Unexpected words that could be applied to Hull include 'inspiring' (Andrew Marvell, Philip Larkin), 'world-changing' (William Wilberforce) and 'avant-garde' (UK City of Culture 2017) but how about 'glamorous'? It may come as a surprise that this isolated community boasts a restaurant that is as stylish, ambitious, bustling, impressively proportioned and, yes, glamorous as any I know in Britain.
The main problem with 1884 Dock Street Kitchen for the outsider is getting there. Since Blanket Row, the access road to its location near the Humber, was closed off, we had to park on the opposite side of the new Humber Dock Marina and make our way on a zigzag path over the lock gates enclosing several million quid's worth of gleaming leisure craft. "Don't think I'd like to do this in heels," muttered my wife as she negotiated the cobblestones.
Judging by the precipitous footwear of many female customers at 1884, which was pretty much packed on a Thursday night, there must be an easier way of getting there. Originally a ropery, then a dockside boozer, the building dates from 16 May 1884, as vouchsafed by a foundation stone displayed in the long, high-ceilinged bar. On its website, the restaurant explains that it "models itself on the meat-packing district of New York". An ambitious claim, but it's got the right look for that fashionable enclave and my Manhattan aperitif, expertly crafted with orange twist by head barman Ben, might have graced any of the bars around West 13th St. My wife's white peach and almond martini was described as "a bit girly" but nevertheless eagerly consumed. Just to remind us that we were on the bank of the Humber not the Hudson, a video screen showed clips of Hull's long-departed fishing industry.
Moving on to a large dining room (over 100 covers) with full-length windows overlooking the copse of masts in the marina, we received a promising amuse-gueule in the form of tiny tankards of truffled field mushroom soup. My wife, who selflessly volunteered to try the set-price market menu, started with deep-fried blue cheese 'bon bons' and heritage tomatoes. Judging by my nibble, the three deep-fried, bread-crumbed spheres were satisfyingly tasty, though this did not assuage my wife's envy when she saw my starter of snipe on toast, a special on the à la carte menu. Regarding the roast breasts of the little game bird, the paté made from its guts (the snipe evacuates before taking to the air) and bisected head (you eat the morsel of brain in each half), topped by rashers of air-dried York ham like frozen flames, Alison said wistfully, "Well, that beats my cheese balls".
She was placated by the arrival of a perfect pork chop, slightly pink and moist, accompanied by a generous jug of concentrated jus and the fruity crunch of cobnuts, simultaneously crisp and juicy. Though local preference is indicated by the six steak options on the à la carte menu, I adhered to an all-game policy with a main course of grouse Wellington. Inside the pastry crust, a layer of chicken liver mousse did not entirely succeed in keeping the grouse breast moist, though the profusion of trimmings – pearl barley risotto, artichoke purée with smoked butter, home-pickled walnuts, plump snails, tiny chanterelles like gold shirt studs – were sensational. It was the best plateful I've had for a long time. A side order of mash was so rich that it cannot have been far from the potato/butter ratio (2:1) stipulated in Joel Robuchon's celebrated rendition. At this stage, a bearded young man emerged from the kitchen and coolly observed the cheery hubbub in the dining room. This was James Allcock, the 28-year-old chef-patron described by our waitress Katie as "looking after every bit" of 1884.
The market menu reached a finale with Baked Kentish Batter Pudding. Customarily accompanied by cherries in its birthplace, it was speckled with flaked almond and topped with slices of warm fig. This comforting dessert could also have been accurately termed sweet Yorkshire pudding (a once-common variant) though today such a thing would raise more questions than it answered. Lured by a tempting photo on the 1884 website, I headed for the cheese trolley. From a selection of 40 curds and wedges, all in top nick, I went for Lincolnshire Poacher, Blue Wensleydale, nettle-enriched Mayhill Green and Char Coal (sic) Cheddar, a black oddity from Lincs. Repletion prevented me taking on board the two accompanying slabs of fruitcake from Allcock's mum's recipe, which went in a doggy carton. By 11pm, we were the sole remaining customers. This is one area where 1884 would not be mistaken for the meat-packing district. As you probably know, when the Broadway Baby says goodnight, it's early in the morning
1884 Dock Street Kitchen, Humber Dock Street, Hull (01482 222 260)
£22 per head for three-course market menu (includes glass of Champagne), around £45 for à la carte without wine or coffee
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