The gastronomy of this majestic walled city is as impressive as its rich history. Local lass Sophie Ellis tells us where to eat, drink and be merry in York.
York is fast becoming the foodie destination of the north and its annual food festival, held since 1997, attracts more than 150,000 visitors a year. The York ham is always given pride of place, and its birthplace – Robert Burrow Atkinson's butchery shop – can still be found on Blossom Street. Serve the thinly sliced, pink meat with a Yorkshire pud to eat like a true native.
Aside from ham, York is perfect for traditional tea, cosy pubs, posh delis and, would you believe it, continental cuisine.
The best of Betty’s
No visit to York would be complete without a tearoom stop-off. The most iconic of all tearooms, Betty's, is the perfect blend of warm Yorkshire welcome with Swiss sophistication. Betty's opened its doors 95 years ago and there's been a queue outside their doors ever since. Try to avoid the lunchtime rush to ensure you get a table.
Their cooked breakfasts and Swiss rostis are flavoursome and filling, and there's a range of perfectly brewed teas, from Assam to Betty's Blue Sapphire, to suit every palate. Whatever you do, don't miss the sweet treats – surely the jewel in this tearoom's crown. Their Grand Cru chocolate sachertorte is silky and rich and their Yorkshire tea loaf moist and fruity. And of course, there's Yorkshire's own Fat Rascals, essentially a cross between a scone and a rock cake. A little on the pricey side, Betty's should be reserved for a treat; although their specials board usually offers good value for money.
There's also Little Betty's on Stonegate if you're not after a seat but just want to shop for some Betty's specialties.
Time for more tea
Little Shambles is a better bet for those on a budget. Situated just off the busy Shambles (pictured left), this tea room is tiny. There are just three small tables downstairs and a handful at the top of a very narrow staircase. It’s a lovely little building and the prices can’t be beaten. The homemade scones are big and crumbly (try the cheese ones), and their shortbread is great dipped in tea. Little Shambles is only let down by its coffee which, I’m afraid, is bitter and thin.
Further along the Shambles is the Earl Grey Tea Rooms. Complete with oak beams and thick tapestries, it oozes atmosphere – enjoy hot buttered tea cakes, exotic teas and coffees, delicious cream scones, hot dishes and salads. There's a gift shop and a sweet little garden hidden at the rear.
For an afternoon tea with a twist, Bullivant of York on Blake Street is the place to go. As well as the traditional cream tea and a decent array of sandwiches and light lunches, it provides a ‘chocolate lover's cream tea’. Get ready to have your sweet tooth well and truly satisfied with a large hot chocolate, a huge chocolate chip scone, chocolate spread and clotted cream. It may not be as palatial as Betty's, and is a little on the jaded side of chintzy, but you can't beat a selection of novelty teapots (many of which are for sale) and a bit of slapdash charm.
If you venture a little out of York toward Clifton Moor, you'll stumble across Cakes D'licious, a lovely 1940s style tearoom. It’s a safe bet for good quality sandwiches (made with fresh bread), cakes and a notable gluten-free range. Take a book, grab a corner seat and watch owner Nikki decorating cakes in the open kitchen.
And, finally, if coffee is more your thing than tea, La Cremeria Cafe is an absolute treat. Their fresh ground coffee is some of the finest to be had, although the best thing about this place is the ice cream. Owner Mark Shenton is a master of flavour combinations: try ‘Earl Grey and lemon’ (refreshing and creamy), ‘apple, peach and bramble’ (like an autumnal pie), or ‘pear and Stilton’ (one for savoury-lovers). Still not sure about the ‘brown crab meat’ flavour though...
Around the world
After a day immersing yourself in the must-see sites of York, you'll definitely be hungry. And in case you've had your fill of English heritage, there's a great range of restaurants with more international flavour.
Family-run el piano (pictured left) is Andalusian, organic, local, and totally vegan. The menu is extensive, from crispy seaweed and potato cakes to sweet and sour tofu. Try an exotic or Mediterranean taster plate to enjoy a bit of everything. And be sure to buy a jar of their homemade sauces or baking kits so you can recreate the magic at home.
Who doesn't love a good Italian? Il Paradiso del Cibo on Walmgate boasts scuffed lino, mismatched furniture and Juventus memorabilia. But, somehow, it works. The food is the focus in this establishment, and you can gorge without busting the budget. As well as the pasta and pizza staples, seafood features heavily. Try the fat, juicy sardines or oven-baked sea bream.
For tasty Thai, try The Old Siam on Micklegate (staff pictured left), which consistently gets great reviews on Tripadvisor and was awarded a certificate of excellence in 2012. Their curries taste fresh and authentic, and the noodles are juicy and succulent. Firm favourites are their Gaeng Phet red curry and garlic and pepper seabass. Their set menus are value for money and there's a decent wine list too.
In a small yard just off Fossgate, Oshibi is a hidden gem. This Korean bistro is intimate and accommodating and the staff are overwhelmingly friendly. Surrounded by Korean art, clean lines and pretty orchids, you can expect fluffy rice, crispy seaweed, octopus, mandu dumplings (pork), dubu kimchi (tofu) and the bulgogi beef bibimbap – a mouthful in both name and nature.
For out and out luxury, or a romantic treat, no place beats The Grill Room at Cedar Court Grand. The Grand is based in the former North Eastern Railway Headquarters (built in 1906), overlooking the city walls. From a la carte to afternoon tea, cocktails, wine dinners and ladies' luncheons, the various rooms within the Grand are always busy. There's something for everyone, and all food comes with a heavy dollop of elegance.
The wild mushroom ragout from the lounge menu is simple but delectable, and HQ's ‘venison with green fig, potato and fig puree’, followed by fruit caviar, is a total showstopper.
York has a rich and varied array of delis offering tasty titbits, hams, pies, cheeses and picnic-worth provisions. A city favourite is The Hairy Fig (pictured left) – self-proclaimed ‘purveyors of fine fodder.’ The Hairy Fig has a deli, a café, and its own lawn on which to enjoy the goodies you've just bought. Laid out apothecary style and in keeping with the city itself, there are quiches, cured meats, olives and speciality breads to enjoy. The pastry encasing their pork pie is buttery, crumbly and unbeatable.
Although it's technically a chain, and a 'health-focussed' one at that, Filmore and Union is the perfect place if you're on the go. Their juices (the ‘energizer’ with pineapple, ginger and spinach is particularly tasty) are cold pressed and delicious. The salads are vibrant, their open steak sandwich juicy and tender, and their range of cakes (chocolate and raspberry brownie – oh my word!) aren't diminished by being gluten free or 'skinny'.
Mannion and Co on Blake Street (pictured left) has a distinctly European feel – French sticks, Palma and Serano ham, fleshy olives, pate, rilettes and sundried tomatoes, as well as a range of bread baked in their on-site bakery. But the heart of Yorkshire shines through in their sausage rolls and patisseries. Eat in the small bistro, or take out from the patisserie (the meringues are mountainous) and imagine yourself in Paris.
For another gem outside of the city walls, take a drive to Helmsley to visit Beadlam Grange Farm. Beadlam is a proper farm shop on a working farm, run by Mark and Jenny Rooke, who pride themselves on selling local produce including meat from their farm and smoked fish from the nearby Yoadwath Mill Trout Farm.
Cheers to that
As we say in Yorkshire, 'sup up'! And there are plenty of great places to do just that.
The first port of call for many is Harkers, situated in Saint Helen's Square within a short stroll of Coney Street, Lendal and Stonegate. The city's historic Roman Praetorian Gate stood across where Harkers is now, and part of its structure is still exposed in the basement of the pub. This distinctive building marries tradition with an eclectic range of good wines and award-winning ales, which change seasonally. Tasting notes are provided on request. Pull up a pew and try something new, from a cherry pale to a pithy blonde.
The Blind Swine is now unrecognisable from its rock ‘n’ roll, gig-hosting roots. You're more likely to see a poached quails egg than a heavy metal guitarist in there these days. Candle-lit and sophisticated, this is a pub for foodies and drinkers alike. The tasting menu is interspersed with cocktail and beer selections. The mint julep is served in a tin can, the Whitby crab is matched with a botanical, gin-based cocktail, and the pine and pear soufflé comes with coffee. There's some food-theatre going on here which might put some people off, but as an atmospheric, gourmet boozer you can't beat it.
After a ladies night out? Look no further than the Vudu Lounge on Swinegate. With over 150 cocktails to offer, and a great range of champagnes, Vudu attracts the 'after-work' brigade and the ‘ladies what lunch’. It's sometimes hard to find a seat, but if you're happy to prop up the bar with a cosmo or a French martini, you won't be disappointed. A great shopping pit-stop.
Are you a York local like Sophie? Have you any other foodie pit-stops to recommend? We can’t possibly cover everywhere, so please don’t be shy with your suggestions.
Main York image attributed to Lisa Jarvis
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