Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Ambiente Tapas, York

By: Mr Robot

York is a delightful city. The pubs are many and excellent, there are some outstanding museums, the wonky streets of the old town never cease to please and it's packed with tempting eateries. Whenever we visit, our main regret is not having the time or belly to do it justice and this latest trip was no different.

The Trembling Madness, Blue Boar and Three Tuns were all enticing but time and circumstance were against us, though we did find some excellent eating - including the (practically compulsory) roast pork place down from the Minster and a fine pie shop.

Highlight of the trip, though, was an impromptu visit to Ambiente Tapas on Goodramgate. We were lucky to get in, what with it being Tour de France Day, but they slotted us in to a high barrel-style table in the bar area, which turned out to be a very good thing. There's proper dining upstairs which we didn't see so can't comment on but for me tapas belongs in a lively, informal setting and that's just what we got.


The menu is plenty big and priced reasonably with most dishes coming in around £4-£5, and covers both classics and slightly more off-the-wall offerings. So we ordered ourselves a big jug of rebujito and got stuck in in an impressive - not to say appalling - way.

Would it be bad to order everything?

First up was a sharing platter of cured meats, pate, olives, bread etc, along with croquetas de jamon (Mrs R's favourite thing in the whole world) and for your humble correspondent, carilla da bresa: pork cheeks braised in Pedro Ximenez.

The platter was just as you'd expect: a fun snacky mix of which the serrano-ham-wrapped-dates stands out. The pork cheeks too were excellent - rich and soft and sticky and deeply moreish. The croquetas were, well, just a bit odd. I'm not sure what went in them - perhaps some pimenton or saffron or something, or perhaps the ham had been minced in - but the centre was sort of pale orangey-red, not the pure bechamel with tiny jamon nuggets one expects. Not that it was bad, mind, it was very nice. And the accompanying pea puree was lovely. But in Mrs R's book there's only one way to do croquetas and that's not fuck with them.

Croquetas de Jamon

Then I noticed the Jamon Iberico Bellota. At £8 a pop it's easily the most expensive thing on the menu and so it should be, because this stuff comes from the back leg of free-range black-footed pigs stuffing themselves fat on acorns and is just about THE BEST THING YOU CAN EVER EAT.

Jamon Iberico Bellota

And so it was.

Tapas is not for sharing but with the bellota we did just that because we love each other so much, and are used to fighting in public.

Share this? Seriously?

This was followed by creamy, herby mushrooms for me and albondigas - meatballs - for madame. Traditionally albondigas come in a rich tomato sauce but Ambiente had decided to go off-piste with a Thai-style chilli & lemongrass affair which worked extremely well.

Note to cynics: "confusion" is just the Spanish for "with fusion"
NB. We're not so precious about meatballs having been caught out in Seville with ones made of, um, cuttlefish - which is exactly as vile as it sounds.

Quickly rejecting the offer of pud, we returned to the menu yet again. This time pancetta de cerdo - similar to chicharrones, being nuggets of pork belly that's been slow cooked with lots of cumin and salt. Aside from the Bellota this was my favourite thing of the night: one of those dishes that just makes you groan happily at every bite.

You can do what you like to pork belly, as long as it's this

Along with that we had bunuelo de bacalao - salt cod in batter - that was light and crisp and I wish we'd had earlier because it would've gone so well with the (sadly now exhausted) rebujito.

Bunuelo da Bacalao

This last round was accompanied by my traditional cry of "bring me something young, Spanish and rough" which delivered an excellent merlot. No idea what it was but it had the ripe fruit and startling tannins that's exactly what you'd want on a hot and dusty day in Castilla-Leon.

Finally I have to say the staff were fantastic. They weren't just attentive but positively and universally friendly, and very happy to talk about the food, the place, the drinks etc when time permitted. They even indulged my passion for speaking hopeless Spanish, which really is going an extra mile. As is so often the case, the food can be excellent but it's the people that make an exceptional evening.

All in the bill came to an exceedingly reasonable £75, and a tip only limited by the cash in my pocket. We waddled off with achingly full bellies, and very happy memories.

This is a fully independent review: Greedybots paid full whack and received nothing for free except kindness, of which there was lots.


All images (c) PP Gettins

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