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.

Living in the moment and food blog anxiety

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We were lucky enough recently to visit Copenhagen to what was the world’s number one restaurant Noma, now number two, but more on that later. We felt that the blog post for this should be a joint affair, with different perspectives – so here goes…

Part 1: Living in the moment

People often say that we do not enjoy the moments enough which leads to life whizzing past particularly in this day and age. For many reasons the four of us needed this moment with other current challenges in our normal lives.

None of us had visited Copenhagen before and incredibly for D we didn’t even do any real research on the city. Why would you when the purpose of the visit is to dine at Noma! We expected Scandinavian minimalist cool but when we saw our hotel building we were just amazed by the ambition. The pics won’t really do the Bella Sky justice as it bends, tilts, stretches in every direction. Our rooms were on the 21st floor and had wall to ceiling windows so anyone afraid of heights would need to  pull down the electric curtains –  the view is priceless but the cost at was very reasonable.

We dropped off our gear and headed to the mass transit system which was a 5 min walk away. You know what we are going to say, why don’t we have this quality of system back home? Straight into the city and as you would expect all the posh shops and local ones too with lots of bars and restaurants in quaint squares. We even got to sit outside, from herrings to nachos to local cured meats the standard of food was excellent. However the cost of alcohol is high compared to the UK and unless you are  very thirsty don’t order a large beer or like G you will get a 750ml monster instead of a pint!

After the sustenance we took a walk around this beautiful city of canals and grand buildings for a 2/3 of hours before we fell upon a little cocktail bar. The bar was very cool with trendy interiors and an even trendier stylish lady running the bar. The menu of drinks was incredible and actually different in a nordic berries and herbs kind of way. We had over 2 and half hours of total chilling. Was this day one moment or several moments tied together?

Local advice is generally best taken when it comes to food and we were advised to just nip across the way to a “pub” like establishment for quick reasonable priced  local fayre. We decided on the set 3 plates menu – all very simple but delicious, as good as our best gastro pubs. Back to the hotel and we could not go to bed before taking in the Copenhagen skyline at night from the hotel’s Sky Bar and one for the ditch!

D&G

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Part 2: Food blog anxiety

I have no idea how to set about writing a food blog about the best restaurant in the world. I find my usual ramblings work very well for the majority of my reviews and when we go somewhere special, I find I have to raise my game somewhat. So when one of my long standing ambitions of getting a reservation at world-famous Danish restaurant Noma happened earlier this year, I was already quaking in my boots about how I’d record it. I’ve chilled a bit since we went there and a few weeks have allowed me some perspective which has helped me get my head around how to review the experience.

After our trip to Noma, I was reflecting on the brilliance of it all (there, I’ve spoiled the ending) and it was not just about the food it was about the entire experience as most restaurants are. But more so with Noma, so I thought I’d try a slightly different approach which collects the overall components which when put together created an unforgettable experience.

First of all, booking a table. We were in town for one reason and one reason only – lunch at the iconic Noma. A lunch or dinner reservation is a rare thing of beauty and even the local talked enviously of not being able to bag a table. Perseverance from J paid off and the table was booked three months ago when the booking window for our planned trip opened. We booked our trip around the reservation – top tip: don’t try to reserve a table around existing travel plans, it will result in you dining elsewhere.

Secondly, the city. As G has already said, Copenhagen is a very cool city. I’d not been before so everything was fresh and interesting in only the way a visit to a brand new city can be. Only a relatively short one and a half hour hop across from the UK, there’s a lot to like about the city. It has the edgy hispter districts that were plagued with drugs and sex workers only a few years ago, it has wide open plazas where the cooling autumn winds whipped around and it has the pedestrianised European city streets that we’ve come to expect. Copenhagen’s rich history as a port clearly delivers diversity and an outward facing vibe that’s hard to pinpoint but is certainly there.

Next, the restaurant. Of course, Noma resides in the cool river waterfront district – where else would one of the world’s most individual restaurants be situated? Majestic restored grain warehouses litter the waterfront with an easy mixture of business, residential and bar & restaurant. Noma sits in a tall stone built warehouse overlooking the main waterway and was a short walk from the local metro stop. As we stopped outside to take the perfunctory mugshot outside the restaurant sign pic, a member of staff dashed out and offered to take the photgraph for us. This deceptively small piece of customer service set the tone for what was to be the best lunch of our lives.

Now onto the service. We were greeted by seemingly dozens of members of staff who greeted us on our arrival – chefs, waiters, sommeliers, kitchen staff. This was another relatively small touch but we were made to feel really welcome and I’ve never encountered that anywhere else at all. The atmosphere in Noma is chilled out and relaxed but below that cool demeanor beats an engine of epic efficiency and power. We’ve dined at Michelin starred restaurants before but the difference here was the lack of pretentious behaviour by the staff, or indeed by the food. Service was immaculate: attentive, unobtrusive, knowledgable, humorous, humble, stylish and above all, really on it. We felt immediately at home and this set the tone for the rest of the meal.

All well and good, what about the food? I won’t bore you with endless descriptions or photographs of the food and drink (although there are some pics at the end of the post to give you an overview). Trust me when I say it was the best meal of our lives – and the most expensive. But absolutely worth every single penny. Of course there were ants used as seasoning, foraged Nordic ingredients, exquisite execution, immaculate presentation, informal discussions with the chefs, no meat served whatsoever during lunch, outrageous combinations, ridiculous simplicity, ingenious wine pairings, ambition and humility. Rarely has restaurant packed so many genuine moments of joy into one sitting. This was food that took us on a journey of taste, exploration and enjoyment, never once serving a plate that wasn’t on brand or in line with the overall vision. I’ve never heard Rene Redzepi deliver his vision but I left the restaurant feeling like I know exactly what it is, a fully signed up member of the Noma club.

The extras. An extended tour of the kitchens and ‘backstage’ areas was even more revealing: 38 chefs from around the world diligently prepping dinner service, an experimental lab devoted to innovation and food ingenuity, a solitary chef manning the barbecue cooking only leeks, cheery hellos from everyone (and I mean everyone) we met, a hydroponic indoor garden devoted to growing herbs, a chance encounter with the man himself and a palpable sense of excitement and opportunity.

So is Noma worth the cost and the effort? Absolutely. Would we do it again, given the depleted nature of the bank balance post visit? Without question. One of the great pleasures in life is to come into contact with experts, those who have put the prequisite 10,000 into what they do (according to Malcolm Gladwell anyway) and have become leaders in their field. I knew the moment we walked into Noma that we were in the presence of such people and what an absolute joy it was to experience it.

We’ve discussed at length if there were any shortcomings and I have to say, hand on heart there were none. We’re a fussy bunch, us Globetroffers and if we say that, it’s praise indeed. Never mind the Michelin inspectors, what do they know??

P&J

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Look mum no hands!

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This week in London uncovered some real food gems for me.

A quick lunchtime meeting turned into a wow moment when a friend suggested we meet at a place called Look mum no hands! He’s a cycling nut – as almost everyone seems to be at the moment, post Olympics and Wiggins fever – and he suggested we meet a new place that’s doing something quite different for London.

Look mum no hands! is a bike geek’s dream – it’s one part bike workshop, one part cafe bar and one part bike nut hangout. Located in one of London’s coolest areas on Old Street near Clerkenwell it is chock full of cool cyclists, hipsters pretending they have a bike and imposters like me.

The atmosphere is buzzing and on the day we visited, it was jam-packed with people sharing tables and pretty much squeezing themselves into any available chair. The food is high quality and simply prepared with everything from toasted ciabatta sandwiches to stews and from black pudding scotch eggs to home-made cake. It all looked good I have to say. We tucked away two very serviceable emmental and chorizo toasted sandwiches and sipped perfectly made flat whites and admired the ‘concept’ for what is was – a really neat idea, brought together with love and attention to detail.

Well worth a visit if you love bikes and are in the vicinity. Even if you don’t love bikes and you’re in the area, it’s well worth stopping by.

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