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May 8, 2010 02:47 PM

[York] Food shopping and local treats (We're coming from the US)

We are three somewhat adventurous adults traveling across the ocean from Vermont (New England, Northeastern US, in case it matters) to attend a wedding near Manchester the end of June. We decided to spend a week in York prior to going to the wedding, so we've rented a flat there.

We'll have a kitchen so we plan on buying some food and cooking some of our meals, but we'll also be doing a lot of museum visiting, so we'll be eating out a fair bit, as well. We will not be hiring a car, but will be relying on public transport and our feet. I don't have the address of our flat yet, but it is on the river near North Street inside the old city walls.

I'm looking for thoughts from local folks about:

Fish and chips. Any really good spots to get them?
A solid English breakfast (a "fry up"?), not looking for touristy, really, but more than a ploughman's bread, cheese, and pickle.
I've read about Akbar's, Red Chilli, and Melton's for ethnic and uhm, what I'd call upscale dining. Any other ethnic foods that are well-done in, perhaps, a "hole in the wall" sort of place?
What other local favourites are there? For instance, if you were to come to Vermont, I have several solid recommendations for local food, what would you recommend for local food in York?
Pubs? Over-rated? Is there such a thing as "good pub food"? What would it look like and is there anywhere in York that does it? Or am I being hopelessly touristy in my asking that? :)

Over here we have farmer's markets (usually on the weekends) where local meat and veg producers have stalls they sell out of. Is there anything like that in York?
Are there any great bakeries, pastry, cheese, or other food shops not to be missed?
This doesn't need to be gourmet. We're hoping to try things that aren't readily available or common in Vermont.

Any other thoughts about things I might simply not know enough about to ask?

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  1. It is a shame you don't have a car as I think some of the better food is outside of York in the countryside i.e. the Star Inn near Helmsley or the Pipe & Glass in South Dalton. Y

    ork is a small city so the amount of choice is limited, after a few days there you may benefit from hiring a car and heading off the the Moors of the Dales, fish & chips for lunch in in Whitby followed by an early dinner at the Star on the way home would be good. You can explore Castle Howard (the TV series Brideshead Revisited was filmed there) during the day as it is on the way.

    18 Replies
    1. re: PhilD

      There's bus service that goes to Castle Howard. I'm planning a day trip there. Anyone had the food they have there? Is it any good?

      I've been poking around and I think I've got a pretty full set of things to be doing while we're there.

      I can't stand driving in places I don't know in the US. Being in the UK, where the roads are narrower and you drive on the other side of the road for my first trip across the ocean would very likely be far too stressful to make up for any convenience it lends. I know myself and how it'll make me feel.

      We have no problem taking the bus, and even walking a bit (perhaps up to a mile or so) from a bus stop to get someplace great. I realize this limits us in many ways, but I know what's going to work best for us to have a leisurely time and not add any stress.

      1. re: Morganna

        I've had the food in the cafeteria at Castle Howard, only because it was quick and convenient on a Sunday after touring the house. Well, the best I can say about it was it was edible. I've been researching pubs for a planned trip to Yorkshire next year and have found a number of good ones not terribly far from Castle Howard. Take a look at the web site, it is quite comprehensive and you can specify award winning for food in your search. Getting to them by bus is of course another question.

        As for restaurants in York, I have been to the Ivy, which has gone more casual since, but the menu still looks spectacular. We are planning on one dinner there and another at Melton's, which we did not get to the last time but definitely looks good. I've been to Betty's Tea Rooms in Harrogate, and it was excellent, so I assume the one in York is also worth a visit.

        1. re: rrems

          I hope you can get to the Magpie Cafe in Whitby. Their seafood is really wonderful. If you need a B&B there (not a plug), we found a great spot on our last trip. Just email me.. address by clicking my name.

          1. re: zuriga1

            Thanks, June. I was thinking about a day trip to Whitby (we will probably be staying just west of York) and the Magpie looks like a must-try.

            1. re: rrems

              I was surprised how huge the Magpie's menu was having only heard about the famous fish and chips. I hope you can get there.

              1. re: rrems

                What is "Woof and Chips"? Ok, I know what chips are. What's the woof? Suppose I could google it. :)

                  1. re: greedygirl

                    Looks like maybe a catfish, from the googling I've done. Thanks!

                    1. re: Morganna

                      It is a pseudonym for shark (I think)

            2. re: rrems

              Sorry Morganna, I left a few words out of my post which are important to note. It should have read:

              Take a look at the GOOD PUB GUIDE web site, it is quite comprehensive and you can specify award winning for food in your search.

              I have had great success with this guide, though I also look at the menu of each place that interests me before I decide which to try.

              1. re: rrems

                Thanks. I'm bookmarking websites madly. :) I'm very excited about Betty's Tea Room because it looks like exactly the sort of thing we just don't have in the US at all. ;)

                1. re: Morganna

                  Ok, just to be precise so I don't get chided. There's probably a nice British tea room in one or more of the large cities in the US, but I don't know where, and I don't know how good they are. There are no such places that I know of in Vermont (though there are some places that serve tea the way we serve coffee, in a sort of cafe/bistro type of setting, rather than something that feels more "tea roomish" if that makes ANY sense at all). :)

                  1. re: Morganna

                    From what I remember, the waitresses in Betty's wear black dresses and look very authentic. I remember really enjoying that place on one of my first trips to the north of England... still a tourist then.

                    1. re: zuriga1

                      Yes, you feel as if you have wandered into an Agatha Christie adaptation. Its pure theatre.

                      1. re: mr_gimlet

                        There should be a place like this in London, if nowhere else. With a great tea, it would be a hit with tourists.

                        1. re: zuriga1

                          There used to be similar ones in London called Lyons Corner Houses (before my time but my parents used to go to them) which were similar to Betty's, unfortunately they closed down so Betty's in York or Harrogate are some of the few links to a bygone era. They were in great places, the Trocadero in Piccadilly was originally one of them.

                          Betty's is expanding, but as yet have not ventured out of gods own county, you never know, it may reach London.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            If I was younger, I'd open one in Surrey. I'm fairly sure that the ancient chain in NYC called Scraffts, also had waitresses in uniforms. It seems to add something, but I'm not sure quite what. :-)

                            1. re: PhilD

                              Yes, I suspect they won't leave Yorkshire - and they'll say it's the water for the tea. There is a well-known sketch from Hale and Pace about Yorkshire Airlines - "Ladies and gentlemen, we have now taken off from Leeds and Bradford International Airport. We'll shortly be landing at Leeds and Bradford International Airport because there's nowt worth seeing outside Yorkshire."

            3. You should definitely hire a car - I'm not sure there's enough to occupy you in York for a whole week and the countryside around there is gorgeous.

              10 Replies
              1. re: greedygirl

                North Yorkshire has pretty good public transport links if you plan it well, so although a car would be preferable you could get out without one. I would second Whitby or Robin Hoods Bay for a day trip and would also suggest Harrogate. You could also do Leeds, a short train ride away, if you are into industrial museums.

                Food etc in York? Well, York is famous for its hams and also can do a pretty decent pork pie. I heard, though, the famous butcher near the minster is no more which is where I got all this stuff. Its also a good source for cheeses from the Dales - so Wensleydale (the only Yorkshire dale not named after a river for the trivially inclined) and Swaledale - and there is a very famous afternoon tea place called Bettys (the original is in Harrogate).

                There is competent pub food in York, and the pubs themselves are very characterful, but they are not food driven,. You need to get further out of York for that.

                1. re: mr_gimlet

                  No problem grabbing a bus places at all. There's even a handy trip planner for the Yorkshire area that explains the best ways to get from various points to various points. It seems very comprehensive.

                  Though, Greedygirl, I have found loads to do in York while we're there. I don't know how much of it will take a day, and I imagine there's handy food around many things like York Castle, York Minster, the City Walls, National Rail Museum, Jorvik Centre, Newgate Market (I'm surprised no one's mentioned this yet, I just found links for it last night), bike paths, Coppergate, loads of shopping from what I've been told (though nothing like in Manchester, I'm sure).

                  Just the act of living in a flat in a different country, itself, is a bit a of an adventure. :) Still, If there's good sources for things like pork and cheeses in the outlying areas, are there no shops/stalls that bring these things into York proper?

                  1. re: Morganna

                    You're right - there's no comparision between a small city like York and a large metropolitian centre like Manchester. No-one will have mentioned Newgate Market in a food context as it's just a normal northern town market - lots of stalls selling cheap anoraks and jeans and a few selling selling fruit and veg. There used to be a good butcher next to it, who had very good provenance over its meat (but this may be the one Mr Gimlet mentions has closed)

                    It's a place you can wander around for a day or so, but then you'll have done the sights. You mention Melton's which is the city' best known known fairly upscale palce - they also have Melton's Too (sic) which is more of a bistro. Bett's Tearooms is almost an institution in Yorkshire - go for afternoon tea - make sure you have a Yorkshire Fat Rascal (a large scone).

                    Google tells me that there is a farmers market in the city - June one is on the 25th. This site might also be of help to you in tracking down local food:

                    1. re: Morganna

                      York was one of the first cities I visited when starting to explore England many years ago. Luckily, I was with a British driver, but it's a lovely city and you'll find lots to do, especially as it's your first trip over here (I'm a tranplanted New Yorker). York is not at all a large city, but it will have several supermarkets, and I find the ones here in England often more comprehensive and better than American ones. You'll be able to buy lots of goodies that will seem a treat to a newcomer.

                      That said, a week in York is a long time, but I'm glad you'll be getting out to other spots. Most of the places like Castle Howard have fairly nice cafes or little restaurants, and the National Trust ones vary in quality but are always OK for a lunch. Try some of the great British dishes instead of a sandwich! :-)

                      Enjoy your trip!

                      1. re: zuriga1

                        What sorts of dishes would you consider "great British dishes"? :)

                        1. re: Morganna

                          I spent several days in York last year. I took a bus to Helmsley, which is about an hour and a half from York. I had my best meal in the area at the Black Swan hotel in Helmsley. It's a very scenic route through the Yorkshire Dales on the bus to get to Helmsley, and it makes a very nice day trip. You can pick up the bus schedule from the Tourist office at York train station.

                          1. re: Morganna

                            I agree with the others that York is easily doable in a couple of days. It's even more interesting to get out into the countryside, using the fabulous buses in the area. Much cheaper than taking sightseeing buses and you can stop wherever takes your fancy.

                            For instance, on the road to Helmsley, you can see a big chalk white horse on one of the hillsides and you also go by two crumbling monasteries, which are tourist spots (one of these isn't visible from the bus).

                            1. re: Lake

                              You're all being wonderfully helpful and I really appreciate it! I'm getting more and more excited about the trip every day!

                              1. re: Morganna

                                Hi Morganna,
                                Just a heads-up that it's wise to make reservations for most restaurants in the UK, especially popular or high-end restaurants. They get booked up easily. Lead time really varies. Some places can be booked earlier on the same day, while for others may need 24 hours, a few days, or even a few months/year! (for Michelin-starred and similar).


                                1. re: Lake

                                  Thanks for the heads up. Hadn't occurred to me that might be an issue! :D Silly 'cos I know it happens here, too. Just happened to me in Chicago, in fact. :)

                  2. Where would you go for just regular grocery shopping, to stock up for a couple days of meals in the flat?

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Morganna

                      On the basis that you havnt a car, then whatever supermarket is handy for wherever you're staying. Several now also have smaller shops in town centres which will probably be ideal.

                      1. re: Harters

                        Although I stand by my recommendation to get out into the countryside as well as see York itself, I had at least one quite decent meal there and there were a couple of others that I would have tried if I stayed longer. I can't remember the name of these places, but if you hit the tourist office and ask for the freebie local literature, you'll have places to look for. Also, if you walk around most of the old picturesque streets (York isn't huge, so you're bound to get around), you will find places that you like the look of. The restaurantI tried -- and the 2 others are close to it -- are very near the tower on the round hill. My memory is appallingly bad so I can't remember the name of the hill, but it's a local landmark.

                        1. re: Lake

                          We are going to be trying to get out in the country, as well. :)

                        2. re: Harters

                          OK, I found some links.

                          This is the restaurant I tried. Reservations are recommended:

                          I wanted to try this restaurant but didn't get around to it:

                          My best meal by far, though, was the one in Helmsley.

                          1. re: Lake

                            Thanks, Lake! I've bookmarked both the restaurants AND that York site! Very handy!

                            1. re: Lake

                              We found a "long weekend" deal for the Black Swan at Helmsley two or three years back. Thought the food was decent enough, if a little staid. The Feversham Arms (literally round the corner) had shown up on our radar then - nor had the Star at Harome (which must be the, ahem, star dining experience around the village).

                        3. Ok, I've got a suggestion for chips in a village off a ways. Are there any fish and chip shops in York that are OK?

                          19 Replies
                          1. re: Morganna

                            That could be a tricky question. I dont think any of us who have contributed are York natives or residents. And good chips is probably the main area where you need local knowledge. There really is an awful lot of crap out there. You'll probably get a better answer by Googling and seeing if you can find any local review sites.

                            1. re: Harters

                              I agree with Harters, it needs good local knowledge. When I was a school in York (yes an ex-local) the best F&C shops were just outside the city centre, in and around the main roads as they passed through the city walls (I suspect this was because they were strategic sites on the meander home after a night in the pub). A good tip; it is Yorkshire so plain and basic will probably mean it is best. Anything fancy and touristy will not deliver.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                "Anything fancy and touristy will not deliver"

                                This statement of Phil's should become a board "sticky" about F&C!

                                I am old enough to remember when Harry Ramsden's was little more than a shack at Guisely and we'd always detour there for tea (not dinner!) when we were coming back to Red Rose country. Some of the finest F&C you'd ever want to encounter. Now it's a chain, it's shite.

                                1. re: Harters

                                  Is Wackers fancy and touristy? I saw it on a review site. The menu makes me giggle. There's small, medium, and large haddock, but only small and GIANT cod. ;)

                                  1. re: Morganna

                                    I've replied to an email from Morganna but for the benefit of other readers, Wackers looks like exactly the sort of place I'd avoid. Yes, it might have an award from the local newspaper (always a helpful clue) but I reckon that places that serve breakfast, jacket potatoes and teacakes have likely diversified too far from being a good chippy.

                                    That said, I'm saying that without the benefit of even the slightest knowledge of the place and confess that blind prejudice is playing its part. And that said, on the other hand, I also have nearly 60 years experience of eating fish & chips - as you would immediately notice if ever you saw me :-0

                                    It may just as easily be the dog's cojones. Only one way to find out, Morganna......

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      See, one of the problem is, of course, that I know what -I- like to eat, but I don't know if I've ever had "authentic fish and chips" so I don't know if I'd realize what I was eating was that. :)

                                      A friend posted on another forum and someone recommended their neighborhood place, a chippy called Jenny's. We might hike up there instead, :)

                                      We were walking through York in Google maps last night with our friend who will be going with us, and we're all just so totally psyched for this trip. We remain unconvinced that we're not going to have enough to do to keep us busy the whole six days we have to spend in the area. :) Of course, our friend could spend three days quite happily at Askham Bog and the gardens near the Minster. ;)

                                      1. re: Morganna

                                        "Authentic" is a fraud and waste of time chasing. IMO, of course.

                                        Go with taste. As you've had a local recommendation, try that first. You then have an experience to base things on. You'll know whether you liked or not. And please bear in mind Phil and my comments - the vast majority of F&C is simply awful (and even we Brits won't realise this till we've had "good").

                                        As for keeping yourselves busy, see where the train will take you. Harrogate and Leeds should be strong candidates for a day out.

                                        1. re: Harters

                                          Yeah, I was pleased at how inexpensive it is to ride the trains off peak. We'll be spending a day at Castle Howard, and I think we'll bring nibbles along with us, rather than eating at the cafe there. I assumed it'd be pretty much like any other museum cafe, overpriced mediocre fare not really worth the cost.

                                          If we're looking at a day out we're also thinking about maybe going to Whitby so we can see the ocean. :) AND try out Magpie. :)

                                          1. re: Morganna

                                            Actually looking at the Castle Howard website, the cafe looks better than you might expect - for example, locally sourced meat, including beef off the estate itself. Dunno how good they are at cooking it though :-)

                                            1. re: Harters

                                              I was there about 5 years ago. Unless it's changed since then, it is totally awful. Bland and cooked to death.

                                              1. re: rrems

                                                Which was bland and cooked to death? Magpie or Castle Howard? (I'm guessing you mean Castle Howard)

                                                Nevermind I figured it out from the re: Harters thing. Thanks!

                                                1. re: rrems

                                                  Oh my godness! They have a deli and a butchery shop and a grocery with produce and a bake shop! SQUEEEEE!!!!

                                                  1. re: Morganna

                                                    I'd always recommend the Magpie for Whitby. It's one of those experience thingies. Although I seem to recall there's been recent mention of another chippy there. May not have been mentioned on this board (in which case apologies) - but if it was here then it will have been on recentish thread "the best fish & chips" or similar title.

                                              2. re: Morganna

                                                I hate to disappoint, but there isn't much of an ocean view in Whitby - not that I remember. If you want a large beach and good views, it's better to the south in Scarborough. But do go to the Magpie. It's a real experience.

                                                1. re: zuriga1

                                                  Good views but Scarborough's a food desert.

                                                  It does have a lovely tourist attraction though (honest - I love this):

                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    Almost worth a trip north, John. :-)

                                                  2. re: zuriga1

                                                    There certainly is an ocean view! We were "walking" around Whitby using Google maps and there's a huge cliff overlooking the ocean, it was marvelous. :) Not far from the Magpie, either.

                                                    1. re: Morganna

                                                      IIRC, the cliff is on the other side of the little bay from the Magpie - woth a church on it. It features in the Dracula story (and, yes, you can do a Dracula walking tour of the town, although I don't know whether eating anything bloody features - perhaps wear some garlic to be sure)

                                2. I can't make any specific recommendations, since I lived in York 15 years ago. I can really enthusiastically recommend the trip to Whitby. I had truly the best fish & chips of my life there a couple times, though I wouldn't be able to remember the name of the specific establishment. Also, the town is one of the most charming English towns I've ever visited.

                                  I think that in general, fish & chips get done well in the north, and you will probably be happy with most of what you try. Once there, just ask a neighbor or shopkeeper to recommend their favorite chippy. The best places are truly the neighborhood places. Keep in mind, though, that most of them are take-away only, so you do need to go to one close to your flat (or plan to eat while walking), or the whole lot will be cold and soggy by the time you get home. I do remember when I was there that some places still fried everything in beef lard, and that was the note of distinction, though I don't know if that would still be the case, now that people are more health-conscious.

                                  Betty's tea room is a gem and is timeless in a way that will make you feel like you suddenly fell into a period-piece film. Be sure to try the curd tart, which is a Yorkshire specialty. And on that note, while I don't remember York being especially interesting for restaurants (and that may have changed quite a bit), I do remember that there were a wealth of small butchers, bakeries, cheesemongers and other specialty shops where you will be able to buy all kinds of lovely local foods and delicacies. Be sure to try British specialities like scotch eggs, sausage rolls, meat pies and pasties, pork pies, etc. And you can easily buy everything you need for a big English breakfast at home-- sausages, beans, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and fantastic seeded breads. I think you'll find that food shopping can be one of the most interesting and enjoyable "tourist" activities.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: gemuse

                                    We are SO looking forward to that, and I hope our friend S would truly enjoy doing a fry up for us (she's a really good cook and works in a restaurant so it might be too much like "work" for her :). We're definitely focusing on British specialities, but there's a great sounding oriental shop not far from the flat that S is particular tickled to check out.

                                    I'm feeling way more confident about all this since we 'walked' around York using google maps streetview. It's AWEsome :)