Once people only wrote about Bettys (www.bettys.co.uk), the stylish tearoom in St Helen’s Square that served up dainty sandwiches and Fat Rascals in surroundings that recalled a 1920s luxury liner. Bettys is still there, still decked out like the Queen Mary and still York’s favourite tearoom, but York is now as global as its visitors from a top notch Italian Le Langhe, (www.lelanghe.co.uk) Korean Oshibi, (www.oshibi.co.uk) Polish Barbakan (www.deli-barbakan.co.uk), South Indian Coconut Lagoon (www.coconutlagoonuk.com) and everything in between.
Of course, Bettys still cuts it for tea poured from a silver teapot, for delicious rosti and a cake trolley that laughs in the face of the 5:2 diet. It’s even possible to bypass the queues if you go early or late, or make a weekend reservation for afternoon tea, in the Belmont room upstairs, the only time they take bookings.
Other places to take the weight off your shopping bags are the lived-in Café Concerto (http://www.cafeconcerto.biz) opposite the Minster offering ‘music for the mouth’ and with yellowing sheet music on the walls, well stuffed sandwiches, filling soups, hearty mains and brilliant cakes, you can see what they mean. Cabra Verde (www.cabraverde.co.uk) in Peter Lane is the antithesis of Concerto’s scuffed up look, being both neat and spare but the Spanish tapas cooked by a Portugese chef is worth a visit. Brew & Brownie (www.brewandbrownie.co.uk) is more New York than old York with their pancake stacks and savoury muffins.
For Yorkshire food the newest and most talked-about restaurant is the Star Inn the City, (www.starinnthecity.co.uk) offering a contemporary ‘Yorkshire with a twist’ menu in a restored brick Engine House in Museum Gardens. Chef Andrew Pern, made his name at the garlanded Star Inn at Harome and is a master of matching local ingredients with expert technique.
The much loved Blue Bicycle (www.thebluebicycle.com) on Fossgate is a York stalwart while Michael Hjort, the chef/owner of Melton’s (www.meltonsrestaurant.co.uk) on Scarcroft Road (and the bistro Melton’s Too on Walmgate) (www.meltonstoo.co.uk) offers a menu that sings with regional, seasonal ingredients. He should know, he organizes and runs the annual York Food Festival, (www.yorkfoodfestival.com) Yorkshire’s biggest and best.
York’s tiniest café has to be the cute little Perky Peacock (www.perkypeacockcoffee.co.uk) perched in an ancient postern house on Lendal Bridge selling life enhancing bacon butties, cakes and terrific coffee. Similarly the Gatehouse Café, (www.facebook.com/gatehousecoffee) is a book-filled Christian run coffee shop within Walmgate Bar. The Attic (www.harlequinyork.com) above the Harlequin Café on King’s Square won ‘Best Espresso’ at the 2013 World Barista Championships.
Dean Court Hotel, (www.deancourt-york.co.uk) in Duncombe Place, is one of the best located beds in the city, just a hop and a skip from the Minster. Don’t write off their restaurant as another hotel dining room; they serve seriously good food in the calm and elegant DCH. Tucked round the back of the Minster in Chapter House Street is Gray’s Court (www.grayscourtyork.com), a superb listed townhouse, now a boutique hotel and restaurant serving light meals in the long gallery and evening meals in the 1617 dining room.
For veggies, there are a couple of dedicated meat-free zones in the quirky El Piano (www.el-piano.com) in Grape Lane and little Goji, www.gojicafe.co.uk on Goodramgate, while Filmore & Union, (www.filmoreandunion.com) is veggie aware without being totally meat free, and with many gluten free and dairy free dishes on a menu it is modern, fresh and inventive. It’s served in a small but stylish dining room above the deli on Low Petergate.
Restaurants fill up fast in York but Fossgate, Walmgate and Gillygate are the best bet for finding independent restaurants and cafes that care about their food. And while you’re waiting for your table York’s matchless profusion of characterful old pubs is real ale heaven.
The Guy Fawkes Inn (www.gfyork.com) on High Petergate is all candlelight and shadows, ditto the Maltings (www.maltings.co.uk) at Tanner’s Moat. The Whippet Inn (www.thewhippetinn.co.uk) on North Street has been refurbished as a well-regarded steak and ale house while the Lamb & Lion (www.lambandlionyork.com) in High Petergate has a warren of rooms, good pub grub and a secret garden. York Brewery (www.york-brewery.co.uk) operate four pubs in the city and run tours from their brewery in Toft Green. Sample a pint in the brewery Tap Room or alternatively try the Last Drop in Colliergate or the Yorkshire Terrier on Stonegate.
Most visitors streaming through Stonegate miss the priceless House of Trembling Madness (www.tremblingmadness.co.uk). It takes its name from the old term for delirium tremens and with 600 odd ales in the downstairs shop it’s well named. Upstairs opens up into a 12th century drinking den, the walls hung with mounted animal heads and the exposed ceiling trusses made from 800 year old ships’ timbers. Forget any idea of medieval banquet nonsense, this is a proper bar with real ale and hefty plates of pie and mash or cheese and ham platters to be taken in the glow of candlelight amid the spicy fug of mulling wine. It’s what you came to York for.
Jill Turton is a freelance food and travel writer who lives in York and runs the Yorkshire food and drink website - www.squidbeak.co.uk