(ad – pr) York has some pretty spectacular restaurants, with premises inhabiting noted buildings such as The Assembly Rooms and the former girls’ school on Low Petergate – now occupied La Vechhia Scuola – notably repurposing grand buildings for hospitality. This concept has been taken to an extreme now with the opening earlier this year of Andrew Pern’s newest endeavour, York Minster Refectory. This building, opposite the edifice from which it derives its name, was previously the Minster School and as such not something to which I’d previously paid much attention. I popped by for canapés at the launch a while back and realised what a spectacular building it is though, with an expansive frontage that had always passed me by. It goes without saying that I’ve been keeping an eye on the menu so when the team got in touch to suggest I give their Christmas offering a whirl, I didn’t hesitate.
The York Minster Refectory “23 Days of Christmas” offer throws three courses at you for £29 which is fabulous value, even more so in the context of the relative cost of the a la carte menu. The dishes on offer hit all the seasonal notes one would hope for at this time of year across a brace each of starters, mains and desserts. The building itself is littered with pointers toward the musical nature of the school previously resident here, such as sheet music and instruments, but your arrival is dominated by the beautiful frontage of the building and its gardens. Do take a beat to turn and look back at the Minster across the gardens which is yet another beautiful view of York’s most famous building.
Of course I habitually review menus well in advance of meals but with two options per course and two people dining, I was quick to impose my decisions on my companion for the evening to make sure we sampled each option. First up were cauliflower cheese soup and pine poached salmon fishcake served with a soft egg and buttery sauce with chestnut. The egg had enough rigidity left to make it to the table and quickly coated the fishcake, blending with the buttery sauce and gentle pine note in the fish for a satisfying and gently seasonal dish. Cauliflower cheese is something I’d welcome at pretty much any meal and it made for an intriguing starter given breadth by sweet sultanas and crisply almonds which gave well judged contrast to the earthy and cheesy notes.
Mains came down to a choice between the York Minster Refectory take on a turkey dinner, or bubble and squeak with mulled poached pear, roasted fig and Yorkshire Blue salad. This is the point at which I fall down slightly and have to confess to not being a fan of dried or poached fruit, which can make me look rather a spoilsport at this time of year. I can confirm though that the bubble and squeak cake was a well executed take on this much under-utilised dish and my companion reported strong feedback on the pear and fig. The turkey breast was perfectly tender and generously portioned with a few of my preferred Christmas dishes such as a meaty pig in blanket, sprouts and roasties with a strongly thyme accented jus. Dessert showed me up again but Christmas pudding received a warm welcome on the other side of the table while I enjoyed picking the marzipan off my fruit cake and nibbling a lovely bit of Fountains Gold Cheddar.
There’re many, many worthwhile options competing for the Christmas market and I have to admit it was a surprise to see York Minster Refectory offering a comfortingly traditional menu at such an accessible price. I need to get back and explore the full range of the menu here but this is a very decent introduction which certainly deserves a place on your Christmas party shortlist.