19 Grape Lane
It may possibly be the oldest restaurant in York, dating back to the 15th century, but when Chef Phil Upton took the reins at Nineteen, formerly 19 Grape Lane, York in 2006 he fast-forwarded it into the 21st century. The building remains quirky with low beams, tipsy floors and two small but perfectly formed dining rooms. The décor is sleek, the dark wood tables sharp and neat, and service crisp, efficient and friendly.
Phil Upton is better known from his days at the Ivy in York but Nineteen is Phil on his first solo flight and he is keeping it simple – hurrah. The menu is small; three starters and mains on the set menu, four on a la carte. Prices are slightly larger. Two course set £17.50, three £21, and starters from £5.95, mains from £14.50. Side dishes are extra but a generous serving of warm, fresh bread was a great filler before dinner so I was glad we didn’t order any extras.
Too many choices on a menu is confusing, equally, if not carefully balanced on a small one. This one was good but on the a la carte two of the four mains were poultry, giving the set menu containing a rib eye a distinct advantage on value.
Off we go with Grilled mackerel and Caesar potatoes – a fresh easy-eating dish - and a coriander scotch egg on a fruity couscous. I ordered the latter, not because I am a lover of deep-fried sausage meat but out of curiosity, it seemed such an odd combination. It was. In a curious way that defies culinary logic, it worked; the shell was crisp, the meat powerful and the egg had a soft, runny yolk and the couscous a merry confusion of flavour pulled the whole dish together.
Intrigue got me again on mains. A Pear and Asparagus risotto. A steaming bowlful arrived, bursting with chunks of asparagus, pungent fresh herbs, slivers of Parmesan (I would have preferred grated) and peas. I poked around but could not find, nor taste pears. Then it dawned on me, I had misread the menu, peas not pears. Oops. A lovely, filling dish, nonetheless.
Curried Monkfish with clam and Chorizo chowder was the hit of the dinner. A robust chunk of fish and liberal serving of clams were bathed in a delicately scented, slightly sweet broth, which gave a belated kick from the Chorizo. More bread was ordered for mopping up so as not to waste a drop.
Pleasingly the set menu desserts include a generous Yorkshire Cheeseboard and biscuits that many restaurants would charge extra for.
An unexpected bonus came on paying, as we had arrived at 6.30 set menus are charged at lunch prices, a couple of pounds cheaper for each. So, dinner with three glasses of wine came in at a very reasonable £50. What value for excellent cooking, fantastic service and a great atmosphere. Nineteen is a great addition to York’s dining scene.