York’s superb pub scene is well-documented (apocryphal reports of there being 365 pubs aside) and diverse. We’ve seen some great new entrants to the scene and have many historic inns to enjoy, but what would be wonderful to see in York is that stereotypically ‘European’ cafe culture that’s so hard for us drunkard Brits to get a handle on. Newer establishments such as the Fossgate Social and Attic are making good inroads already, but now we’ve a new spot to swing past and look all metropolitan in after work on a Friday (tip – unbutton your top shirt button on the way in and stow your tie).
Veeno has launched successful branches already in Leeds and Manchester and now lands in our fair city, taking over a spot on Piccadilly that used to house an off licence. A family business importing wine from Sicily and dishing up small dishes of ‘Spuntini’, this has the potential to extend York’s horizons a touch. Big plans are in place for expansion, but for the moment let’s consider the impact on a rather more local basis.
It’s pretty clear from the smell of fresh paint that Veeno has only recently opened. I popped in on opening night and again for a complimentary evening (Disclosure – they gave me free wine, cheese and meats). Opening night was well attended and surprisingly organised after the amount of work suggested by my earlier stroll past, so we spent a happy hour deciphering the menu and tasting the wines. Calling in last night, I was able to sit down with a friend for a more detailed look over.
There’s a bit of a gap between the claim of being an Italian wine cafe and the actual offering. I was surprised there was no chianti, montepulciano or other popular Italian wines on offer until the penny dropped that everything was from the aforementioned Sicilians. Exhaustive testing of the cabernet sauvignon and mid range nero d’avolo showed quality in the reds while a test of the grillo found a good white option. Appetisers of sheep cheese and salami whet our appetites before moving onto a larger tasting platter.
Choosing the Bel Paese platter (usually £15), we were presented with a range of smoked cheese, grissini, mozzarella, cured meats, gorgonzola and bread. Curiously, the wine I spilled across this lot served to do nothing untoward to the flavours. There’s little necessary to say about the selection, good quality meats and cheeses with a few chunks of nice bread really speak for themselves. The chunks of parmingiano reggiano clung to by encouragingly viscous balsamic were a particularly encouraging combination.
A good chat with the proprietor convinced me of the owner’s passion for their product and the desire to get quality family products into the UK market was clearly apparent. It’s worth being explicit that this isn’t a place to come for a meal. Yes, you can leave without needing something further to eat, but you won’t be squeezing out of the door on the back of many courses.
A few tweaks would help to perfect the experience: table service would be nice and the lighting needs a bit of work for mood. A clearer message about the Sicilian associations wouldn’t hurt too but Veeno is a great addition to York. Nitpicking aside, decent wine at good prices along with good quality snacks. For example, a glass of wine plus a pannini comes in at under a fiver at lunchtime. Nothing to argue with there. I’ll be back.