Stephen Lewis : Yorkshire Evening Press : 13th May 2006

OUR evening at J Baker's didn't get off to the best of starts.

We'd booked a week earlier a table in the window for 7pm. We turned up, asked for our table for two - and were told, rather sternly by a fresh-faced young waitress, that we would only be able to stay until 8pm. Sorry?

The tables are all booked from 8pm, she said.

Sorry, I don't understand. We can only take one hour over our meal?

The tables are all booked from 8pm, she said again.

I considered walking out there and then. I held on to my temper instead. "Yes, and our table is booked from 7pm," I said.

Her face cleared instantly, and she became apologetic, contrite. "Oh, sorry!" she said. "You've booked! I thought you said you hadn't booked!"

There's a lesson here. J Baker's may only have been open eight weeks, but the reputation of its owner and head chef, the Michelin Star-winning Jeff Baker, has preceded it. If you want a table, especially on a Friday or Saturday night, you'll need to book. Currently, the waiting list is about two weeks.

Little misunderstanding over, we were offered our choice of tables in the two generous windows. A black-dressed waitress offered to take our jackets. We declined and hung them over the back of our chairs. A little tray of salty black olives was brought: then crusty, home-baked rolls with fresh butter and a dish of spicy crab and chilli paté, all just to whet our appetites while we pondered the menu.

Mr Baker - who left the Pool Court in Leeds, where he won his Michelin Star, to open the Bistro Moderne in York - has opted for a simple, yet sophisticated and contemporary approach. The restaurant is clean, modern and coffee-toned; the menu simple yet enticing. During the day, there is a grazing menu; in the evening, an a la carte menu where you get two courses for £18.95, three courses for £24.50.

The choice isn't massive - Mr Baker seems to prefer to do a few things well - but it is interesting and unusual. Choose from the likes of wood pigeon pie with chopped pistachio and plumped fruits or East Coast red mullet "Rollmops" with fennel and dill weed for starters; wild turbot fillet on bubble and squeak or Thornbeck Farm duck "pastie" with spinach and drunken oranges for mains. The puddings (and it's nice to see them called that) include the likes of Manjari chocolate orange cheesecake or parkin with butterscotch and triple cream.

I chose the oak-smoked organic salmon with celery root, quail eggs and mustard for my starter. Lili went for the ravioli of rabbit with morel mushrooms and pea salad.

My salmon arrived on a large slate plate. It was meltingly tender and wonderfully zesty thanks to the dressing. The celery roots in mustard were crisp and piquant: the salad leaves that accompanied the starter deliciously fresh and snappy. The quail's eggs didn't add much: but overall an outstanding starter.

Lili's ravioli was equally good. It came in the form essentially of a large meatball, and was rich, gamey yet beautifully tender. Lili lavished the highest praise on it she could. It was, she said, the best meatball she'd eaten since we were in Yangzhou, an ancient Chinese city on China's Grand Canal which is famed for its food. I tried it, and agreed that it was.

For my main course, I chose the saddleback pork fillet accompanied by hand-made Scotch egg with black pudding and Cox's apple. Lily went for the day boat sea bass with spring carrots and Indian spice.

My pork was outstanding. I had two quite small yet thick fillets of quite astonishingly tender meat, the flavour of which was subtle yet delightful. It was accompanied by a tiny home-made Scotch egg. It is no insult to traditional maker of Scotch egg to say that, after tasting this, I will never be able to enjoy them again. It was out of this world: bursting with flavour.

My dish came accompanied by wonderfully fresh, slender green beans. I savoured every mouthful.

Only Lily's sea bass failed to reach quite the same heights. It was tender and beautifully cooked, but disappointingly lacking in flavour. That was certainly not true of Lily's lengthways-sliced strips of spring carrot in Indian spices: they were sensational.

Lily passed on pudding: I ordered a portion of Granny Smith's apple tart with thick cream. It was a proper tart: not too cloying or sweet, the sliced apple crisply caramelised on the surface so that it gave a delicious crunch when bitten into, yet tender and moist inside. There were lashings of real, thick cream - which I shouldn't have eaten, but did.

The portions at J Baker aren't huge: but the food is of such quality - unusual ingredients, intelligently combined to complement each other perfectly - that each mouthful is worth lingering over.

I rounded off the meal with a cup of filter coffee, which was fine without being unforgettable. But unforgettable is the only word which really does justice to the rest of the meal.

Steve and Lily visited J Baker's on Friday May 5, 2023