As usual it was a slow start to the year as we left the festive season behind and started looking forward to the new year. My first meal out of the New Year was lunch at Izakaya, where I’d enjoyed the tasting menu so much previously. Next up I made my way to eat with the team at Yahala Mataam, an important social enterprise that contributes hugely to York. Sunday lunch at Hotel du Vin was a treat while a highlight of the month was a first trip to 22 Yards wine bar which features top notch food to go with amazing views of the Minster.
The second month of the year kicked off with the launch of the York Ice Trail at Middleton’s Hotel, a fantastic event and a beautiful location. February also saw the publication of the Lonely Planet Experience England guide which features yours truly as the local voice of York! Speaking as someone who doesn’t tend to take enough credit, it was a very proud moment. A bitter-sweet memory is the wine tasting I went to at The Wright Place which has subsequently closed after an all-too-brief life on Walmgate. York Minster was memorably lit with animations that attracted huge crowds, an event that we preceded with a meal at Pho, always reliable for great value and service. Valentines Day was a rather sombre affair as it marked the end of our beloved Milly, a 17 year old cat who is still greatly missed. Rather more positively Remedy opened their doors on Fossgate with a zero waste policy and a bunch of delightful plant-based dishes. After putting on a 5th birthday party at the local church hall, we also enjoyed a birthday trip to The Deep, a breathtaking place to visit. I marked the end of the month catching up with Ellen from Leeds Food Tours who was helping me plan for later in the year…
First up in March was C&S Sourdough moving to Tower street having outgrown their (slightly more convenient for me) home on Fossgate, still the expanded range and stock makes up for the minor inconvenience. Restaurant week has become a fixture of the York calendar now and the highlight this time round was The Star Inn the City who were knocking out three courses for just £26 including a delicious confit chicken leg and sherried parsnip veloute. The Pearly Cow opened its doors on Bootham and had a little fun by sending out kits for prospective guests to prepare their signature dish at home, I was pretty pleased with how mine turned out! A fish and chip cruise on the Ouse was a child friendly and fun evening but a rather more mature event was held at Gray’s Court who hosted a caviar tasting with Petrossian, spectacular and delicious. My first awards judging of the year was with Azet’s for their food entrepreneur awards which was a great warm up for the first tranche of Great Taste Awards judging with the Guild of Fine Food. This is a highlight of the year and an enormous honour to be involved with, even more so as this year I stepped up as a coordinating judge to take responsibility for capturing and articulating judge feedback to go to producers. The anchovies in smoked anchovy butter that I was lucky enough to judge still stick in my memory! Amongst other meals, Fleur from Bobby Geetha in Leeds and The Refectory at The Principal stuck in the mind as did an event in Selby Abbey showcasing producers from the locality.
This was the first Easter in a few years that I’ve not been needed to work during York Chocolate Festival, after getting things organised in the run up to it, so I took advantage of a bit of down time to chill out….at the Chocolate Festival obviously. The first notable engagement of the month was at Hotel du Vin to try their a la carte menu which featured a particularly well put together sole dish before I trekked North to Eyemouth in The Borders for a family break. Then I had to hot foot it back to London for more Great Taste judging with the Guild of Fine Food. Yorkshire Handmade Pies made an appearance in my house and were as spectacularly good as their reputation would suggest then I was treated to a contrast at Red Chilli over on Kimberlow Hill who have a remarkably good value lunch deal. It was also the awards ceremony for the Azet’s Food & Drink awards while I was also treated to a lovely meal at Chez Mal. I also got my first look at the new Minster Refectory after its spectacular transformation.
“Alright mate, just done a test and it turns out that cold I had last night wasn’t just a cold”…Just the message you want to kick off a new month. Also just the backdrop you want to enforced jogging at your daughter’s “Star Wars Marathon day”, that was a breathless experience. Much more restorative was a selection of Yorkshire Wolds Apple juice, startlingly high quality products deserving all of their many awards. Truly the high point of the month, and quite possibly the year, was meeting our new kittens after we found the house feeling empty without Milly. It felt like a long wait for Bean and Tansy to be ready to come to our home after that! Alessandro Venturi is one of the best Italian chefs in York so I make a point of attending as many of his pop-ups as I can and this month’s edition at The Fossgate Social didn’t disappoint. The Grand Cookery School is always up for something new and this month it was the launch of their new Weber BBQ masterclasses, a great excuse to get stuck into some steaks. Yorkshire Heart knock out some cracking beers these days as well as offering events to try them out, their Friday night brewery tour and sampling sessions are a great value way to get stuck in to some with dinner thrown in for good measure. The Elm Bank Hotel on The Mount is a hugely under appreciated building in York so I took great pleasure in swinging by for a meal in its breath-taking Art Nouveau interior, a great contrast to the modern surrounds at Sora which was next on the agenda. Afternoon tea at The Principal Hotel, Breakfast at Victor J’s and a visit to Pairings rounded out the meals for the month along with a picnic in the incomparable grounds of Castle Howard. Musical entertainment came from Dr Syntax while I also found myself pressed into covering decaf espresso judging… I can confirm 30 decaf espressos in an afternoon is too many.
June kicked off with Fork Junior’s first trip to London, which duly blew her mind with underground trains to such an extent that she was sick on the platform. Still, it was great to visit the Natural History Museum for the first time since childhood and we snuck in a detour to Borough Market too for a successful day all round. Collecting Bean and Tansy to bring them to their permanent home produced a look of delight in the child that will remain with me forever, as will the stench of their attempts at litter training. I’m a big fan of Pho, and not just because I have a VIP card, so the offer to check out their outdoor space was gratefully accepted before I moved on to dinner at The Chopping Block for some hearty French classics. The Motorist cafe ticks a lot of boxes for me given my love of motorsport and cars, the food at restaurant “The Arnage” though makes it a worthy destination in its own right. Away from the food scene, Frankie Boyle put on a great set at The Grand Opera House and Little Fork enjoyed her first visit to Clip & Climb greatly, ascending with confidence and elan. The inaugural Street Weekend also hit Melbourne raceway – if you’ve any interest in noisy cars this is definitely one for your diary this year. The Judges Lodging has long been a landmark building in York and now in 1711 it has the food offering to match that status thanks to chef Marlon Sanchez who’s knocking out well thought through and extravagant dishes. Clucking Oinks have been an asset to York as well as friends of mine since opening in Spark half a decade ago and they looked right at home straight away in their permanent spot on Castlegate, the larger kitchen allowing a broader menu. Another new offering was found on Leeman Road where Pastelle events started offering supper club style events, the standard and generosity of which made it a highlight of 2023 for me. A visit to Skosh is always exceptional and this month’s edition was no exception to that trend, faultless execution of well-conceived dishes as always. Perhaps the most significant part of the month though was running the first trial of the York on a Fork food tour! I’d had this in mind for a little while so to bring it to reality and toward being a viable commercial offering was a uniquely rewarding milestone.
I’m the first to admit that my taste in music runs to the niche so a trip to see the quite remarkable Petrol Hoers which ended with an unexpected lift home in an air-bagged 1950’s rat-look pick-up was about as remarkable a confluence of my tastes as is possible, though I concede of little interest to much of my social circle. Having started looking at the mechanics of running tours, I tagged along with Mad Alice for her Bloody Tour of York, something I would thoroughly encourage you to book on for a great mix of theatre and history. I took a trip to Sheffield with old friends for a couple of nights that yielded some cracking pubs and a trip to Cutlery Works for a taste of Joro spin-off Konjo that should be on your list if you’re in the area. Another enormous privilege and responsibility came in the form of another day with The Great Taste Awards judging 3-star products in anticipation of the Golden Fork Awards – I’m still thinking about the smoked anchovies in smoked butter that cropped up again! The Feversham Arms is always worth a trip to Helmsley so I leapt on the opportunity to see chef Jon in action demonstrating there before enjoying lunch. The final indulgence of the month was for my birthday, checking out the uniquely good value Six by Nico over in Leeds.
August started with a faintly ludicrous double header that led to me eating at both Pignut in Helmsley and Myse in Hovingham in a single day, setting a high bar for the rest of the month to follow! Our first trip to the Wonderlab at the National Railway Museum was immediately a hit with Little Fork and has led to multiple repeat visits, definitely one to have on the list for kids. Deep fried lasagne was always going to pique my interest so when I saw it in the window of Biga+ on Walmgate I was straight on the case, amazing value and totally unique. Jimmy Mack’s Street Kitchen pitched up at Brew York’s Handley Tap, giving me a perfect opportunity to quality check them before the following month’s York Food Festival… spoiler, it’s amazing. Outside of food, I led a team down to Nottingham for a Bar Billiards tournament which we won on the final shot of the event, taking home the world’s smallest trophy for our efforts. One of my favourite street foods, which is hugely underrepresented in this country, is Currywurst and it needs just the right sauce…which was delivered to me all the way from Germany by a very kind friend. A return visit to Pastelle Supper Club reinforced my view that it’s one of the best value places to eat in York right now. Following that it was my annual trip to Bilsdale Country Show to judge the food and produce categories, something that my digestion is glad they are to further subdivide next year. Diversity in brunches is something we lack in York and Rosa’s Thai have tackled this head on with a Thai brunch menu, the sweetcorn patty is a treat…who wouldn’t want spice for breakfast!
With preparation for York Food Festival ramping up, I was very happy to get away at the beginning of the month for a few days to Keswick, where I was long overdue a visit. The Pencil Museum is surprisingly comprehensive and Castlerigg stone circle magical, though we didn’t get up to too much in the way of food and drink. The Whippet has long been at the front of the York meat scene but the step of taking their beef dry aging in house has really pushed things to another level. The 80 day dry-aged sirloin that they treated me to was quite something, a real event of a meal. I then rushed down to London to check out the Golden Fork Awards, which features tasting of the very best Great Taste Awards entrants from the 14,000 or so entries they receive. Those anchovies featured again! After stopping by Dishoom for breakfast on my way back to Yorkshire it was time to get things moving for the Food Festival. This year we delivered around a thousand free workshop places for KS2 schoolchildren at multiple locations in the centre of the city as well as trails, demonstrations, live music and free spaces for community groups to use. We were also celebrating the historic twinning of York and Dijon, both of whose civic parties I took on a tour of the event as well as joining at an exceptional meal at The Grand. I can’t wait to see what this year brings!
Most people I meet seem convinced that by virtue of my broad food tastes my daughter must be also similarly inclined, however that is far from the truth. So when she started tucking into the broth at Pho in October I was ecstatic as it’s such a reliable and good value place to eat. Another ambition was fulfilled when I took her to see a Jet Dragster for the first time and she was excited rather than terrified at being in such close proximity to an afterburner. On the foodie front it was restaurant week again so I made my way around The Ivy, 22 Yards and Clucking Oinks to take advantage of their fantastic offers. Ippuku Tea House is one of the best value and consistently lovely places to eat in the city and it was a relief to see Forage back up and running after a brief closure brought on by a change of ownership. Tasca Frango have been banging out peerless peri-peri chicken since their Spark days and my first visit to their new bricks and mortar home on Kings Square certainly didn’t disappoint with plenty of great stuff to order alongside that chicken. Truth be told the Pickering Disco Steam train runs more to the rest of the family’s taste in music than mine, but I managed to feign enough enjoyment at the disco music to not ruin anyone else’s day. At the end of the month we made our way over to William’s Den for Halloween and were blown away by how well run and well thought out every element of the attraction was, definitely one that merits repeat visits.
With winter really taking hold, one of the first stops this month was Sora, the sky-bar above Malmaison, to check out their winter specials. The food here matches the views with some delicate pieces of sushi on offer. Next up, the Twilight Walls walk took in the section from Bootham to Monk bar with sensitively judged illuminations – make sure to keep an eye out for this next year. Batanga had opened a few months previously in Franklin’s Yard and sadly plans for them to be involved in the Food Festival didn’t come to anything, still my first visit to eat in the restaurant was great value. One of the most unique meals of the year came, oddly enough, from LNER who had taken over The Cookery School at The Grand to celebrate their centenary with a menu reflecting the past, present and future of on board catering. A truly original offering and all they asked for was a generous donation to a food bank. Ripon isn’t somewhere I’ve spent much time but Adam Jackson taking over the kitchen at The Old Deanery was more than enough inducement. This early preview was impressive enough, with the tasting menu and stunning breakfast both being beyond reproach, and the future surely holds great things. Christmas at Castle Howard followed a Neverland theme this year, raising the bar yet again with the addition of unique AV elements. The Delifresh Young Chef competition continues to gain in stature every year, with a whole range of producers sampling this year and high profile chefs in attendance including Gareth Ward from Ynyshire. I didn’t get enough in the way of traditional Christmas dinner this year but The Minster Refectory came some way to filling that gap with their neatly realised version, including cauliflower cheese soup to start.
The festive period saw more tour bookings come in and positive Tripadvisor reviews that were really rewarding to read. Clucking Oinks launched their new menu in their Castlegate premises, belatedly reintroducing the “Oink” to their menu as well as a show-stopping “Carbonara Hash Brown”. Celebrations took place with my Bar Billiards team at the Garden of India just across the road from our home venue, The Phoenix Inn. We returned to William’s Den for their Christmas show which was just as flawless as the Halloween experience. This place really knows how to cater for kids – the food is spot on too! Rather less rewarding was a supermarket’s “Pigs in Blankets” ice cream I picked up on a whim which should have been resisted though thankfully that was the only Christmas catering mis-step with Swaledale Butchers supplying a wonderful porchetta for the Christmas centrepiece, Food Circle supplying the veg and Courtyard Dairy on cheese duty.
So what does 2024 hold? Well more of the same in general. I’m working on York Chocolate Festival at the moment, next month I’m back with the Guild of Fine Food which will dovetail with York Food Festival planning before that takes over in the summer. Operating food tours of York will carry on gaining momentum with different tours in the pipeline as well as bespoke and corporate bookings. May will see me pass ten years of York on a Fork so I should have a think about how best to mark that. I can’t quite believe how fortunate I’ve been to be able to find an audience for this and the opportunities it’s afforded me! Happy New Year everyone.