Last time Oliver visited Mirabelle, the bar was set high.
From the food to the service and the ambience, it was, in the best sense, haute cuisine.
There were very good reasons why it claimed the gongs for Best Service and Best European Restaurant in the Oliver Awards in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Our expectations were correspondingly lofty, therefore, when we returned to find out if the Harrogate restaurant was still on top of its game.
The venue specialises in French food produced, according to the management, “without gadgets or tricks”.
Certainly, on our previous visit, simplicity was not a substitute for style as the dishes were presented with undoubted artistry.
There is no pomposity about the restaurant itself. Housed in the basement of the Studley Royal Hotel it is cosy rather than cramped.
The tiled floor has a stylish metallic gloss and the multiple mirrors bounce the otherwise subdued lighting around the room.
There are eye-catching flashes of cerise on the walls and the table dressings.
On the last occasion, it was a quiet midweek night and the atmosphere had been friendly if a little subdued.
This time, on the Friday of a weekend during which there was a large national event taking place at the International Conference Centre in town, the place was much busier and more boisterous.
That might have explained why the service was less attentive – we had to ask two different waitresses for pre-dinner drinks before receiving them.
Likewise, we twice had to request a fix to stop our table tilting one way and another thanks to a wonky leg before it was resolved.
The bread that we had as an appetiser was pleasant, although the beetroot it was laced with, while clearly visible, was barely tangible.
The flavours in my starter of wood pigeon carried far more oomph.
The sliced sections of breast meat were perfectly pink, rich and succulent, and sat on a bed of celeriac mash that was deliciously creamy in its consistency, although the coconut flavouring that was promised on the menu went missing in much the same way as the beetroot in the bread.
Encircling this centrepiece was an array of wild mushrooms which added an earthiness given a real kick by a garlic-infused jus.
My dining partner’s king scallops had a sweetness offset by a heavy scent of the sea (the waters off Whitby to be precise) from a lobster risotto and a lobster reduction. The seafood was caught off the east coast. The whole thing had a silky, melt-in-the-mouth quality. It was a dish of real refinement.
Before our mains, we were served complementary smoked salmon and cream cheese blinis. They may have been miniature munchies, but the ingredients were of excellent quality. It was a nice touch.
My main of venison fillet – the meat farmed in Holme near Huddersfield – was every inch the ideal autumnal warmer. A healthy helping of meat cooked not a moment too long and cut into thick slices was heart-stoppingly rich and given an extra layer of depth thanks to a game gravy.
The mash it came with had the sharp punch of horseradish. But, with sweetness provided by a cassis jelly and some delicious chunks of roast beetroot, it was a dish that worked on all levels.
In contrast, my partner’s main of duck felt a little overwrought. She had no complaints about the bird itself, which was cooked medium but retained the perfect degree of moisture and succulence.
There was a lip-smackingly flavourful cherry sauce and a tasty segment of fig. Had the chef stopped there, all the better.
However, on the side there was an orange and fig tatin – slices of the fruit encased in flaky pastry. The combination of duck with either orange or cherry would usually have had her smiling with satisfaction but in this case there was a definite sense of three being a crowd. The orange in particular – peel still on – was a strangely unpleasant aberration.
On the side – delivered at no extra cost – we had a portion of mixed vegetables and some roast potatoes, which I could have quite happily done without but of which I managed to put away more than my fair share.
My dining partner remained slightly more self-disciplined, possibly in mind of the mouth-watering dessert list.
Among the options for afters (all priced at £6.95) was a chocolate and caramel fondant, a praline and rum baba, creme brulee, baked cheesecake with hot Toblerone sauce and peanut butter ice cream and poached pear custard tart with Turkish delight ice cream.
It was an almost impossible choice – and fortunately one which we weren’t compelled to make as there was also an assiette comprising miniature versions of the whole lot.
Presented on a long white plate, it was a creation of pupil-dilating promise. Providing virtually the entire gamut of textures and flavours, from creamy to crunchy, saccharine sweet to subtly fragrant, there was something there to satisfy anyone with a penchant for puddings.
We started greedily eating our way towards the middle from our respective ends of the plate before rotating halfway through so that we could access the components that were otherwise out of reach. Neither of us wanted to miss out on any of the enticing array.
At £12.95 the assiette was twice what we’d have paid for any of the full-sized individual portions and was worth every penny.
Our bill came to £91 with a beer and three glasses of wine.
Once again our experience was a positive one illuminated by undoubted flashes of brilliance. But our overall sense was that it hadn’t quite matched the virtually faultless levels achieved on our last visit.
Address: 28 Swan Road, Harrogate, HG1 2SE.
Opening times: 5pm-9.30pm Monday to Friday, noon-5pm Sunday
Tel: 01423 565551