> Chefs

Josh Overington

They had the site, but not much else. With just £800 in the bank, the pair couldn’t afford new crockery, cutlery, table decorations, or any extra staff. They couldn’t even afford to change the name of the restaurant, so they translated it from English to French instead. ‘Honestly, I wouldn’t have kept the name!’ Josh laughs. ‘I could have come up with a new name, we just didn’t have the money to change it.’ Victoria – a sommelier by trade – handled all the wine and front of house, whilst Josh looked after the kitchen on his own. ‘We couldn’t do an à la carte,’ Josh explains. ‘The kitchen was tiny and I was on my own. The only way to make it work was to do a set menu.

‘It was incredibly hectic,’ he continues. ‘We were only twenty-six when we opened, still mega young. It was a real learning process in the early days – as the word spread and we got more attention, we got busier and we didn’t always have all the answers when it came to coping with that. We didn’t have any backers so we had no money for a sous chef or a restaurant manager.’

Though successful, Josh was still a relative unknown – until food critic Marina O’Loughlin arrived at the restaurant and waxed lyrical about York’s playful new neighbourhood bistro in The Guardian soon after. ‘That was a huge moment for us,’ he recalls. ‘We were just a neighbourhood restaurant before then, but Marina’s review brought us national recognition, and a lot more people through the door.’ Le Cochon Aveugle is proof that national reviews really do make or break some restaurants – Marina’s Guardian review allowed Josh to finally get a sous chef for starters, and it also put him on the map nationally. A year later in 2017, Josh appeared on Great British Menu, where he competed alongside Tommy Banks and Danny Parker to represent the North East.

Fast forward to today and Le Cochon Aveugle has established itself as one of the best restaurants in the country. Josh and Victoria have overseen a full refurbishment of the restaurant and now have a full complement of front- and back-of-house staff. They even have a wine bar – Cave du Cochon – just down the road. But despite the changes, the foundations of what makes Le Cochon Aveugle special are rooted in those humble beginnings. The restaurant still serves a blind tasting menu with no à la carte, and the friendly, down-to-earth neighbourhood vibe remains, as does the name.

As stereotypes go, classical French cooking and Yorkshire would seem to go together like chalk and cheese. Josh’s cooking – though rooted in classic technique – is modern enough to be approachable. His boudin noir macaron, for example, is unequivocally French, but it’s clever, modern cooking, delivering bold, robust flavours that even the gruffest of Yorkshiremen would coo at. Orkney scallops are cooked with sea urchin butter à la ficelle – an old French technique where things are strung up (ficelle meaning string) over an open fire – and opened table-side. The quality of produce and cooking is paramount, but everything is presented in a way that removes the stuffiness, and makes the experience easy-going and accessible.

In 2019, Le Cochon Aveugle made it into the National Restaurant Awards top 100 for the first time – another sign that Josh’s cooking is being recognised nationally. He admits that the journey is really just beginning, but it isn’t awards that will define them. ‘If someone wants to give us an award then we’ll be ecstatic about that,’ he says. ‘But if they don’t, that’s fine. We still feel like we’re at that level and we have a successful business with happy customers. We don’t cook for anyone other than our guests.’

Three things you need to know...

Josh once removed his boudin noir macarons from the menu at Le Cochon Aveugle, but had so many complaints that he returned them two weeks later. They've been a permanent fixture on the menu ever since.

Aside from Australia and France, Josh has also worked in Canada and Spain in the course of his career.

Josh rarely uses black pepper in his food, preferring the warmth and colour of Espelette pepper instead.