I was prepared to like the Biltmore Bar & Grill before I tasted the food. Their upstairs dining area is a wonderful indoor garden, a lovely sprawling array of potted plants, small trees and dark foliage. While I love dining al fresco at home, the pleasure of sipping wine and eating a meal surrounded by blooming flora is always slightly undermined by the fact that all I can think about is how much needs weeding, or pruning, or repotting, or how much the lawn needs mowing, or how much that hedge really needs to come down, or how the apple tree is any minute now going to start hurling its fruit at the garden with a vengeance and that no amount of apple crumbles will even begin to deal with its prolific bounty…you see how it goes. At the Biltmore’s aptly-named ‘Garden Grill’, no such worries could intrude upon my eating experience. Instead, I got to enjoy the somewhat eclectic décor (there are two big white sculptures of deer wearing sunglasses in front of a huge, wall-length drinks cabinet, a curtain of rushing water behind the bar and chairs and sofas upholstered in plush velour) without worry, preferably while taking it in over a cocktail from the extensive menu – the Bellinis are lovely, as is the bourbon-based ‘Old Fashioned’.
A family business, the Biltmore Bar & Grill has been open for eight years inside a beautiful renovated church building in York (I wonder how the church-goers of the past would have felt about the bespectacled deer sculptures). Originally a champagne bar (a legacy still evident from the numerous magnums dotted around the room), they now offer an extensive menu to accompany the lengthy drinks offerings. Chef Mark Hill has been working there for around a year, and his fusion dishes are inspired by the world’s street food, with dishes ranging from sushi and sashimi to Dutch flatbreads, American-style burgers and buns, Italian pasta and salads, Thai beef and prawns and Middle Eastern-inspired lamb. The menu is as eclectic and varied as the décor, which is sometimes a worrying sign, but everything we ate was wonderful – Hill has clearly managed to navigate the difficult waters of fusion cuisine.
We began with the pork belly, three luscious squares of noble pig caramelized in a delicious sweet, tangy glaze. It was beautifully soft and tender, slightly too fatty for my taste but still wonderfully rich and moreish. It came scattered with a delicate mango and chilli salsa, which helped to cut through the meat, although I think there could have been more of it on the plate (but then again I am a total mango fiend, so always feel there could be more mango in the world). The tuna sashimi was beautifully presented, an elegant stripe of fresh fish, herbs, edible flower petals and vegetables bisecting the pretty speckled plate. The fusion of Japanese-style tuna with Scandinavian dill and Thai basil was unusual, but I really enjoyed the freshness of the dish, the slight chilli heat and the vibrant flavours – a lovely, light starter designed to whet your appetite for the meal ahead, rather than overpower. The portion sizes are well-judged.
Appetites whetted, we indulged in a hedonistic session of cow-worship via the medium of steak and salt beef. My salt beef bun, a New York-style concoction, is still haunting my dreams. The brioche bun, its glazed top promising a sweet, fluffy crumb, came speared to the plate with a ferocious-looking steak knife – no puny cocktail sticks here. I felt a bit like King Arthur pulling it out. Spilling out from within the bun were thick, brick-red slices of salt beef, so tender it almost melted in the mouth, and a pile of rainbow-coloured slaw. Biltmore offer an Asian-style slaw rather than a claggy, mayonnaise-bound pile of soggy vegetables, which I greatly appreciate. This was light, crunchy, slightly tangy, and the perfect match for the glorious rich, salty beef. There were chips too, which were faultless, and the whole thing was basically the kind of gluttonous, slightly dirty, American-style meat feast you dream about after hard exercise sessions, hard drinking sessions, or the general hardship that is modern life. It was absolutely fantastic.
Biltmore put on a steak night every Wednesday, which basically means all of their amazing steaks are half price. How this hasn’t been more widely publicized, I don’t know, because those steaks are ridiculous. The Japanese-style fillet steak was perfectly rare, as requested, and came adorned with all sorts of beautiful and exciting garnishes – chargrilled asparagus spears sprinkled with sesame seeds, grilled lime halves (extra points – I always need lime halves with my food as I am a lime addict), two huge grilled prawns, and deep-fried pickled mushrooms. I’ve never had a deep-fried pickled mushroom before, but now I basically want them for every meal. They provided some much needed freshness to counteract the mass of barely-seared protein on the plate. This was a steak that had been thought about and cooked and presented with loving care, and it was one of the best I’ve ever tasted. The Chateaubriand, which comes accompanied by a huge platter of garnishes, is also a real showstopper – I can’t wait to go back to try it (and it’s very good value on a Wednesday). Tuesday is sushi night, and Friday and Saturday sees a few exciting additions to the normal menu, including a Thai seafood trio and a huge platter of Japanese dishes – the ‘ohmah-kah-see-a’ - featuring, among others, sesame-coated beef fillet with confit garlic butter, the pork belly, and salt & pepper prawns.
The dessert menu seems fairly safe – Banoffee, Eton mess, chocolate mousse – but the exciting presentation makes up for this. Ordering anything with ‘banoffee’ in the name is always a risk, because this popular confection of caramel, bananas and cream can end up being hideously, cloyingly sweet. This version, again beautifully and artfully strewn across the plate, got the balance just right – chunks of not-too-ripe banana, piles of gently whipped cream (no squirty stuff here, thank god), micro-herbs (they love their micro-herbs at the Biltmore), a drizzle of caramel and a gorgeous nutty crumble sprinkle. None of it was too sweet, and it wasn’t huge and heavy either – probably the best ‘banoffee’ manifestation I’ve had yet. I don’t even like cream, and I still really enjoyed it. I feel there could have been more biscuit, though, but this slight complaint falls into the same category as my mango one above. I always need more biscuit.
The spacious, flamboyant interior of the Biltmore is a wonderful setting to try some of its varied and delicious dishes. If you’re excited by Asian street food, you’ll be thrilled by some of the offerings, but those looking for a familiar hearty burger or just a great steak will also go home happy. The presentation and attention to detail of the food makes it just that little bit more special than other restaurants, and it’s great value for money, especially if you visit on one of their steak or sushi nights. It also nicely straddles that line between formal and informal, meaning it’s perfect for occasions or just treating yourself. Service is excellent - our waiter was very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, and we were well looked after all evening. I’m always looking to add to my list of favourite York restaurants, and I think I might just have found a new contender.
I dined at the Biltmore Bar & Grill as a guest of the management; all opinions are my own.