Our nine course tasting menu at The Blind Swine, created by Michael O’Hare and Chris Trundle, was booked three weeks in advance. We waited, wondering if a restaurant with an approach to food both authentically erudite and experimental could really exist in York.
We arrived at eight, blind to what was coming, and enjoyed a cocktail at the bar. The meal included six more, crafted by James Wreglesworth, which matched those at Evil Eye for strength, adding swinishness to my blindness, and rendering my memory hazy.
A soft poached quail’s egg with a leek and truffle reduction opened the meal. Eaten out of the shell, it made the perfect, light introduction, and none of the flavours overwhelmed. A mint julep cocktail followed. I can tell you that there was mint in it.
My cynical side revelled at the sight of what I assumed was a tired Jamie Oliver-esque salt pot, but was shocked into a submission by a pot of actual soil and plants. Yum. Shock turned to delight upon discovering that both were not only edible, but delicious: carrots and radishes in a rye soil, underneath which was a horseradish emulsion. In terms of both clean flavour and a playfully muddy presentation, this was without doubt one of the most exciting and memorable courses. Again, it was in no way over-facing, quashing any worries that there was a vomitorium out back. Snail bread with garlic parsley butter, though delicious, was rendered drab: we were at this point spoiled by reductions and emulsions.
Following a bowl of pea ice-cream topped with hot pea soup was another standout: red mullet atop chorizo risotto. A typically good combination was made outstanding by the texturally surprising addition of dried corn and a ham fat membrane surrounding the mullet, as well as a delightfully crisp Aperol sour (crisp as in refreshing, not crisp as in ‘we subjected the drink to a series of chemical experiments, turning it into an actual crisp’).
The main course – duck with a date reduction and potatoes cooked in decaying plant matter – though not as inventive, was perfectly executed.
An azuleta gin and tonic – my favourite cocktail of the evening – tasted like a parma violet, and marked the beginning of our four desserts. A “steak tartare”, made from watermelon and mango, which was bathed in a calcic bath of sodium alginate to resemble an egg yolk, made the perfect palette cleanser. This was followed by a pine souffle, teamed with salt caramel ice cream and edible pear perfume: an addictive cross between a trip to a forest, Jo Malone, and City Screen. Our foodie epic closed with a bowl of olive oil and vanilla infused nitro-oxide, from which came chocolate eclairs, paired with a bespoke coffee blend and chocolate truffles.
In summary, the excellence of The Blind Swine transcends its unexpected location. Every course, surprising and impressive as they are, smacks of a chef with an imagination and skill which, combined with true fervency for food, transforms cookery in to an artistic science. Alcoholic offerings are equally adroit, the waiting staff are erudite yet refreshingly relaxed, and the playlist – including the likes of Thin Lizzy – makes the perfect complement. Considerations of price cheapen what is undoubtedly an essential and priceless experience, but £42 per-person is, in my opinion, good value to the point of robbery. If I were to suggest anything, it would be that some comfortable seating be introduced to the bar area: the cocktails deserve no less, and I would have enjoyed another azuleta gin and tonic.