This week we’re moving house. Moving town to be precise. And while the move from our old home in York to our new one in Leeds is pretty insignificant in terms of distance (there’s barely 25 miles between our old house and new), psychologically the move from the city we’ve made our home for over a decade is a much bigger one. Both moving to York at the age of 18, it’s the only city that either of us have ever lived in as adults and, as a result, we’ve come to know it very well.
What that means is that we can be pretty confident that when it comes to knowing where to eat in York, we know what we’re talking about. So, as a farewell to our home and for the benefit of anybody who doesn’t know the city as well as we do – here is a York resident’s guide to the best places to dine in the historic Capital of the North
The layout and geography of York make it easy to find good food. The historic city centre is still surrounded by the mediaeval wall and the main streets leading in from the four main entrances to the city (Walmgate, Goodramgate, Petergate and Mickelgate) all have plenty of places to eat and drink (although the last is perhaps better known as a student drinking area). In particular, Walmgate, where we used to live, and Fossgate, the street it becomes when it crosses the River Foss, are the best place in town to go for food.
Il Paradiso del Cibo, Walmgate, is a York institution. Quite cheap and cheerful in appearance, it nevertheless produces much the best Italian food in town. Simple classic pasta and pizza and very reasonable prices are enough to mean that this little gem is always full, so make sure to book. That it’s usually full of Italian waiters from other restaurants watching the football on a massive TV gives it the feel of really being in Italy, while garrulous Sardinian owner Paolo is often on hand to offer a digestif of limoncello. At the other end of the spectrum, La Vecchia Scuola on Low Petergate is housed in a Georgian school building and looks impressive on the outside. The food, however, is distinctly average and the restaurant better known locally for health code violations. L’Antica Locanda on York’s most famous street The Shambles offers a good quality menu with lots of choice in a pleasing setting, but with the accompanied tourist mark up in price.
With restaurants in both York and Leeds, tapas bar Ambiente is definitely one we’ll be following from our old home to our new. The original York restaurant is in a Georgian building just inside the city walls on Goodramgate, although a second site has recently opened on Fossgate. The original is a nicer setting, but both offer the same array of flavoursome Spanish classics with a bit of a Yorkshire twist (locally grown Pimientos de Padron are here Pimientos de Wiggington). The morcilla (essentially a black pudding scotch egg) combines the best of Spanish style and Yorkshire ingredients. For vegetarians, El Piano on Grape Lane, a vegan restaurant offering Mediterranean and Middle Eastern tapas and mezze, has long been an established favourite.
While York might not be as well known for Indian food as West Yorkshire, you’ll still be spoiled for choice here. Old favourite Bengal Brasserie on Goodramgate (with another restaurant out of town in Poppleton) is starting to look a little tired and is not as popular as it once was, but still does a reliable take on classics like bhunas and korais, The more upmarket Mumbai Lounge, Fossgate, is a little more expensive than most Indians, but has established itself as the best in York over recent years. For the rest of Asia, York has a handful of reasonable Thai and Chinese places, Khao San Road on Walmgate and Red Chilli on George Hudson Street are the best examples respectively, and trendy cocktail bar Evil Eye, Stonegate, does a decent pan-Asian menu with enormous portions. But there is perhaps not the range of choice available here as there would be in a larger city. Unfortunately, we are leaving town before having the chance to visit miniscule Korean eaterie Oshibi on Fossgate, but we have heard very positive things about it.
Bistros and Brasseries
York has no shortage of this kind of establishment, serving good quality traditional Franco-English bistro food, reasonably priced and with a seasonal menu that takes advantage of the huge array of quality ingredients available in Yorkshire. Our favourite has always been Melton’s Too on Walmgate (reviewed here). Recently rebranded as Walmgate Ale House, the redesign is more about the decor than the menu, which remains reliably as good as ever (sister restaurant Melton’s is also good for a more fine dining experience). The Go Down on Clifford Street is also nice, although they haven’t really got over their serving an excess of potatoes problem and is perhaps overshadowed by the more popular Rustique a few doors down on Castlegate. The Star Inn the City, Museum Street has impressively presented and pretty good tasting food, but a misdirected quirkiness in places. If all you want is humble but well cooked meat and chips, however, you can’t go wrong with the grilled meats on offer at simple Argentinian steakhouse El Gaucho, Walmgate, home of York’s best steak.
Traditionally it was said that York had a pub for every day of the year. While that may no longer be true, you won’t go more than a few yards in the city centre without finding a place for a pint and some decent food. At the upper end of the scale you have the fancier gastropub likes of The Guy Fawkes Inn on High Petergate, Claiming (erroneously) to be the birthplace of the failed gunpowder plotter, ignore the silly subheadings of the menu (starters are labelled “light the fuse”) and enjoy the likes of an excellent pork cooked five ways in a gas-lit dining room. For heartier fare, The House of Trembling Madness on Stonegate offers an array of ales and excellent traditional pub grub of the pie and mash variety. Located in a tiny ramshackle loft space with exposed beams and an excess of taxidermy, the food seems to be cooked on a hotplate behind the bar, so can be a bit of a wait if there’s a big group of you. It’s worth it, though.
While the historic city is unsurprisingly full of traditional pubs and traditional pub food, there are increasingly many modern(ish) bars with good food. The Hop, Fossgate, is popular, but spacious, with a good range of beers and regular live music. It offers pizzas from a wood fired oven in an open kitchen. Just up the street, the recently opened Sutlers occupies the space of the former Army Surplus store and appears to have used that as an excuse to serve food in ration tins (at distinctly non-austerity prices, however!), It does offer excellent roast potatoes, though.
York isn’t just pubs and bars, though. There’s plenty of choice too if you want a mug of something warming and a slice of cake. Betty’s on St. Helen’s Square is York’s best known tea room and something of a tourist trap as a result. If you can stand the queues it’s fine, but no better than plenty of other options. Coffee Culture on Goodramgate is probably the standout. Housed in a narrow building with stairs as steep as ladders, you get a selection of quality coffees as well as cakes and brownies and friendly service. York’s chocolate heritage, meanwhile, is catered for at York Cocoa House, Blake Street. Offering savoury and sweet snacks from mole to ganache, along with an array of hot chocolates, their cocoa filled take on afternoon tea is a pleasure, albeit a very filling one.
So, that’s our thoughts and recommendations on dining in York. If anyone has any similar suggestions for Leeds, just let us know.