By no means an exhaustive list, this is a little snapshot of some of my favourite places to eat in beautiful Yorkshire, a region I often think of as the larder of England and which has inspired my cooking ever since I moved here two years ago. They're not the most expensive, most exclusive fine dining establishments, because that isn't really my kind of food; instead, they're the places I return to time and time again, craving filling, satisfying food from all over the world: Korean, Polish and Indonesian make an appearance alongside the more familiar Indian, Italian and French. York is particularly good for independent restaurants - yes, there are a lot of twee tea rooms and greasy fish & chip shops out there, and the ubiquitous chain Italian restaurants sadly still remain, their presence increasing in direct correlation with your proximity to York Minster, but there is also exciting, great value food to be had from lovely little places that put time and care into their cooking. York seems particularly enamoured of the 'sharing board' trend lately: it's rare that a restaurant doesn't offer a platter of meat and dairy-based treats designed to be slathered in pickle and eaten alongside hunks of fresh bread. I approve of this wholeheartedly.
Plus, if there's one place you can justify eating a gigantic meal under the pretence of 'walking it off' later, it's Yorkshire.
Le Bistrot Pierre, Harrogate, serve up hearty French food in a lovely location – there’s a heated terrace for the summer months, while in winter the restaurant is cosy and buzzing, intimate enough for a date but also wonderful for meals with friends. The attention to detail here is excellent: food is locally sourced where possible, but there is always emphasis on the best ingredients. Order a little bowl of mini chorizo roasted in honey while you peruse the menu; this might be the best thing you ever eat and you may well decide to just order another six bowls instead of lunch. Rustic starters (chicken liver terrine with pear chutney, whole baked garlic or St Marcellin cheese with sourdough bread) come served on elegant wooden boards with fresh baguette and salted butter, mussels (I love the unusual bacon and Roquefort version) arrive at your table in a little tureen demanding to be opened and the aroma inhaled, and the main courses are served with little individual pans of vegetable accompaniments (the potato dauphinoise is the best I’ve ever tasted). You’ll find classic French dishes given an individual twist: serving a rich cassoulet with a herb-crusted slow-cooked lamb shoulder, for example (my favourite dish on the menu), or braised pork with mustard lentils, its crackling cooked separately for maximum crunch, or a baked pasta with four different cheeses and a little truffle to deliver the ultimate dairy hit. The steak frites is, as you'd expect, excellent, using the finest aged Aberdeen Angus beef and served simply with a delicious, light clarified butter. I love the tarte flambée, an Alsatian dish that conjures up memories of ski holidays: melting pastry, light and crispy, smothered with cheese and various toppings – the crème fraiche and bacon version is definitely the best, although the mushroom and gruyère version is also fabulous. You need to save room for dessert, though, because the honey cake with ginger ice cream - a lighter, more deeply flavoursome version of a sticky toffee pudding - is gloriously memorable (though there is a very good crème brulée for purists). Desserts are also beautifully presented and feature delicious flavour combinations, like the lemon tart with blackcurrant sorbet. I’m not normally a big fan of French food, finding it too heavy and cloying, but I’ve been back here several times and they always get the balance just right. It’s also excellent value for money, and they usually offer a range of set menus as well as a ‘Soirée gastronomique’ every few Sundays which involves a six-course (yes, I know...don't eat lunch) meal designed to introduce a variety of French flavours.
The Sportman’s Arms, Wath, is your ultimate country gastropub. There’s a roaring fire in winter, the walls are decorated with shooting and hunting memorabilia, and they serve generously portioned sophisticated food, ranging from a hearty Yorkshire rarebit or chicken and mango sandwich to a roast pheasant or sausages and mash. The desserts are big, sticky and filling – I love their syrupy ginger pudding and ice cream. This is somewhere you’ll want to linger after a long country walk.
The Yorke Arms, Ramsgill, is a Michelin-starred restaurant and hotel in the gorgeous Yorkshire Dales. It’s a picturesque building and somewhere to treat yourself with beautiful food – their set lunch menu is great value if you can’t afford the extravagance of dinner. They often serve local game from the area in season (partridge boudin, for example) and everything is presented with wonderful attention to detail. I loved their chocolate dessert, featuring the ingredient in every imaginable manifestation and presentation. If you want to combine fine dining with sweeping countryside vistas, and you’re looking for a bit of a treat, definitely go here. It’s not cheap, but it is good value considering the quality of the food and service. I wrote in detail about my first meal at the Yorke Arms here.
The Craven Arms, Appletreewick, is the country pub you always dream of stumbling across, and rarely do. Nestled in a gorgeous corner of the Yorkshire dales near Skipton (a short drive from Bolton Abbey, which is definitely worth a visit for the wonderful walking and dramatic ruins), the pub looks out onto sweeping moors and hills and is worth a visit for the drive alone. It’s beautiful in summer, when you can go walking in the surrounding countryside, but I think it’s at its best in winter, when the fire is roaring and its ramshackle wooden beams and quirky décor (including various hunting paraphernalia, items found by local metal detectors and a jar of mobile phones suspended in water, with the label 'Phones found being used in this pub') make it a perfect place to snuggle down and treat yourself to some of the best pub food I’ve ever eaten. The menu is short but enticing, and changes daily. It’s written on a blackboard beside the bar (you can see it online every day, as they have a webcam pointing at it!), and is full of gastropub classics (gammon and pineapple, fish and chips, steak and ale pie) combined with more interesting, seasonal fare: roast grouse; roast partridge with butternut squash and cider sauce; seared rabbit loin with chorizo and pearl barley stew; venison steak with potato dauphinoise; pumpkin ravioli with local goat’s cheese. Everything is beautifully presented and served with care and attention to detail. This being Yorkshire, the pies come with proper shortcrust pastry and incredible gravy and chips – the rabbit and chorizo pie, when it’s on the menu, is something you should not miss under any circumstances. The starters are elegant and refined – think delicate goat’s cheese fritters with pickled beetroot slices and micro leaves, or gin-cured gravadlax. Also unmissable is the sticky toffee pudding, which comes with toffee ice cream, and they do a fine baked white chocolate cheesecake with passionfruit, too. I’ve never had a bad meal here, and I go as regularly as I can – it’s by far my favourite pub in the UK. Highly, heartily recommended – every visit there is an absolute treat.
Veeno is a trendy, minimalist Italian wine bar that brings the culture of aperitivi (snacks with drinks) to the UK. The emphasis is on the wine, all produced by the Sicilian owners’ vineyard, with a large variety and various recommendations (‘our smoothest’, ‘the elegant’, ‘experts only’) to suit most palates, and a range of Italian cocktails like the classic negroni or aperol spritz. With your drinks you can sample a variety of cured meats and cheeses: mortadella al tartufo and a ball of creamy burrata, for example, or bresaola and a slice of scamorza affumicata, or tuna and olive oil on toast accompanied by an orange, walnut and Parmigiano salad. You can try a range of these as part of a huge and excellent value sharing platter, groaning under the weight of Italian treasures from various regions, all carefully sourced and designed to complement the wines. My favourite menu item, though, are the piadine, stuffed flatbreads from Emilia Romagna: try the sausage pâté and gorgonzola variety, or the roasted vegetable and scamorza, both oozing with luscious melted cheese and the perfect partner for a glass of crisp prosecco (they offer three types; I love the 'superior'). There are also sweet bites, like tiramisu or affogato, and a range of dessert wines to accompany these (I like the Tagos, which is like drinking ripe apricots). They offer excellent value wine tastings featuring six wines, accompanied by spuntini (snacks) to suit each wine. The casual, laid-back atmosphere and attention to detail make this a lovely venue for relaxed drinks in the evening, particularly for those looking to try something a bit different and for whom emphasis is on the quality of the wines.
Brew & Brownie is a very trendy little café, all wood tables, retro cushions, Beatles memorabilia and bare lightbulbs. They make brilliant coffee and also offer a fabulous variety of baked goods that changes frequently: the sticky toffee apple cake, fruit scones and amaretti brownie are all excellent. Their all-day breakfast will provide you with huge plates of pancakes and syrup, or if you want something a bit more savoury they do big ‘Yorkshire platters’ for lunch, served on lavish wooden boards with selections of meats, cheeses, pies, pickles and bread. The sandwiches are huge and delicious, the soups served with fresh bread and delicious salted butter, and all very good value for money. It’s simple, but done very well indeed.
Quinii’s markets itself as an ‘Asian fusion’ restaurant, which normally makes me run a mile, but excuse the term this once. Here you’ll find generous portions of the kind of sweet-sticky-spice-rich south east Asian curries that make you want an extra bowl of rice to soak up the luscious sauce. The chicken ‘Malaysian wedding curry’ is heady with pandan, cinnamon and anise, while the Indonesian dark soy beef is like a rendang on steroids, dark and unctuous and packed with flavour from curry leaves, cinnamon, soy and Malaysian spices. The Nyonya lime curry is light and fresh, zingy with lemongrass and turmeric while the vegetarian pineapple and aubergine curry with palm sugar is probably the best of the lot, playing deliciously with the line between main course and dessert with its rich, creamy, sweet sauce. I also love the crispy squid starter, and the fact that they serve roti canai, a buttery, flaky and ridiculously moreish flatbread that is rather like a Malaysian croissant and which I never thought I’d eat outside Malaysia. Desserts (toasted coconut ice cream, pineapple fritters, pandan custard cake) are also excellent, but you might not have room. Try the lemongrass tea if not. [Update: Quinii's has sadly now closed. RIP delicious Asian fusion]
Little Italy is the best Italian food in York. It’s small and tucked away, the downstairs mostly given over to an excellent deli, but they have tons of Italian atmosphere and produce wonderful generous portions of hearty classics. The pasta is obviously very good (I love the salmon and prawn ravioli, and the seafood spaghetti comes with glorious gigantic shellfish), but the real highlight are the meat and fish main courses, like the beautiful roast lamb with butternut squash and spinach, or the melt-in-the-mouth steak, or the stuffed chicken breast with rosella ham and mozzarella. Everything is beautifully and elaborately presented, but remains hearty and satisfying and, above all, generously portioned. Desserts are beautiful, so try and save room – I love the apple tart and the chocolate ice cream.
Barbakan is somewhere to go if you’re very hungry, and love meat. They serve up big portions of warming, hearty Polish fare: think mixed meat ‘hunter’s stew’ in a bread bowl, or goulash with a potato pancake, or roast duck with dumplings, beetroot and apple. There are good vegetarian options too, but this is primarily a carnivore’s mecca. I return again and again for the pierogi: crispy on the outside, tender-in-the-middle dumplings stuffed with either slow braised beef (these are the best), cheese and potato or curried pumpkin, and served with bacon and sour cream. They always have a glorious array of cakes on the counter, though I rarely have room, but the poppy seed cake is unusual and one to try. Above all, it’s great value for money and the atmosphere is always excellent, due to its tiny dining room and friendly staff.
Krakatoa is tucked away off one of York’s less salubrious streets (i.e. where all its stickiest clubs are concentrated), but make the pilgrimage and you’ll get an excellent variety of Indonesian food. The gado-gado salad with its thick, rich peanut dressing is one for vegetarians to seek out, while the beef curries are creamy and delicious as are those Indonesian classics, nasi goreng and mee goreng. The stuffed tofu and fried tempeh are unusual and moreish starters from the streets of Indonesia, and I’ve always wanted to try the babi rica-rica (spicy roast pork belly), which has five chillies next to it on the menu with the note ‘we sell milk’. My favourite dish is the nasi rames Krakatoa, which gives you lots of tastes of Indonesia on one plate: coconut rice, beef rendang, spicy fried tempeh, pickled cucumber, stir fried green beans, prawn crackers, chicken sate and chilli paste. For an unusual dessert, try the gooey cassava cake or banana cooked in coconut milk.
Café no. 8 offers York’s best ‘modern European’ cuisine. It’s tiny, so book a table. In summer you can sit in their lovely little garden backing onto the city walls. Brunch brings delicious kedgeree or fry-ups, while at lunch you can tuck into delicious sandwiches - I love the rare roast beef and horseradish cream cheese in a thick, fluffy flatbread – soups and cakes. They also offer a great value afternoon tea, with lovely little finger sandwiches and an array of scones, compotes and cakes. Dinner is a little more formal, with hearty roasts and fish dishes the main event: I love their trio of lamb with curried cauliflower, ras el hanout sauce and mint and apricot crème fraiche, but I’ve also had incredible steak and fish stew there too. They put a lot of thought into their vegetarian dishes which change daily. The dessert menu stays fairly constant – you must try the dark chocolate terrine (sometimes served with mango, sometimes poached pear, and cardamom ice cream), banoffee pie and cheesecake with its glorious biscuit base (I’ve had apple and blackcurrant, and gooseberry and elderflower, both of which were incredible). It’s a lovely special destination for lunch/brunch with friends, or a romantic dinner.
Oshibi is hidden off Fossgate, in a tiny venue, but go here and get cosy for wonderful home-cooked Korean food. Their bibimbap (bowls of rice with meat, egg, vegetables and hot sauce) are moreish and will leave you feeling full but healthy, and they also offer excellent seafood hotpots, dumplings, tofu dishes and fish (the salmon in a teriyaki-style sauce is divine). If you want a palate cleanser after all that spicy kimchi, try the unusual ice creams – I love the black sesame and coconut flavours.
Mumbai Lounge is the best Indian restaurant in York. It always feels smart and stylish, the service is excellent, and the presentation of all the dishes is beautiful (think carved vegetable flowers and sizzling curries bestowed on your table with a flourish). No bowls of brown stewed meat here. The food is somehow filling but light, not greasy or heavy, and I particularly love their range of fish dishes: the salmon and swordfish are full of flavour and meltingly tender. For lovers of a rich, meaty curry, try the Nimboo lamb, and if you’re starving go for the gigantic biryani, served with a gloriously rich and buttery vegetable curry. Side dishes like dahl, saag paneer and aloo gobi are fresh and flavoursome, while naan breads are thick, fluffy and buttery.
D.C.H. Restaurant at the Dean Court Hotel is excellent for refined, fine-dining food in a beautiful location. The menu is carefully thought through and the dishes are artwork on a plate, as well as comprising unusual and intriguing flavours (think foraged sea vegetables, wild tangerine root and confit radish). See my full review here.
The Chequers, Bilton-in-Ainsty. On a chilly winter night, there is no better pub than the Chequers, a short drive from the centre of York and located in a charming village. Its roaring fire, comfortable armchairs and cosy décor make it a perfect place to indulge in a hearty meal and a good glass of wine while the wind roars outside. Moreover, the pub, part of the Ainsty Group, regularly hosts fantastic food and wine pairing evenings. These are a perfect opportunity to meet new people and indulge in an evening of wonderful food, accompanied by refined and unusual wines served with the expertise of a local wine expert. It feels like a private dining club, secluded in a cosy and elegant corner of the pub, and is excellent value for the quality of food and wine on offer, at around £35 for four or five courses plus matching wines.
Ambiente, York & Leeds, has two branches in York – a smaller one on Goodramgate, and a larger, newer venue on Fossgate. I prefer the latter for the atmosphere and open kitchen. This is tapas that branches out from the tried-and-tested paella and chorizo formula (although it does both of these very well – the caramelized chorizo and potato tapas is not to be missed). The menu is divided into fish, meat and vegetarian tapas, plus paellas (these are cooked to order, so take around 30 minutes to arrive). It changes regularly, but always features unusual and enticing combinations: seared sea trout with a creamy sauce; slow cooked goat with pomegranate seeds and flatbread; a plantain and butternut squash curry with a creamy lemongrass sauce; deep-fried goat’s cheese with honey and beetroot crisps; glazed pigeon breast with Moroccan bulgur wheat; cod cheeks poached in a parsley and white wine sauce; green beans with pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes; mushrooms with caramelized shallots and tarragon cream. The flavours embrace Spain’s diverse culinary heritage, ranging from Middle Eastern and North African to European and South American. They also have a huge menu of different sherries, and recommend particular pairings with food. The desserts (unlikely that you’ll have room, but try!) are also imaginative and satisfying – I particularly liked the almond and orange scented sbriciolata crumble cake. This is a great place to go with groups, as they have designed special sharing menus for large parties, but also for an atmospheric lunch or dinner (there’s a good set lunch offer), where you can take your pick from the enticing flavours on offer.
Afternoon tea at the Royal York Hotel. Served in a high-ceilinged, opulent lounge (the ‘Garden Room’) decorated in cream and slate grey, with quirky equestrian-themed touches, the Royal York afternoon tea will delight even the most sophisticated fans of this decadent meal. The hotel clearly understand that there should be something ceremonial about afternoon tea – although the meal was invented as an ingenious and practical way of filling the hunger gap between lunch and dinner, it has grown into a symbol of luxury and refined British cuisine. This couldn’t be clearer at the Royal York, where your tea arrives in stages on fine china and a towering platter and you are made to feel like minor royalty. The lounge is light and airy and, despite the views of the garden being somewhat marred by the car park, is a fabulous place to while away an hour or two while revelling in the understated luxury of the hotel, set in the heart of beautiful York. The staff are friendly and attentive, and each stage of the meal is an absolute treat. [Read full review here].