By Tom Hay
The premium Italian chains might be setting up shop in Harrogate, but the real story is happening just down the street.
As the structural guts of Jamie’s Italian start taking shape, a small independent restaurant on Oxford Street is getting ready to serve food that will show them both how it’s done.
It’s based in Scandinavian-inspired cafe Baltzersen’s. Dubbed Nord, it’s an evening eating venture with an ambitious and precise young chef named Murray Wilson at the helm.
He’s back in Harrogate after a couple of years honing his craft in Canada - which was preceded by stints at the Hotel du Vin and Van Zeller.
There are ten dishes on offer each night, eight of which are savoury and two sweet. Diners can build a nominal starter, main course and dessert out of that, but the pitch is bolder: these are all sold as complete dishes, of which you can eat as many or as few as you like.
The Nordic influence is freshness, seasonality, an interest in local sourcing and preserving techniques like pickling, curing and drying.
Obviously every restaurant under the sun now crows about the first three of those things, but unlike a lot of them, this place actually seems to mean it.
At a tasting night I tried a dish of ceps and girolles, green and white asparagus, popped millet and a mushroom dashi broth flavoured with pine from the Pinewoods; an eye-popping salad with about 40 different components and too many flavours to list; and rhubarb poached in gin with white chocolate ice cream (plus a long list of other bits and bats adding complementary flavours and textures).
It’s a very high level of cooking, displaying a progressive degree of respect for ingredients. And it looks like it’s not going to break the bank, either.
Given the priciest dish was venison, at £10.95, it’s typically going to be a much higher level of cooking than you’d expect for the money.
The drinks were interesting too. What we tried that night isn’t necessarily going to make it onto the menu, but it’s a sign of Nord’s interest in flavours from off the beaten track.
Highlights were a couple of beers from a lesser-known two-man brewery in Malton called Bad Seed - a crisp pale ale and a well-balanced espresso stout. And an Argentinian wine made from the Torrontes grape, a snappy, juicy white with hints of gooseberry and a touch of tropical sweetness.
If it wasn’t clear already, I’m a fan. I’d suggest checking Nord out if the arrival of the big name, big business eateries is leaving you a little bit cold.
Nord, 22 Oxford Street, Harrogate. www.nordrestaurant.co.uk