Full of flavour
An eclectic menu supporting many of the county’s producers – it’s little wonder that Neil Bentinck’s skosh in York is winning over all comers
York’s food scene, as highlighted within the pages of Absolutely in recent times, is flourishing. There is so much choice these days, with chefs rated highly by the Michelin Guide and restaurants located in beautiful, historic buildings. If you put all those ingredients into a pot and gave it a stir, you’d come up with skosh.
Since 2016, this has been a firm favourite of ours. A glance at the menu not only gets the juices flowing, but truly excites with its innovative approach to combining flavours: a most recent visit included such gems as cauliflower manchurian, ‘xianjing’ lamb & mushroom dumplings, squash mochi with pistachio dukkah, kale & black truffle, bbq pork belly satay with carrot ajat, and 72% kayambe chocolate mousse with tamarind & sesame.
You’d think the man behind these concoctions is some kind of northern Heston Blumenthal, busy in his experimental kitchen, far too busy to sit down and chat. Well, he is busy, but he’s only too happy to chat to Absolutely – and it’s a joy to report he’s very down to earth and certainly not a food snob in the slightest. And he even gives a little hope that rubbish cooks like yours truly may one day pick up some inkling of talent.
“I don’t really remember,” Neil Bentinck laughs when asked if he loved to cook as a youngster. “I certainly was present when my mum and gran were cooking, but it wasn’t a fairytale ‘I was baking bread when I was three’ type of relationship! My father was from India, so I was surrounded by exciting food from a young age, which certainly carved a sub-conscious relationship with a different kind of cuisine.
“I studied business at York College, then got a place at uni to do studio-music management, but decided to take a gap year to earn money,” he continues about how his career evolved. “That’s when I got the bug for the hospitality industry, firstly working as a waiter in a hotel, but then fell in love with the food/kitchen side of things. After a stint working in a bank (evenings/weekends off appealed as a young man – but I found it a bit monotonous), I then headed to Australia and worked over there as a chef. The food scene was so exciting there which inspired me, so upon my return home I decided that’s the proper career for me. I then got an apprenticeship at a local pub called Ye Olde Sun Inn at Colton.”
So began a lengthy list of jobs, all of which added a little to the vital experience that Neil was building up. “Stand outs are BBQing in Australia at racecourse events, working with James at Pipe and Glass, Lisa at Northcote and Stephen and Andrew at Star Inn – all of those people are so hard working and talented. Lots of respect for them,” he says about some of those roles.
A stint in Harrogate, however, proved to be the one that convinced him to go it alone. “I knew I wanted my own establishment and after being head chef at a fine dining restaurant called Van Zeller in Harrogate – it was time to go it alone,” he says. “I said I wanted to do it to my wife and she replied ‘you’ve been talking about it for ages – let’s just go for it, you’ll regret it forever if you don’t’ so we did… It was great timing for our style of restaurant within the industry, but don’t get me wrong having two kids in the first few years of trading added to the pressure! But we chefs thrive on pressure.”
Why was Micklegate the perfect spot? “To be honest the rent played a part in the business location. It’s lower as you head a bit out of the city centre. That being said I’ve always loved it – from doing the Micklegate run of pubs when I was younger to the history of the bar and the city wall being a stone’s throw away. The parking is much easier on Micklegate for guests, the racecourse is down the road and also the train station is round the corner – it all made sense.”
He describes the food offering as “eclectic’ from day one, something we wholeheartedly agree with. “A good value offering with playful but precise cookery in a relaxed environment,” he adds. “The service and atmosphere being equally important to the food to give the complete dining experience. I think we’ve achieved it – and more importantly we stick to it.”
Neil says the menu is produce-led, “then it’s what route I choose to go seasoning wise really”. On the current menu, are there dishes he really loves right now? “Our salt n pepper squid fritters with basil and lime are very tasty,” he smiles. “We bind fresh day boat squid with a fish mousse then tempura fry and season with salt ‘n’ pepper style seasoning – recognisable flavours, but lighter and certainly not just chewy calamari. Also our partridge – spiced up Indian style. We roast the bird on the crown with a house masala blend and confit the legs. We serve it with a spiced sauce made from the bones, some hispi cabbage, green chilli, coconut and curry leaf and also a spiced beetroot ketchup – lots of flavour!”
Neil is keen to name-check the local producers who help bring everything together. “Ben at Rocket & Russet, Joe at Food Circle, Simon Baynes is a local wholesaler along with Fowlers for fish in York and Hodgson of Hartlepool are great too,” he says. “R n J in Ripon and my friend’s butchers in Woodthorpe, Richardsons, are who we use for meat.”
With Christmas upon us, rather than a special festive menu, there is something else close to Neil’s heart that takes centre stage. “We always do our festive skosh chocolate bauble in December – with half the takings going to charity. Myeloma UK is the charity of choice and has been since day one. My father passed away from myeloma – a rare form of blood cancer – several years ago and I’ve always wanted to help if possible,” he explains. “I’m no marathon runner for charity fundraising, so this is how I do my bit.”
He describes how he’s looking forward to some time off over Christmas and early in the new year to be with his family – before something big heads his way. “We are expanding into next door soon to gain a little more room – a new bar/lounge area, a few more tables and a private dining room – exciting times and an opportunity for the business to evolve,” Neil says. “Not just about filling the space with only more tables, it allows the kitchen to grow a bit so we have more room to perfect and grow the cuisine, a proper bar for the front of house team that we currently don’t have and also more room and flexible areas for customers – to enhance their skosh experience.
“Really, though, my hopes are simple,” he adds, “and still the same as when we opened in 2016 – great food and drink, happy customers and staff, and a relaxed environment in which to enjoy it. Long may it continue.”