So I thought I’d continue with the food theme today by sharing some thoughts on a few more restaurants in the northern English city of York. York is a 2 hour train journey from London’s King’s Cross station and easy to get to for a quick day trip, but train tickets can be pricey so you’d be wise to book in advance to get the cheapest deals, and be prepared to set out early and come back to London late. But my feeling is that York is actually worth far more than a days visit – there’s so much to do here that about 3 days would be my recommended minimum stay. I’ll look at hotels another time but for now, here are a few places you might want to consider for lunch!
We’ll start on Gillygate (near to Bootham Bar and a 2 minute walk from the coach park) at Cafe No. 8 (www.cafeno8.co.uk/) which has won awards in the past for their intimate environment and excellent food. The menu is humbly short but this shouldn’t put you off – they have a pretty small venue, which includes a small kitchen but what comes out of it is definitely award worthy! There are separate daytime, evening and Sunday menus, and if you head there for lunch on a warm sunny day, I’d recommend a table in the garden at the back where you sit just beneath the city walls. I went there with a friend last year for an afternoon tea with scones, which came out warm and were served with the most delicious home-made jam. There’s a lovely table in the window at the front too where I’ve previously sat for dinner, and is great to just watch the world go by from. Sandwiches at lunch time are reasonably priced at around £6 and come with various fillings, but you could also just go in for tea/coffee. It’s the kind of place you’d be likely to miss or walk past without noticing as it’s fairly narrow at the front and in a street outside the city walls, so unless you happen to be walking down Gillygate to take advantage of a street of interesting shops which are often missed, you’d need to make a point of going there to sample this great venues offerings!
Next is Cafe Concerto (www.cafeconcerto.biz) which is in High Petergate and pretty much opposite York Minster. A friend of mine had been raving about this place to me for years and I’d just never got around to trying it until a spontaneous visit this week… and I’ll definitely be going back soon! It’s another place where you could happily drop in for a tea or coffee but the dinner menu had plenty to choose from and all it sounds great. Being a great fan of pork, I went for the Roast Pork with apple & black pudding mashed potatoes, and fresh vegetables. Now when I normally read ‘fresh vegetables’ I’d expect something which was ‘previously frozen’… but these were so fresh that they tasted like they could’ve just been picked that day. The other issue was that I thought someone had missed a comma out between ‘black pudding’ and ‘mashed potatoes’ but they hadn’t!… the mash together with black pudding was delicious and worked as a great compliment to the roast pork which was perfectly done with a nice bit of crackling on top (my favourite!). What I’d been told Cafe Concerto was famous though is the Sticky Toffee Pudding and we ordered a portion to share as the main courses were so generous. It comes with whipped cream and there are a few slices but this is sticky toffee pudding with a difference as it’s made with real orange and the taste is really dominant… to the point that I wasn’t convinced that it’s a good idea to refer to it as sticky toffee pudding… but it was great nonetheless. Oh and I almost forgot the starter – Chorizo and Halloumi cheese salad (you can have this without the chorizo if you’re a veggie)… that was amazing!… huge chunks of chorizo rather than the fiddly little bits which so often get stuck between your teeth, and more importantly this was chorizo with plenty of meat in it which was pretty tender and tasted divine! So not only great food, but Cafe Concerto has really friendly staff, rustic surroundings and decor with a strong music theme running throughout, and is definitely worth a visit if your when you’re in the environs of the Minster!
Last but by no means least is the world famous Betty’s (www.bettys.co.uk). No-one can come to York without at least peering through the windows of this amazing tea-room/restaurant, but what you see on the ground floor is less than a third of what Betty’s has to offer. In fact what we always called ‘Big’ Betty’s in St Helen’s Square is complimented by Little Betty’s tea room which sits above Stonegate, so if there’s a big queue at one then you can check out the other! Both offer the same menu which is inspired by the Swiss confectioner, Frederick Belmont who travelled on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary in 1936 and loved the decor so much that he bought an old furniture show room in York and had it decorated in a similar opulent style – this is ‘Big’ Betty’s! Other than the amazing food and drink they offer (I’ll come to that!) the venue is also famous for a mirror in the basement as it used to be a meeting place for American, British, and Canadian airmen during WWII who inscribed their names in this mirror which you can now see beside the wash rooms. Waiting staff are appropriately dressed in pinafores and have intimate knowledge of all the ingredients used and they’ll even bring the cake trolley to your table so you can pick out your favourite for dessert. Whether I’ve gone for lunch or dinner I’ve more often than not picked one of the Rostis (grated potato baked with cream and cheese) and one of the specialist teas. But having an afternoon tea is also a great experience – it comes on a three tiered tray with sandwiches, scones and miniature cakes, plus your choice of tea. There’s normally a queue to get in to Betty’s (at both of the York venues) but you really mustn’t let that put you off unless you’re really that short of time as the line moves fairly quickly and the rewards are well worth the wait. Also, if you get to the front and you’re offered a table downstairs, don’t reject it in favour of a spot on the ground floor as the lower level has truly opulent surroundings and is always a pleasant surprise to anyone who’s only ever seen the ground floor. If you’re in town for a few days, it’s worth checking out Betty’s Cookery School – they’re not based in York but in Harrogate which is a short train ride from the city – as they offer amazing short courses (many for 1 day or a half day) ranging from fish to fondant fancies. But Betty’s also offer special events according to the seasons, for which they often use their beautiful Belmont room which is on their first floor and mostly only used for private functions. Betty’s has definitely become a tourist attraction in York and if you don’t have time to eat there I’d still recommend stopping by their shop (beside the restaurant) and perhaps taking home a jar of their tomato or caramelised onion relish – or in my case… both!