Rupert & Darwin offers pub grub with real flair and this, writes Dave Lee, is cause for celebration.

Rupert &Darwin
Food100%
Drinks selection80%
Atmosphere80%
Prices80%
85%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (6 Votes)
77%

Rupert and Darwin interior

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a new restaurant on Hull’s Princes Avenue. Five years ago it was the gastronomic hotbed of the whole East Riding, with intriguing bars and restaurants opening seemingly every couple of weeks. Trade on “Prinny” Ave, though, would appear to have faded in recent years. The busiest street in Hull hosted precisely zero official events during 2017 as the cultural calendar saw the city centre packed with more than it could handle. The knock-on effect seems to have been a sustained dip in customers for an area whose boom around the turn of the millennium was attributed by many observers (myself included) as one of the main reasons Hull gained City of Culture status in the first place.

Braised lamb shank

Good to see, then, that the public face of one of the most successful restaurants in the city centre has chosen to move out to Prinny Ave with his new venture. James MacLeod-Birch had been front-of-house at the acclaimed 1884 Dock Street Kitchen during its most successful patch and, after a brief, unfortunate period with the short-lived Steak 1884, has teamed up with a sleeping partner to open Rupert & Darwin. It’s a cosy, 30-odd seat, open-kitchen affair serving classic British food with more flair than the price suggests.
I dined on a Saturday afternoon with a vegetarian pal and we had a grand old time. Judging by the busy tables around us, we weren’t the only ones, so it would seem that Prinny Ave has its first new hit eaterie of the decade. My only quibble – I’ll get it out of the way early – is that the menu doesn’t do justice to the dishes that turn up. Everything was nicer than we expected, which is no bad thing in itself but may slightly discourage anyone checking out the menu online. Trust me, it’s better than you think.

Miso glazed pig cheek

Starters (£5.50-£13) are the exception. All of them looked amazing. I eschewed white onion and cider soup (with a shallot and almond samosa and apple relish. How good does that sound?) for the simply irresistible miso-glazed pig cheek with trout pastrami, chicory, apple and kohlrabi salad, all sat in a puddle of dashi. It was superb. The brace of pig cheeks fell apart on contact with a fork and were complemented by the thin stripes of trout fantastically well. The whole dish had that umami comfort that warms your soul on a cold winter day.
The veggie option across the table was truffled orzo mornay (posh cheesy rice, basically) with cauliflower fritters and toasted hazelnuts. It was just as good as the pork. The hazelnuts were a great touch and prevented the dish becoming too textureless and gloopy. For those who can’t handle eating the face of a pig, it’s an option as delicious as it is virtuous.
Mains (£12-£19.50) all sound less appealing than the starters. Fish and chips, rump steak, sausage and mash and so on. All perfectly sound dishes but without the initial “oooh” factor found further up the page. Until they actually arrive and you tuck in, that is. My braised lamb shank with colcannon mash, spiced red cabbage and lamb sauce was entirely lovely. Perfectly cooked lamb, deep gravy, savoury mash and zingy cabbage, all fighting on the fork to gain your attention, then assemble in the mouth to marvellous effect.
Curried cauliflower pie with cumin confit carrot and yogurt potato puree looked pretty, though, and there was barely a fragment of floret left to suggest it was anything other than delicious.
Puddings (£6.50-£8) again sound a little uninspired – sticky toffee, caramel tart, cheese – but are much better in real life. Recommended is chocolate and vanilla millefeuille, which features all sorts of lovely stuff like tonka bean ice cream and lime cream woven through it. It’s a delightfully soft, sticky, sweet, creamy thing.
The almond and orange baked Alaska is equally good. I did that thing, though, where you eat some of the hot outside and then spoon up way too much ice cream immediately after. My fillings screamed like they’d been dunked in liquid nitrogen. Not the fault of the pud, which was grand, just me forgetting how to eat properly. Idiot, that I am.
Cunningly, the restaurant has decided to open Mondays and close Wednesdays. Mondays being the traditional day of rest in the catering industry, there is often a paucity of good places to eat early in the week. It may well prove a masterstroke as birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions for celebration are as likely to fall on a Monday as any other day of the week.
Set up to offer solid, inexpensive British grub with flair, Rupert & Darwin delivers exactly that. With perhaps more flair than you may realise when you first read the menu but you’ll hopefully believe me on that score. Princes Ave, also, has a new centrepiece restaurant to draw custom back to an unfairly moribund area. There are plenty of reasons to celebrate, it seems.
Rupert & Darwin, 74 Princes Avenue, Hull, HU5 3QJ. Tel: 01482 444587, www.rupertdarwin.com. Open Thursday to Tuesday; 12-2.30pm and 5.30-9.30pm (Sunday, 12-4pm).

About The Author

Dave Lee

Dave Lee is TV producer and film-maker who also writes on food & drink, travel and culture for various publications. He is a regular contributor on BBC Radio 4 and the Yorkshire Post. Worryingly, he believes that the finest food on earth is the pattie butty.

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