Roots, York: restaurant review
Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Laura Rowe and olive reader Liam Mills compare notes on chef Tommy Banks’s latest venture
Looking for restaurants in York? Read our review of Tommy Banks's new restaurant Roots in York, and check out more suggestions for eating in York here.
About Roots, York
After exclusively announcing his intentions to open a second restaurant on the olive magazine podcast last summer, chef Tommy Banks (check out Tommy's dinner party menu here) finally opened the door of Roots in York in September. Based in the centre of the city, the restaurant aims to bring the same Banks family farm-to-fork philosophy as their first, the Michelin-starred The Black Swan in Oldstead.
Reimagining its former pub shell, Roots sees a calm bar upstairs where guests can choose from the likes of house-made spirits, liqueurs and infusions – from fennel pollen ‘sambuca’ to lemon verbena ‘limoncello’ –and cocktails made from ingredients foraged and harvested from the family farm in Oldstead.
Downstairs, there’s a laidback vibe, with stripped wooden floors and tables, and botanical drawings on the walls, and a menu that takes inspiration from Tommy’s debut cookery book (also called Roots). Expect the likes of crapaudine beetroot slow cooked in beef fat (a signature of The Black Swan) and white chocolate with douglas fir and lemon verbena.
The pro restaurant reviewer
Our editor Laura Rowe has reviewed restaurants for more than a decade. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lauraroweeats.
The punter restaurant reviewer
Our pro’s Roots, York restaurant review…
At Roots there are glimpses of a team who know about Michelin-starred quality – such as the front door opening for you, as if by magic, by a greeter as you approach, and a separate space to drink foraged cocktails and sophisticated soft drinks such as a puckering gooseberry lemonade, while you wait for your table. *I wasn’t recognised, and Tommy was on his first day off since opening.
The rest, though, is decidedly more casual (and affordable). Small plates come thick and fast. Way too fast. But, luckily, they’re delicious. Every plate on the 10-dish Feast Menu earns its place. Sourdough – warm, bouncy and with plenty of welcome crevices for moreish cultured butter and Lincolnshire Poacher cheese custard (like grown-up Dairylea) – with crisp multi-seed crackers kick things off nicely. There’s delicate cured trout; sticky lamb belly bao buns with fermented turnip; and a surprisingly good salad of kale, tenderised with a sharp pickled walnut and sheep’s yogurt dressing, gratings of rich, cured egg yolk and hazelnuts.
As the plates get bigger, so do the flavours. Crapaudine beetroot gets a long, slow cook in beef fat, making it sticky, sweet and savoury all at once, while fiery horseradish and salty, smoky cod’s roe creams, sharp, pickled discs of more beetroot and crunchy linseed crackers make for a spectacular plate of food.
Skirt steak has a dark bark and a ruddy heart, making it so juicy, so full of umami flavour, helped no end by a ridiculously good pickled onion purée of sorts, and ‘chips’ made of potato gratin, sliced and fried into crunchy cigars. Turbot comes with broccoli (blanched, puréed and as pickled ribbons) and a salty, creamy mussel sauce with a whisper of smoke.
To finish there’s an apple cake with berries and crème fraîche for those that like stodge (although, it’s lighter than you’d expect), and another shock winner of white chocolate, douglas fir and lemon verbena – so playful in textures, so masterful in its balance of sweet and sour.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Let me be clear – the food is ace. Near faultless. But the staff do need to relax. It’s only a few weeks in, so a little tension is understandable, but it can at times feel rushed and robotic. A little more warmth in this new casual site, and this will be a cracking addition to not just York, but the UK’s dining scene.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £132
Our punter’s Roots, York restaurant review…
As we walked up to Roots, the door opened and we were greeted with a welcoming smile. We had arrived on a Saturday night a little earlier than we’d booked and were taken upstairs to the bar where we enjoyed a crisp glass of crémant with notes of green apple. The building is contemporary but has retained its charm through original features such as a fireplace and original flooring, while high ceilings provide an airy feel.
The restaurant serves small plates that are perfect for sharing and a Feast Menu selection of 10, which we chose. There’s no wine pairing option due to the tapas style of service so we went with wine by the glass – a Greek viognier and a French malbec, both of which worked well with the food.
To start, homemade sourdough, seed crackers and cheese custard came – who would have thought cheese and crackers could be so delicious? – along with lamb and fermented turnip bao, and cured trout with piccalilli. Kale dressed in sheep’s yogurt, pickled walnuts and cured egg yolk was the standout, though, packing a punch thanks to the zesty yogurt dressing.
Tommy’s signature dish of crapaudine beetroot cooked in beef fat was the showstopper main course. The first thing we noticed is that the beetroot had the meat-like quality of tender steak. This was complemented by the texture of the crackers it was served with, the punch of some horseradish goat’s curd, all softened by the sweetness of golden beetroot discs. Each mouthful had us grinning like Cheshire cats.
Desserts included Mary Banks’s apple cake. A tip of the hat to Tommy Banks’s grandma, who inspired this dish. The sweetness of the Oldstead honey and apple cake married perfectly with the sharpness of seasonal berries, all mellowed with crème fraîche.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Roots brings the taste of the countryside to the city of York. The menu was fairly priced and the food was worth every penny. See you again soon, Roots.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £152
Roots Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating: 6.5
When the Banks family landed in York the ethos of the Black Swan took root too, even if the style and format of the offering changed. The menu continues to be dictated by the seasons, relying heavily on what’s plentiful in the fields of the family farm or easily foraged in the surrounding hedgerows and woods. Once an ingredient is over, it’s over and the menu moves on to the next fabulous abundant ingredient. The autumn or Preservation Season menu features items like fermented turnip, pickled walnuts and piccalilli. A creative, nose to tail approach sees ox cheek, and skirt steak dishes feature – ensuring all the free-range meat from local farms finds its way onto the plate, not just the stereotypical prime cuts. The drinks menu is equally awash with carefully sourced bottles. Half of the six sparkling wines are English, the Laurel Vines vineyard in East Yorkshire takes pride of place next to prized vintages from its continental cousins and six of the craft beers are from Yorkshire.