Star Inn The City

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Lunch in York this week with an old friend was taken at Michelin-starred chef Andrew Purn’s new venture, Star Inn The City. It’s the city outpost of the famous North Yorkshire Star Inn at Harome. I don’t live in York but I understand the city has been abuzz with excitement in advance of the opening getting a table after it being open a few weeks was a bit tricky.

The lunchtime we were there it was very busy—and with 300 covers that takes some doing in a city the size of York. Of course there is a massive tourist crowd to tempt and an underserved local dining population, starved of real quality with only a handful of other contenders. Surprising for an affluent city like York. So if Andrew Purn and his team get this right, it’s a no brainer. Great food, excellent service, superb river front location? You got it!

On the day we lunched tree was a steady stream of lunching ladies and affluent older retired folk but i suggest this reflects the midday trade. The vibe was pleasant, if slightly disorganised at the arrivals desk (or whatever they call it). The staff are well drilled and we sat down at a superb table overlooking the River Ouse with pale winter sunlight filling the airy and modern glass construction.

I went for the market menu—to be fair all of the menu looked great—and for two courses it was a very impressive £14.99. I was certainly expecting the price point to be higher given the provenance of the chef and indeed the food. Prices rise steeply as you’d expect through the steaks but that’s to be expected these days.

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We both had the chicken terrine starter with bread served in a flat cap, which was an original ironic twist on our Yorkshire heritage which is sure to confound the hordes of Japanese who visit the city. Flavours and colours were bright and fresh.

I’d eyed up the calves liver earlier on the menu and it arrived in a generous slab, served with juniper infused kale and a spanking fired egg. Perfect lunch, on a plate. My fellow diner had the special Brill with belly pork on the side (don’t ask) but he declared it a triumph of alternative surf and turf.

Service was cheerful, efficient and best of all, fast. Wine is reasonably priced, although you could spend a few bob—as we flat cap wearing Northerners would say—on pricey plonk. No need I say as the basic wine is very competitively priced. The room was buzzing with contentment as we left and my lasting impression was one of leitmotif dining without pretence but delivered with consummate skill.

Star Inn The City (I still can’t make up my mind about the pun) will thrive in York I think , if the district dining community welcome it—which they seem to have already—and the tourists can find it tucked away user a bridge, in a park, by the river.

Festive frolics under canvas

Last night we sat around an open fire, wood smoke gently infusing the air, experienced the joy of live music, drank wine, ate heartwarming food and laughed with friends. Under canvas. In a teepee. Slap bang in the centre of Leeds.

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It sounds bizarre but its true. Legendary Leeds venue The Faversham has long been part and parcel of the student furniture but this year they have a 100 seater teepee in their back garden (no, really). We got an invite to the opening of their ‘Festive TeePee Social Club’ on a cold November night and we were suitably intrigued. Running from now up to Christmas, the enormous tent is home to a chilled out vibe, open fire, bar serving seasonal beverages of the craft beer and mulled wine variety and comfy sofa bed things and picnic tables – it sounds random but it works. So we settled down for a night to remember.

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It so happens that every Thursday is open mic Buskers night where local artists who ply their trade on the streets can come along and have their shot at the big wigwam (sorry). If I’m honest we only intended to stay for an hour or so, but we were drawn in by the steady procession of artists, some good, some brilliant. The fire glowed and the tent filled, people occupying every nook and cranny of the tent sitting on cushions, intoxicated by the joy of the flame, the music and an ancient under canvas feeling when its cold outside – if you’ve camped you’ll know what I mean. Piping hot beef stew with horseradish dumplings were served and greedily devoured, soaking up the very reasonably priced house red wine,£11 per bottle, Rose £9: bargain.

Our plan to leave was shelved and the evening went from good to great with fantastic performances by compere Cleve Freckleton AKA Rev Chunky and the talented singer songwriter Amy Sowerby. This was an unexpectedly brilliant evening and the surroundings made it all the more special, dare I say magical. I’d say we were comfortably the oldest there by a long chalk (although Rev Chunky gave us a run for our money, uncomfortably/accurately dedicating ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ to us) but to be fair, the young crowd weren’t too annoying and studenty and we didn’t feel out of place. In fact we were right at home.

I would conclude that it’s well worth a trip out to The Faversham before the end of December, which is a good 15 minutes walk from the centre of Leeds or a very short cab ride, even if it’s to sit by the fire sipping something warming in the majestic teepee. My top tip would be get there early next Thursday for the Buskers night and if you see us in the corner, come and say hello, we’re easy to spot: stuck in the middle.

The Pit

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When Rib Shakk closed down earlier this year we lost one of our go to rib / dirtbag / not so guilty pleasures restaurants. Anthony’s sous vide ribs were a succulents joy, but that is all in the past. Of course there is Red’s, but if you can get a table good luck and if I’m honest I don’t love their ribs as much as everyone else seems to. So we had what marketing folk call a gap in an emerging market, that is until The Pit opened.

Situated at the other end of town, The Pit is also all about the barbecue: pulled pork, ribs, burgers, wings, nachos… you get the chargrilled message. It’s also huge – the spacious interior used to be part of a nightclub and it’s been given an intelligent designer makeover into a contemporary american vibe, by way of Merrion Street. It’s also part of the ambitious and successful Arc Inspirations Group, the guys behind The Box, Trio, Napa and The Arc etc so we should expect great things.

First impressions are good and on the lunchtime we visited, the staff were on the case, friendly and attentive. After a drink at the bar, we took to our booth (I do like a good booth). At first, the menu is slightly bewildering I’ll be honest – there is a lot to choose from. But if you like this kind of food, and you know the difference between a Po Boy and a Big Link Dog, you’ll be right at home. We fancied the burger and lobster combo made famous by the eponymous swanky London restaurant chain, but the fillet burger was disappointingly off so we all opted for the ribs and lobster. This was the most expensive item on the menu too (why do I always do that?) and quite steep at £25.95 although it looked impressive. Okay, there is half of a (small) lobster, a side of ribs, fries, slaw but still a little on the pricey side for me. I noticed other items such as straight forward burgers were also on the wallet stretching scale for what they were – it did feel a little like the expensive fit out needed to be paid for in some way.

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The food was good, the ribs excellent – probably the best in Leeds right now, smoky, succulent with still some bite – the lobster was a little bland, (it tasted like it was probably frozen) and other stuff is standard fare although the sweet potato fries and mac & cheese were nice alternative sides. I do think sometimes it’s hard to really excel with this type of food as ultimately it has to be the basics done really well. Perhaps I’m being too harsh but I do think that they will have to up their game to compete and take a look at the prices. I’ve said it many times, but some restaurants in Leeds charge London prices without the accompanying quality of service or food. I wouldn’t put The Pit in this category, but if you fancy a plate of nachos, a couple of burgers or sides of ribs, throw in a few beers and before you know it, you’re easily North of £50. In my book, everything has to be brilliant to sustain those prices.

But The Pit is cool, make no mistake about it and any place that has a den in the basement with two ping pong tables available for hire, has to be good. The beer selection is superb and the wine sensibly priced, but this is a beer joint primarily although the cocktails are excellent, as I can testify). It’s location in the burgeoning ‘Northern Quarter’ will mean custom from the arena and out of town visitors.