Fulsome Good Food Guide recognition for an Italian deli’s simple cafe that’s only open at lunch and two evenings a week? They got it right this time. If you can tear yourself away from the extraordinary selection of Italian cheeses, meats, beers and wines, all sourced and imported by the owners, check out the bright, pine-tabled back room, where such produce (and some excellent meat and fish) is used to its best advantage. We tried the Osteria-style four-course tasting menu (£22.50 a head, whole table must participate). There is a choice in the pasta and main courses, but the chef chooses for you! It was all quite marvellous, particularly the home-made ravioli and the squab pigeon main.
The Old Coach House, Peasholme Green YO1 7PW (01904 622584). Buy their produce online too at www.lelanghe.co.uk.
J Baker's Bistro Moderne
When John Farrar, chef at Manchester’s Teacup, confirmed his CV included a stint with Jeff Baker, you had to be impressed. Baker, first Leeds chef to gain a Michelin star (at Pool Court), has enhanced his reputation with this more casual set-up in the heart of old York. Five years on, his masterly cooking contnues to impress. Big, bold flavours encompass game, hare even, and playful puddings, say, apple crumble with a hint of curry. Lunchtime grazing plates and an upstairs chocolate lounge make this a difficult place to get into. Melton’s Too in Walmgate the road is a solid fallback (www.meltonstoo.co.uk).
7 Fossgate, York YO1 9TA (01904 622 688, www.jbakers.co.uk).
The York Tap and Czech cousin Pivni
York’s position as one of the best cities for a characterful pub crawl (the ghost tours are ace, too) just got better. The York Tap is the new venture from the local folk who import the splendid Bernard pils range from Prague and run Pivni, the half-timbered c1190 “world beer freehouse” at 6 Patrick Pool YO1 8BB (01904 635464, www.pivni.co.uk). The Tap, in contrast, is in a converted tea room cum model railway centre on York Station. Lavish art nouveau restoration and two quid pork pies layered with black pudding or mushy peas, yet handily placed for East Coast Line Platform One! There are 32 ales, ciders and lagers on draft, including a choice of 20 cask. On our visit the incomparable Thornbridge dominated the handpumps, alongside a clutch of local breweries. Worth missing the train back for.
York Station YO24 1AB 01904 659009, www.yorktap.com).
House of the Trembling Madness and Evil Eye Lounge
They sound like the kind of places Edgar Allan Poe or Johnny Depp in eyeliner yet again might frequent, but they are a couple of determinedly quirky bars on Stonegate that show how cool “craft” beers have become. Depp was actually spotted in the Evil Eye while filming Charlie And The Chocolate Factory in the city. He would have had the chance to try the bar’s lunchtime Indonesian menu. It also offers a drinks shop, internet cafe, great cocktails, including one called an Alan Shearer, and two beds for customers to lounge on as well as a leftfield roster of beers. Trembling Madness, current York pub of the year, offers homelier food fare – hearty and locally sourced stuff such as Ghost Sausage Sarnie (the banger is made with local Centurion’s Ghost Dark Ale). It downstairs drinks store is phenomenal – Kernel, Thornbridge, Magic Rock beers from the UK, a “core range from Norway’s fabulous Nogne O and Danish meisters Mikkeller. Extra-hopped pilseners, imperial stouts aged in tequila barrels, and the single hop series of IPAs as well as bottled of York Chocolate Stout from closer-to-home Rudgate.
House of the Trembling Madness, 48 Stonegate YO1 8AS (01904 640009, www.tremblingmadness.co.uk).
Evil Eye Lounge, 42 Stonegate, YO1 8AS (01904 640002, www.evileyelounge.com).
Trad pubs – The Maltings and The Blue Bell
If all those candles and cocktails and young folk stroking beards as they analyse a new American take on IPA aren’t your bag, York has more than its fair share of old-fashioned boozers. Some of the best are outside Ye Olde Tourist Trappe area, butt two accessible and highly recommended ones aren’t. Until the advent of the York Tap The Maltings would have to be the first port of call (it’s below Lendal Bridge, half way between the station and York Minster and was originally called the Railway Tavern. It offers gigantic snacks from “The Dragon’s Pantry” and a rotating showcase of brilliantly kept English cask ales. Another CAMRA favourite is the Blue Bell. Indeed it’s listed in their National Inventory of Historic Interiors. Dating back to 1798 but preserving a wood-panelled Edwardian interior unchanged since 1903, it’s two rooms are quite tiny. If you can crush in, try assorted Yorkshire guest ales or regulars Black Sheep and Taylor’s Landlord. Traditional ales, ciders and artisan cheeses are the speciality of the long-serving York Beer and Wine Shop, one of the best in the country.
Maltings, Tanners Moat Y01 6HU (01904 655387, www.maltings.co.uk).
Blue Bell, 53 Fossgate Y01 9TF (01904 654904).
York Beer and Wine Shop, 28 Sandringham Street, Fishergate YO10 4BA (01904 647136, www.yorkbeerandwineshop.co.uk).
Well, I de’Clare... and other food shops
Le Langhe would be deli enough for me in York, but the city centre is well provided with fine food shops, including the Hairy Fig and Henshelwoods. The Independent declared de’Clare Deli one of Britain’s 50 Best. At least 70 per cent of its products are sourced from within 30 miles, including stalwart Yorkshire cheeses such as Shepherd’s Purse, Swaledale and the Wensleydale Creamery’s finest. Rafi’s Spicebox does what it says on the tin – bespoke curry mixes (17 Goodramgate Y01 7LW, www.spicebox.co.uk).
5 Lendal (01904 652920, www.declaredeli.co.uk).
Betty’s – tackle a fat rascal
We breakfasted on excellent coffee and pastries in offshoot Cafe de’Clare in nearby Peter Lane. At lunchtime they offer a choice of four dishes of the day with an obvious Spanish influence in the kitchen. Tyke traditionalists may scorn such hispanic fripperies in favour of a nibble of a “fat rascal” in Betty’s. An institution across Yorkshire, its apogee is probably the main York branch in St Helen’s Square. A fat rascal, for the uninitiated, is a Yorkshire tea biscuit or turf cake, a kind of round-domed scone with currants and candied peel. Betty’s rascals are reckoned to be the best. At their prices, everything has to be the best, but aficionados relish its art deco ocean liner inspired decor of huge curved windows and wood panelling, allied to Downton Abbey style service. The humbler Stonegate branch boasts fixtures by the Mouseman of Kilburn and a collection of prints and paraphernalia explaining the tea trade.
6-8 St. Helen's Square YO1 8QP (01904 659142, www.bettys.co.uk); 46 Stonegate YO1 8AS (01904 622865).
The city’s newest visitor attraction is Chocolate: York’s Sweet Story, which traces the confectionery’s lip-smacking history, which began with the Quakers and is associated with household names such as Terry’s, Rowntrees and, of course, the Kit-Kat. This museum in King’s Square off Colliergate traces chocolate back to its Central American roots and also offers samples. A sweet-toothed alternative – follow the York Chocolate Trail: www.visityork.org/chocolate/chocolate-trail.aspx.
King’s Square YO1 7LD (0845 498 9411, www.yorkssweetstory.com).
Fish (and the Milky Bar Kid)
I don’t know about you but as soon as I venture beyond Leeds I get the whiff of Whitby seafront in my nostrils – particularly the scents of Mr Fortune’s kipper shed. Alas, Cross, the excellent fish stall on York Market, off the Shambles, import their smoked herring from Craster in Northumberland. As compensation, I spotted some study brown crabs from Whitby and suspected other ultra-fresh specimens might hail from Dracula’s favourite port. Bizarre chocolate link: Cross’s fishmonger Andrew Kenny had his five minutes of fame when he featured as the Kid in a TV ad for Milky Bar – produced at Nestle’s York factory!
York Market, Newgate. Farmers' markets take place every last Friday of the month on Parliament Street.
York ham is one of those famous food products that is a style. Unprotected by any place of origin status, it can be produced anywhere – and rare from the traditional meat of the Large White Pig. Sadly, York itself has lost its great ham bastion. Four years ago Scott’s Butchers shut its Petergate doors after 130 years of dry curing the stuff with a mix of salt, saltpetre and sugar. For a good approximation, order a York ham from Shropshire! www.dukeshillham.co.uk.
Neil Sowerby visited York on a day trip. It’s about an hour and a half by train from Manchester and for a day car trip, there's lots of park and ride. But if you decide to stay overnight in the city he recommends, close to the Minster, the stunningly situated and friendly Dean Court, Duncombe Place Y01 7EF (01904 625082, www.deancourt-york.co.uk)
Otherwise try the Hotel du Vin, York, 89 The Mount, YO24 1AX (0845 365 4438, www.hotelduvin.com/hotels/york/york.aspx). It’s outside the walls, a couple of hundred yards beyond Micklegate. Rooms are “wine-themed” as befits this chain, some on the small side, but the brasserie-style restaurant and canny wine list more than make up.
For tourist information visit www.visityork.org. They supplied the pictures of York Minster in this piece.
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