Have you ever had a day of cake breaks? That is, a day’s leisurely stroll with no particular purpose, involving regular sitting downs with a cup of tea and a cake. This is the kind of day York was built for, it just took an out-of-towner to take the idea from vacant vice to an informational institution.
Tours in a Dish is the brainchild of French-Canadian archaeologist Camille Boulais-Pretty: a visitor to York whose instant love for the city ensured that she packed the North American custom of food tours in her suitcase and established the Afternoon Tea Tour. Camille combines the universal appeal of tea with cultural context, and it isn’t all about white tablecloths and silverware. We saw York’s rich history in buildings, each with their own biography, their own markers of the city’s past, and their own interpretation of afternoon tea.
We met in Exhibition Square before sauntering to Love Cheese on Gillygate where we were taught how to pair tea with cheese – not traditional bedfellows. As with beer and cheese pairings, the key is to pair delicately flavoured teas with their fromage counterparts. The loose leaf tea was provided by Hebden Tea Company on the Shambles and the cheeses we tasted were high quality giving a fantastic opportunity to pick a new favourite. Mine was the Ribblesdale (a hard goats cheese), where I could never be sure about the flavour, so I kept nibbling away until the block disappeared.
This was also a really good opportunity to establish our taste in teas as the five we chose from contrasted colour, scent, origin and palate – very much in the style of a wine tasting night. From that point, the rest of the day’s tea tasting was more well-informed.
From Love Cheese we pilgrimaged to the Shambles, stopping briefly for a history moment outside the Hebden Tea Company before making our way into The Flax & Twine Café. A vintage gift and homeware shop operates on the ground floor, while upstairs has a sweet dining area. We shared cream tea with scones handmade that day by Flax & Twine manager, Maureen.
After having our fill of scones, we then walk to the Shambles Market food court where we stop by Los Moros, which serves Algerian and North African delicacies. Tea wasn’t available at the time, so we just enjoyed the delicious sweet almond cakes with some more historical insight into the Shambles market.
Our next stop was Whittard of Chelsea on Parliament Street, to which, I confess, this was my first visit. I had dismissed it as a chain of premium-priced tea and coffee, choosing to support local businesses instead. However, I was impressed by the staff’s knowledge of flavour blends and departed with a shopping bag.
From Whittard, we did our longest walk of the day to the Principal Hotel, where we enjoyed afternoon tea in The Garden Room. We had really lucked out as Crème de la Crème winner Mark Tilling happened to be working a shift in the kitchen that day while promoting his new book. Foodie surprises don’t come much more pleasant than that!
The Afternoon Tea Tour was peppered with interesting historical insight. As a lifelong Yorkie and history lover, I still learned plenty of antique anecdotes. I’d recommend this for small groups, such as civilised hen parties, baby showers or birthday treats. Visitors will appreciate the route journeying past landmarks, including the Minster, the Shambles, the Bar Walls and the railway station. York residents will revel in spending the day as a tourist. Cake break days come around all too seldom, so make a date with Camille and eat your way around York!
Check out https://www.toursinadish.com for more info.
Disclaimer: While I was invited to attend for free, all opinions remain impartial.