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.

The Whippet Inn

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Monday night is fast becoming gig night in our house. This Monday saw us hop on a train to see the rather wonderful Simone Felice play live in York. Now in my book, there is absolutely no point in travelling over to a great city like York without experiencing the culinary delights of the city. So we did.

I’ve eaten out in York only on a handful of occasions and each time it was places I’d heard of or were well known in foodie circles – J Baker’s or The Blue Bicycle for instance. Monday nights in provincial cities in these straightened times are not exactly packed with opportunities for great food – most of the nice places take the chance to have a night off on what is usually a quiet night.

A work colleague recommended a recently opened gastro pub-type joint, which was getting rave reviews. That was enough for me and I booked a table for two.

The Whippet Inn (fnarr, fnarr) is situated just a long stones throw from the station, tucked away down a quiet side street – so pretty easy if you’re travelling by rail, which I’d recommend as parking in York is painful at best. The restaurant has a simple, well-stocked beer bar and a nicely designed dining room at the back. The emphasis is on decent ales and wine and steaks although it is worth pointing out the vegetarian options, although limited were judged excellent.

The simple but well-curated menu had an air of confidence around the produce and the cooking. The 40 day beef caught my eye immediately and I opted for rib eye (as per) whilst the sister chose a summery halloumi and courgette plate. Starters were light and well put together, but the beef is the main deal here and who am I to argue?

We selected a Navarra Spanish red, which at £19 was well priced given its quality and it complemented the beef beautifully. Prior to the wine we had a cheeky blonde Scottish beer ‘Bitter & Twisted’ which set us up nicely.

I can report the steak was first rate – worth paying extra for 40 days, rather than 25 and the extra 3 oz from 7 to 10 was also worth the investment. Service was knowledgable and attentive even though our assistant waiter was in training it was handled well without any issues.

If you’re in York, this has to be one of your favourite new places.  In a city that is not exactly wall to wall with amazing eateries, I predict that The Whippet Inn will be a huge success.

York

A work/social meeting last week in York was made all the more pleasurable by lunch at J Bakers. This fabulous York restaurant has been well documented in this blog, but I really do feel it’s worth another mention.

Tucked away on Fossgate, it really is one of those places that the locals know all about and the visitors only happen upon if they’re lucky or they’ve done their research beforehand. On this particular lunchtime it wasn’t jam packed like last time, but I did overhear a couple of japanese tourists trying to get a table for a weekend evening and the head waiter patiently explaining that wasn’t a table to be had for weeks due to York Races.

Although I foolishly forgot to pick up a menu, I’ll try and remember the quirkily complex lunch through the medium of photography:

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We started with the little freebie amouse bouche brown paper bag of new potatoes with a very garlicky dip quickly followed ion by a couple of very accomplished starters. I went for the venison tartare with a soft quail’s egg and my guest opted for the potted parmesan custard (I think). Both spectacular and presentation has to get a special mention, with my dessert looking like a work of neon art from 1987, but in a good way.

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Mains were out of the top drawer too. I chose the special halibut and my fellow diner couldn’t resist the steak (with a crispy duck’s egg, no less). My fish was meaty and delicate and the wild asparagus that came with it were exquisite. The steak was ‘hanger’ cut which I’ve heard of but never seen served before, anyway it was declared perfectly cooked and full of meaty specialness (my words, by the way).

The accompanying side dishes deserve a mention too and in the interests of research, we felt we should try the chips (of course), which were twice cooked, the ‘unusual carrots (which were purple with aniseed) and the greens. We thought we were being greedy when ordering these, but trust me, there was no waste as they were so goooood!

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As if we weren’t quite full enough, we gave desserts a fair crack of the whip ( I know), unusually for me I quite fancied a little hit of something sweet before I headed back to Leeds. I had the Seaside Special – lemon curd mousse and popping candy (and yes, it did) and Nick had chocolate tart with peanut butter sorbet. We will return another time to sample the knickerbocker glory!

It was completely satisfying and the end to a perfect lunch. Washed down with a cheeky Spanish Rosado (sensibly priced at £15), topped off with very good coffee, it was lunch of the finest order.

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J Baker’s Bistro Moderne

Even though I’m not officially working at the moment, I am managing to get out and about and this week is no exception – I had a long standing lunch arranged with a business associate in York at J Baker’s. This restaurant has been much recommended and it’s devilishly hard to get in there as it’s always booked up, so I was really looking forward to it.

Situated a shortish walk from the station, it’s right in the heart of the shopping and attractions in York and as such, perfect for a lunch on a day trip. On the day I visited it was full downstairs (there’s a sizeable upstairs too) and the atmosphere was lively. Service was immediate and attentive –  our little freebie starter was a brown paper bag full of mini roasties and an aioli dip, which was delightful.

The menu is interesting with a choice of tradional two/three courses or a mini taster menu lunch – all reasonably priced, although I guess the affluence of York and its environs dictates a slightly higher price point. Surprisingly for a city with such a well-off catchment area, I expected to see more restaurants of this quality but according to my colleague, they are few and far between (I believe we suffer  the same affliction in Leeds too).

On to the food. We opted for a fairly traditional approach with two courses and no dessert. Starters ordered were Whitby potted crab and ox cheek. Both were superb I have to say, with full marks for presentation. Jeff Baker and his team clearly know what they are doing in the kitchen – but then again, I expect no less from the first chef to get a Michelin star in Leeds at the famous (but alas defunct) Pool Court.

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I ordered the sea bass special – which really was special – and my dining partner ordered the crispy sardines. My fish was spanking fresh and cooked to perfection and the chips on the side had the tell tale beef dripping aroma and were delicious. The purple kale accompanying the seabass had me guessing for a while too!

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All in all, it was one of the best lunches I’ve had so far this year (and I seem to have had a few) and it was good at last to try a restaurant that has been raved about by so many for so long. I can now join the ranks of supporters and I will definitely try to book a table next time we are in York.

York

We travelled over to York last weekend for a relaxed afternoon of pre Christmas shopping and a well overdue day trip. We used the train and it was top tip number one – looking at the hordes that crammed into the city, I don’t think you’d be parking a car anytime soon. Plus it was altogether more relaxed and we’d be able to enjoy a nice lunch without worrying about who was going to drive.

Having to battle through crowds of Christmas shoppers isn’t conducive to a relaxed afternoon, so we soon decamped to The Blue Bicycle for lunch. I was told we were lucky to get in there but we took our chances and they had a table for two, so were were sorted! I omitted to take any photographs, so apologies for that – but I can confirm that we had a very agreeable lunch and managed to polish off a couple of bottles of a quite accepatble Chardonnay in the process.

Starters were a mixed bag – Julie’s veggie potato cake things were a bit lacking in the promised coriander bite and my belly pork and cod cheek was an adventurous failure: the individual elements were a success but together, they didn’t quite work. Mains were excellent – I had the sea bass on a bed of spring onion risotto (portions were very generous too) which worked very well. Julie had the same and was equally please with her choice: the combination of sea bass and risotto offering the kind of glamorous comfort food that we enjoy so much. We skipped dessert (although I quite fancied one, Julie insisted we’d eaten and drunk far too much already) and readied ourselves for the crowds once more.

All in all, The Blue Bicycle is a very pleasant lunch experience (and I expect dinner’s pretty good too). There’s an informal atmosphere, friendly staff, efficient and speedy service too. The prices not overly excessive either for city centre York where the tourist Dollar or Yen rules and the wine list was pretty good value. Although this city centre restaurant clearly caters for the out of town diner, it clearly serves the locals well too and it’s good to see a small, successful independent restaurant continuing to do so well.

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Betty’s Macaroon Mountain

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This is the final and fourth part of the York trilogy which when passing big Betty’s the window display did it’s job and enticed Linda to the selection of handmade macaroons. Four flavours were on offer … Pistachio, Lemon, Chocolate and Raspberry.  The presentation boxes were excellent and these would make a great gift, on this occasion it was to ourselves. The natural colourings were highlighted and a pleasant surprise, the taste and texture were both excellent with suitable chew-ability (spell checker put in the hyphen, I preferred without?). This rounded off a excellent day in York and Betty’s should always be on the visit list.

p.s. We did actually resist until returning home to try the macaroons with a pot of Betty’s leaf tea.

J&L 16/05/09

The Hairy Fig – Fossgate, York – Part Deux

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Prior to our lunch at Jeff Bakers we stopped by at the Hairy Fig (click for link) which also on Fossgate offers a fine selection of regional and specialist foods. The Rosemary ciabatta is one of our favourite breads and we also got some of the fresh figs, shepherds purse cheese and Morecambe bay shrimps … a varied mix but this highlights the excellent selection on offer. A nice touch were the mini umbrellas sheltering the outside display from the elements. A great find and highly recommended if in York.

J&L. 16/05/09