In his first of a new series of restaurant reviews, Eat My Words, Ron Godfrey is watched over by Hollywood’s finest
Let’s award Oscars – of sorts – to Plunkets, that mellowly-lit and moody restaurant in High Petergate, York, premises dating back to 1640.
Years ago, my friend Dennis Hill an Edwardian-bearded owner-chef of a restaurant called Oscars in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, once told me the secrets of attracting a gee-whiz or three from tourists, especially Americans.
“Give ’em history by creating your own,” he winked, curling his moustache with a forefinger before vanishing into the kitchen to make a few more of his speciality Paglesham Pies, over which the Yanks yelled yee-haa and drooled.
Why? Because it was quaintly plaited, crimped and cooked with the leanest smoked cubes of saddleback pigs, the breed once farmed in abundance by nearby Paglesham villagers in the 16th century.
Actually Paglesham pie was invented by Dennis merely the month before on the basis that it was redolent of antique culinary tradition, but forsooth! It wasn’t the real thing.
I suspect that Dennis would have approved heartily of Plunkets, though, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
Not that I’m suggesting that the history of that double-fronted Grade II listed building containing Plunkets is anything but authentic.
Mrs G and I sussed that from the moment we entered its ship-beamed warren of rooms with cosy focal fireplace and wood panelling so beloved not just of tourists but also York families and students.
We were shown to a table we immediately dubbed Hepburns’ Hideaway on account of both Audrey and Katherine Hepburn staring down at us separately from framed photos – part of an impressive gallery of Hollywood stars and other showbiz and musical top names that festooned every alcove.
They were alongside Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag in Some Like It Hot; at the far end a swashbuckling Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow; around a corner a young, brooding Al Pacino; and so many Marilyn Monroes that she followed me all the way up the stairs, her lustrous eyes even peering at me from inside the gents.
But there was nothing olde worlde snooty or A-list glamorous about the vast menu choice which offered an amazing variety of wholesome and, impressively, home made dishes.
We could have chosen from a long list of Mexican specialties including a variety of fajitas and burritos, various salads such as grilled courgette and goat cheese or sea bass Chilean style..
I was tempted by the caramelised orange and honey fajitas at £14.75, but was deterred by the disapproving voice in my head of my diabetic nurse.
Instead I chose a more moderately-priced homemade lasagne served with fresh chips and salad, at £8.55, thick and juicy with pasta of perfect consistency.
Mrs G’s choice: a gourmet burger special – a six ounce ground beef wonder with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and red onion plus a bowl of chips. She was also presented with a giant palette of colours, each of them a different relish (from which I filched a few forkfuls).
The price was made all the more impressive by the fact that it included a choice of Plunkets label house wine, house lager, selected soft drinks or coffee or tea. She chose the “very smooth” Chilean red while I opted for my medicinal sugar-free Diet Coke.
But all that body temple worship went to pot when Mrs G ordered her pudding – a dried fruit Moroccan drunken sundae (£4.65) while I ordered latte coffee at £2.35
She gave up a third of the way but I took over and continued to mine from the vanilla ice cream in that long glass exotic nuggets of figs, dates, sultanas, apricots and prunes as my conscience as well as my blood-sugar levels steadily rose.
Then we strolled around the place admiring its gallery of photos.
But for all their glamour, they were outshone by a Victorian oval image, spotlit above the fireplace, of a wan little boy in red.
The menu, which uses the same portrait as its livery, tells us that this was the young “Great Uncle Plunket” himself, and if he is wearing a forbearing expression it is only because he was dragged from his toys to pose for the artist.
Maybe it was our wrong interpretation that the lad went on to start this restaurant in 1977. If so, he would have had to have been very old indeed if he was a young boy in Victorian times.
But then impressions, as my friend, Dennis used to say, are everything. Could it be that in Master Plunket’s little hands hidden below the oval frame, was a Paglesham Pie?
Home made lasagne (including soft drink) £8.55
Gourmet burger special (including wine) £8.45
Dried fruit Moroccan Drunken Sundae £4.65
Latte coffee £2.35
Food: Fresh, home-cooked, plentiful and great variety ★★★★
Service: Quietly efficient ★★★
Ambience: Oscar award-winning ★★★★★
Value: You get what you pay for ★★★
Overall rating: ★★★★
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