element, whereas the anchovies on toast were sharp as a razor with a citrus hit and a perfect piquant foil.
The first of the dishes from the printed menu was Quinoa Risotto and King Scallops with Herb Oil. This dish was to set the tone of the evening by using the freshest of ingredients, but giving them a twist. On the preface of the menu there is a message from Jon and Justina which ends with the sentence ‘We don’t subscribe to any cuisine but creativity and great food.’
The two large scallops, which needed to be cut into pieces to eat, were seated upon a base of quinoa stirred to a creamy consistency with fresh, firm peas added. This was surrounded by the herb oil and the coral from the scallops perched on top of the whole shebang. The flakiness of the scallops contrasted with the softness of the coral and the ‘risotto’. Jon had decided to curb his enthusiasm for big tastes and had taken a more subtle approach here and it paid dividends. To have added anything piquant to such sophisticated ingredients would have been a travesty. Everything worked well, both individually and collectively.
The next cab off the rank was Malay Chickpea Laksa, Kohlrabi and Celeriac Noodles, Green Chillies, Crispy Shallots and Celeriac, and gave Jon a chance to get a bit more jiggy with the flavours. The laksa, a kind of curried soup, was enhanced by some added chillies at the end for extra kick. On the continent, kohlrabi, a really weird looking cabbage, is used instead of celeriac in many dishes but here they were used in tandem for the ’noodles’. My only slight disappointment was that there were not as many chickpeas as there were other ingredients, but that’s because they are my favourite pulse, other than the one which shows that I am still alive of course, and the dish did not suffer at all for it.
Herb Crusted, Barbecued Hake with Chicken and Mushroom Soup and Truffle Aioli was next and a wonderful combination it was too. Hake is a much-underused fish even though it’s from the same family as cod and haddock. The crisp herb crust covered a thick piece of white, flaky fish whose subtle taste again benefitted from a subdued accompaniment of the chicken and mushroom soup. The word soup is a bit of a misnomer as I managed to finish it off with the use of a fork. The truffle aioli atop the fish had enough flavour to lift the dish to something exceptional.
Another interloper then appeared and was a kind of sideways pave potato in which the slices were laid on top of each other rather than side by side. No matter which way you look at it, it was delicious, but again discretion being the better part of valour and, knowing that there were still three courses to go, I limited myself to eating only about a third of the dish.
The final fish dish was Harissa Marinated Giant King Prawns with Cashew Nut and Tamarind Cream. The king prawns were the size of small lobsters but much tastier. The cream was enhanced by a couple of drops of what looked suspiciously like the herb oil from the scallop dish. It worked with that so, hey, why not use it again. It worked here, too. Once liberated from their shells the prawns were firm of texture and a joy to eat. I find king prawns a great cross between the intense flavour of the smaller version and what can sometimes be the blandness of lobster. The sauce again complimented the mollusc rather than overpowering it.
On to the meat, and it was goodbye to my glass of Riesling and hello to a Rioja. Jon had really gone for it here with Braised Ox Cheeks with Beef Dashi, Bone Marrow Crumb and Anchovy and Parsley Puree. The flavours were intense as the meat needs to be braised for quite some time to make it tender, and that it was. The braising liquor had been reduced enough to form a sticky coating to the cheek, accentuating the flavour which was given even more oomph by the bone marrow crumb. The beef was presented on a bed of parsnip, yeast and celeriac mash with the anchovy and parsley on top with the residue of the braising stock being used as a sauce.
I find it semi amusing and semi gratifying that fine dining restaurants are going back to the cheaper cuts of meat which, when I was a kid, we would have on Thursday night because the money was running out before Friday pay day. About ten years ago it was pigs’ trotters but now it is ox cheek. As well as being extremely flavoursome, it’s also good to know that so much of the beast is being used for food and so little is being wasted.
The third, and final surprise guest was broccoli with crumbled peanut and chillies. This was a brassica with attitude which I am sure also comprises three of one’s five-a-day.
Finally came the Yorkshire Lamb Board containing Lamb Chops and Lamb Rump with Pistachio Dressing. The chop was cooked to medium rare whilst the rump was rare. Chops need to be done for a bit longer to render the fat so that it becomes tender and has the texture almost like butter. Rump requires no assistance as it is tender from the outset and very lean. The outside was seared, which gave it a wonderful, almost barbecue-like flavour and the inside was tender and moist. The sauce made the piece of slate on which the dish was served look like an artist’s palette, which I suppose it was. A couple of caramelised shallots added even more flavour without the need for extra ingredients. This is the point at which the fuel gauge hit ‘Full’ and I’m afraid that I had to leave a large proportion of the lamb.
I must express my thanks to Justina, Jon, sous-chef Andrew and the front of house staff, all of whom made the whole experience one to remember.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.