Looking for the best restaurants in York? This medieval town has always offered plenty to history buffs and café-goers, but a quiet foodie revolution, too, has recently been taking place. Wander down one of York’s higgledy-piggledy backstreets and you’ll find a new crop of young chefs putting the city’s food in the spotlight, from Micklegate to The Shambles and beyond…
Best restaurants in York
One of York’s newest restaurants has been causing quite a stir across the UK. After seriously starry stints at Northcote, Pipe and Glass and The Star Inn at Harome (along with extensive travels in Asia) half-Indian chef Neil Bentinck has returned to his hometown of York to open contemporary small plates restaurant, Skosh (the name is a reference to the Japanese word ‘sukoshi’, meaning ‘a small amount’).
The restaurant’s modern interiors combine pine tables with bold yellow and grey paintwork and fabrics. Bag the table in the middle of the restaurant that’s framed by a striking, jade coloured arch, or perch on a high seat overlooking Neil’s open kitchen.
Hand-finished ceramic plates arrived in swift succession, each one framing its own little delicacy – crisp square nuggets of saddleback pork were accompanied with a tangy gooseberry ketchup, jewel-like granola-fried Skosh chicken was dipped in a delicate sorrel emulsion, and molasses-cured wild sea trout came on little sticks with peanuts and lime.
Larger dishes were also excellent. Crisp-topped Suffolk lamb belly fell apart beautifully and was livened up with bursts of pomegranate seeds, pickled onion, charred baby gem lettuce and a dash of yogurt.
Baked hake was topped with finely sliced cauliflower and dukkah on an umami-packed miso cauliflower rice bed – the highlight of the meal. Summer veg, brought over from local Brunswick Nursery the very same day, was tarted up with creamy burrata, black olives and a rapeseed oil emulsion.
In a nod to Neil’s Indian roots, the dessert menu includes mango lassis. Shot glasses of smooth and creamy mango were flecked with cardamom and served with mini doughnuts that opened to reveal an intensely yellow saffron custard centre.
Neil’s speciality dessert uses goat’s curd from nearby Yellison Farm to create fluffy toasted marshmallows served with raspberry sorbet and lychee granita. Or go for the richer 76% chocolate slice, which comes with a brittle-like black olive crisp, a light fennel foam and a chocolate-fennel sauce.
Based in the centre of York, Roots 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.
Le Cochon Aveugle, Walmgate
This is one of our favourite restaurants in York. Joshua Overington’s six-course seasonal tasting menu at intimate French neighbourhood bistro, Le Cochon Aveugle, rotates with the seasons to make the most out of fresh produce when it’s at its prime. Think refreshing carpaccio of octopus, 12 hour short-rib and homemade black pudding, and charcoaled crème brûlée with made-to-order ice cream and crunchy rosemary sugar. On-trend mini canelés with a burnt-sugar crust were delicious, and served with a rum-spiked banana milkshake: a grown-up alternative to milk and cookies.
Freshly baked pain de campagne with beurre noisette, as light as angel delight, is a permanent fixture, as are the show-stopping balance syphon coffee makers and the heaving gin cabinet. We loved The Botanist gin and tonic with cardamom and kumquat syrup (it came with whole kumquats and a sprig of fresh rosemary).
You can tell this is a local favourite. A warm welcome from co-owner Victoria and a wave from Joshua in his tiny kitchen behind the gin cabinet makes you feel like you’ve been coming to this tiny, neighbourhood restaurant for years.
Cafe No.8 Bistro, Gillygate
This tiny bistro on Gillygate is the kind of place only the locals know about. Take a table in its hidden garden to enjoy lunch in the shadow of York Minster (delicious soups and sandwiches are great value at lunchtime), or go in the evening and try the slow-cooked lamb, home oak-smoked salmon fillet or fresh fig and blue cheese salad.
Rattle Owl, Micklegate
Named, peculiarly, after a toy (the owners both bought the same one on the same day), this small independent restaurant sits on historic Mickelgate, right in the centre of York. The structure might be 17th century but inside the style is contemporary: wooden tables have copper legs, walls are exposed brick, wooden chairs are sculptural and light fittings mix industrial chic with Art Deco glitz. Choose from a table in the bright conservatory area at the back or a high-backed grey banquette in the more atmospheric front section.
Haxby Bakehouse bread sets a precedent for the championing of local ingredients. Whitby crab is served with an intense avocado and fennel cream, buttery sable biscuits and cherry tomatoes. Pickled grapes, almonds and balsamic cubes add depth to an heirloom tomato dish, with a jar of tomato compote reduction on the side that has the punch of a Bloody Mary.
Local sourcing continues with the mains, the highlight of which was seared Scarborough woof (catfish) served with a deep-fried goujon, confit potato cylinders and a creamy bacon foam topped with charred baby gem lettuce, garden peas and an intense lemon purée. Yorkshire duck breast came perfectly pink with pak choi, spiced peach and a burnt orange sauce.
The organic-focused wine list majors on small producer wines. Bottles include subtly aromatic Sancerre ‘Clos du Roy’, rich Moonambel Syrah from Australia and, for special occasions, a refreshing ‘Les Reuchaux’ Puligny-Montrachet.
You can also buy bottles off the shelf at The Owlet, a tiny off-licence in the window of the restaurant that claims to be Yorkshire’s smallest. Prefer your beers? Go for Yorkshire Heart lager, Little Brew porter or York Brewery ale, all brewed in York and the surrounding area.
Best cafés in York
Mannion & Co, Blake Street
A European-style café and deli, Mannion’s specialises in platters from the deli counter. Yorkshire produce is paired with expertly sourced charcuterie, cheeses, olives and artichokes from France and Italy.
The café’s suntrap courtyard is a tiny oasis where you can enjoy a pork pie, homemade piccalilli and salad grazing platter. Or take away your sarnie of choice made with bread baked fresh on site every morning.
Super-light scones piled with jams and clotted cream, patisseries and home baked brownies make perfect pairings for Jeeves & Jericho loose leaf teas and wood-roast artisan coffee from Ue Coffee Roasters.
Little Betty’s, Stonegate
Betty’s is far from a secret; the queue of tourists peering into the room of scones, tea and fat rascals is a giveaway. Five minutes down the street, however, Betty’s Stonegate (known to locals as Little Betty’s) is the Swiss tearooms’ (moderately) quieter little sister. Skip the scone paparazzi and enjoy creamy hot chocolate, rostis ladened with Gruyere cheese and indulgent Swiss macaroni.
Stick a pinkie out with a bone china cup of Betty’s delicately floral Assam and Darjeeling blend and take your pick from the immaculately presented cake trolley (the chocolate swiss roll is, unfathomably, rich and light all at the same time).
Coffee and cake at Betty’s is always a treat but the Lady Betty afternoon tea is even more so. Miniature savouries include Yorkshire pork and Bramley apple pies, smoked salmon and dill roulade, and succulent roast Yorkshire ham and tomato pâté sandwiches. A traditional silver cake stand bursts with aromatic Yorkshire lavender scones, sweet ‘n’ sticky toffee-apple macarons and a light choux pastry with whipped coffee cream.
Partisan & the French House is a young and vibrant independent coffee shop on Micklegate serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and afternoon tea.
The seasonal menu has its roots in global cuisine – everything from Scandinavian-style open sandwiches on rye to Korean Bibimbap – as well as offering plenty of vegan dishes. There’s a focus on local produce, and the owners even grow herbs and vegetables on their farm just outside York.
Partisan offers a wide selection of homemade seasonal cakes, tarts, and scones, all baked fresh everyday by in-house baker Steffi. Think squidgy salted caramel brownies, delicate coffee and walnut financiers and indulgent vegan raspberry donuts to enjoy with Monmouth coffee.
Best food shops in York
Love Cheese, Gillygate
Locals Harry and Phoebe Baines have sourced cheeses from near and far to create an award-winning counter. The selection covers continental as well as British cheeses but this is your chance to taste some of the county’s best, and most unusual, varieties (try the Ribblesdale smoked goat’s cheese, Botton Creamery cheddars or intense Yorkshire blue).
There’s also a small café on site. Sit on a picnic bench on the terrace at the back of the shop and sip a Huddersfield-roasted Dark Wood coffee while you wait for a toastie. As you might expect, toasties here are a step above the norm (though try our toastie recipes for serious comfort). We liked ours made with Haxby Baker granary and filled with mature cheddar and spiced tomato or manchego with chorizo and chilli chutney.
Henshelwoods Delicatessen, Newgate
Jam-packed with Yorkshire produce, this corner shop is the ideal spot to pick up foodie souvenirs to take home with you. Choose from over 70 exceptional cheeses (including Wensleydale and Swaledale), homemade vegetable preserves that date back to medieval times, and sweet treats such as Yorkshire parkin and Cartwright and Butcher biscuits.
Henshelwoods also makes up bespoke hampers, so if you’re staying with a friend in the area you can treat them to a selection of fine foods, including The Cheese Lover or a Perfectly Practical hamper of herbs, spices and oils. The Country Gentleman hamper is a great accompaniment for a long country walk – relishes, chutneys, pates and cheese with fine ginger wine.
Yorkshire Food Finder
Join York’s recently launched food trail Treks in the City, to visit artisan breadmaker Phil Clayton, local coffee roasters York Coffee Emporium, and Sarah Puckett, who makes her Puckett’s Pickles within a mile of York Minster, before enjoying a specially designed menu at The Star Inn The City.
Don’t fancy a tour? Many of these producers can be found at York’s Shambles Market (Parliament Street), which re-opened after a £1.6 million refurbishment last year. Or book a trip to coincide with the York Food and Drink Festival, which runs in June and September.
Best bars in York
Cave du Cochon
Cave du Cochon is owned by Victoria and Josh Overington, who also run the restaurant Le Cochon Aveugle nearby. This wine bar and bistro serves small plates, farmhouse cheeses and charcuterie from across Britain and France, with the 200 wines on the list sourced from the smaller grower-producers, most of whom use low-intervention methods. Sommelier Victoria says: “We like our wines to be a true expression of their terroir, to tell the story of what happened with each vintage. They don’t have to be specifically natural or organic, we just choose delicious wines.”
Visited all of the restaurants in York and fancy venturing a bit further from the city? Read our foodie guide to Ryedale for country pubs, Michelin-starred chefs and cream tea in a walled garden.
Written by Alex Crossley and Mark Taylor
First published July 2016