Living in England has made travel a lot more accessible than living in Australia, New Zealand or India. As far as travelling within the UK goes, within a couple of hours, one can be in a different town exploring a different part of the gorgeous English countryside or admiring ruins from a few hundred years (or thousand) years ago. In addition, the UK is ideally placed to travel to Europe and within a couple of hours one can explore new countries and cultures. My partner and I really enjoy travelling and try and do so whenever time and budget allow us to.
When we travel, we take on different roles. My partner takes care of train/plane bookings and hotel bookings while I take care of the packing and food. Food – yes, glorious food. To me, one of the most exciting things about travelling is getting to try new food that I haven’t come across before or food that’s just better than what’s on offer in the town we live in. I usually look up Wikitravel and Tripadvisor beforehand so we can try these apparently amazing restaurants first-hand. Of course, I’m restricted a lot of the time by the fact that I’m a vegetarian but that doesn’t stop me from trying.
I’ve started this section of the blog to try and record places where we’ve eaten and give you my honest opinion of them. This by no means needs to influence your decision but if you do travel to any of these places and are contemplating places to eat/not eat at, then perhaps, I can be of help. We travelled most recently to York to celebrate my partner’s birthday so I’ll recount our culinary adventures from here first.
York is an amazing, old town with beautiful buildings around every corner. It was founded by the Romans in 71AD and had Viking settlements in the Middle Ages. It has the rivers Ouse and Foss running through it and is known for being the home of KitKat.
We’d highly recommend getting yourself the book “A walk around the Snickelways of York” by Mark W. Jones and follow his maps through the city. We were there on the weekend of the York Christmas Fayre which in our opinion was one of the most over-hyped fairs ever. People try to sell so much junk and others actually buy them. The one advantage is that several heritage buildings such as the Merchant Adventurers Guild Hall are open for 50p or £1 as they hold arts markets inside. On a normal day, you’d be paying closer to £10. For all other purposes, we’d also recommend avoiding York on this particular weekend.
I used http://www.booking.com to book at the Ibis York Centre which was conveniently placed from the York train station and a short walk into the interesting parts of the city. The hotel was one of the more reasonably priced ones given the fair weekend.
I will describe 5 places we tried the food/drink at and what I thought about the food. This by no means is what you should think about the food but might give you some ideas for when you are at this destination. The places are – The House of Trembling Madness, Ning, Happy Valley Chinese Restaurant, Barbakan Caffe and Restaurant and Cafe Concerto.
1. The House of Trembling Madness : 48 Stonegate York YO1 8AS (Pub/Bar)
This is a quaint little pub on the first floor of a bottle shop. Apparently, the medieval hall where this pub/bar was built back in 1180 and was formerly a tea room (newslink). We almost didn’t go as the lady in the bottle shop told us to queue up but I’m glad we waited for those extra few minutes. When we got up the stairs, we could see why there was a wait. The bar is tiny and can hold about 50 people at capacity. It was a good thing we were just a couple as we could easily find a small table in the corner. However, larger groups were turned away from this place on the night we were there.
The most notable feature of this pub is a wall full of animal heads. I’d read about this in the restaurant reviews and was a bit apprehensive about going here given I am a vegetarian. However, I am also a biologist and find animals interesting. I must say that once I’d seen them, the animal heads didn’t bother me in the least. They were similar to seeing stuffed animals in the natural history museum and I wasn’t queasy at all.
The bar is small and behind this small bar, they serve hot food. They have them pre-made and stored in fridges behind the bar. Upon ordering, hot food is reheated and served. Don’t switch off instantly when I say “re-heated” as the food was delicious. I had a cauliflower, cheese and wine soup and a cheese-board. Both came with copious quantities of really nice bread which is a rarity in England. My partner had a beef goulash which he thought was fantastic -I could smell a lot of nutmeg from his stew which was a warming smell given the zero degree night outside.
Another warming thing was the real candles at all tables. There’s something really romantic about real candles and low-lit restaurants and while the animal heads didn’t really fit into the picture, these aspects do give the place its own charm.
Finally, the beers. The bottle shop below the bar has a whole range of European beers – lagers not ales (woo hoo!). The fizzy stuff that one drinks cold not the flat stuff that one drinks at room temperature here in England. You can buy bottles and take them to the bar upstairs. Even better, the bar has a few Belgian beers on tap which we were perfectly happy with.
Overall, we really enjoyed our night out at this bar/pub and would highly recommend it if you ever went to York!
2. Ning -12-13 Tower Street York, N Yorks YO1 9SA (Malaysian restaurant)
We chanced upon Ning on our first day in York. It was a cold but sunny winter afternoon and we’d just been in and out of Clifford’s tower and we were a bit cold and Malaysian food seemed very warming and tempting.
My first impression of the place was that it was a bit too posh and I’m always suspicious of a restaurant that’s posh. To me, it reads that they put a lot of effort into their appearance but it says nothing about their food. I’d rather walk into a chaotic place with a lot of chatting, smiling people who look satisfied with their food than a quiet place with mood lighting and no people.
Despite my first impression, we decided to stay for lunch – especially as the dishes were reasonably priced. This restaurant’s owner seemed to have his own cook book and cooking school and there was a bit of self-promotion around the restaurant. However, the people who were eating seemed happy and satisfied and we were willing to give it a go.
My partner had the Kuey Teow Goreng with tofu (Thick rice noodles wok-fried with soy sauce, chilli sauce, beansprouts, Chinese chives and choice of chicken, seafood or tofu) and I had the Bihun Goreng Singapura with vegetables only (Wok-fried vermicelli rice noodles with a hint of curry flavour and cooked with egg and crisp vegetables and choice of chicken or seafood). Both these dishes came out hot and smelt wonderful. They were really tasty and the flavours incorporated into the sauces/curry powder were a lot more complex and satisfying than your average Chinese restaurant. I’m no expert but the “Malaysian-ness” which I associate with Indian-influenced spices was definitely captured in the simple dishes we had. The tofu in my partner’s noodle dish had soaked up the chilli sauce so well, I had to steal some from his plate.
Overall, we really enjoyed our food and would probably go again next time we are in York. If you are, watch out for the Black sign with pink logo and be prepared for more black and pink on the inside.
3. Happy Valley Chinese Restaurant – 70 Goodramgate York YO1 7LF (Chinese restaurant)
Website: (No website but TripAdvisor reviews can be found here)
This little gem we found while on our “Snickleways of York” walk. Goodramgate is one of the main streets for food. While there were several cafes and restaurants, most were shut as it was a Sunday and the ones that were open didn’t really appeal to us. The menu for this restaurant was advertised outside and it listed several vegetarian dishes which won me over right away. An added bonus was their £7 two-course lunch advertisement. It was housed in a little old cottage with the kitchen downstairs and seating upstairs. It looked like a family run place too. As we walked past it, we noted its location and decided to come back when were were half-way through the Snickleways tour (There are 26 maps and we wanted to make it to map13 before taking a break).
Sure enough, when we got tired, we went back to have a late lunch. This was one of the few places open at 3pm so yay for that. We could still have the two-course meal and so we did. My partner had a sweet and sour soup and I had a clear vegetable soup as a starter. It was hot (and really nice as it was zero degrees outside) and very satisfying. My partner’s soup was a bit vinegar-y but it grew on me after a few tablespoons. For our main, we both had egg fried rice with two different kinds of vegetable stir-fry both of which were very tasty. The internet tells me this is more Taiwanese food than mainland China so there you go. Oh, and if you like hot stuff, ask for their chilli sauce – it’s awesome!
Overall, we had a very satisfying lunch and didn’t cost us much at all. The waiting staff were very polite but shy and I think I might have bothered them by asking too many questions about the menu. They dealt with my requests very patiently. It may not look like much from the outside but don’t judge a book by its cover.
4. The Barbakan Caffe and Restaurant – 58 Walmgate York YO19TL (Eastern European cafe and restaurant)
The last place we had a proper meal at before we left York was an interesting Eastern European restaurant. I read a lot of good reviews on Tripadvisor and thought – why not. Also, where we live is rather boring in terms of food so I get adventurous when we leave. It was a quiet Monday afternoon so we had no trouble getting a table. The menu was outside and also on the blackboard inside. Being a cold day, we again sought something warming.
For a starter, we shared a Barszcz z uszkami (Borscht served with wild mushroom pockets) which was a clear beetroot soup and the mushroom fritter on the side. My partner hates beetroot but enjoyed the soup. There were whole spices in the soup that made it delicious. The mushroom pockets looked like it was a pancake with mushroom filling and it had been deep fried. Tasty but a bit oily. There was a constant supply of freshly baked bread at our table which was also nice.
For our main lunch, we had Pierogi without bacon (pan fried dumplings filled with beef or fresh pot cheese (V) & potatoes topped with crispy bacon and sour cream ) and Zawijaniec (V) (pancake stuffed with buckwheat and vegetables, topped with mozzarella cheese and baked in tomato sauce ). The pierogi were wholesome and hearty. Again, they were pan-fried which made them a bit oily but otherwise tasty. The buckwheat pancake was interesting. It was a pancake stuffed with cooked buckwheat which I have never tasted before and I don’t think I took to it very much as it was a bit bland on its own. The vegetables present in the filling were nice. The best part of the pancakes was the tomato sauce they were in – the tomato sauce was supremely delicious and after a while, my partner took to dipping his pierogi into the sauce as they matched quite well. Both portion sizes were huge. We were stuffed full at this point so didn’t order dessert but the fresh cakes in the cabinet looked pretty good.
Overall, the food was tasty but we thought it was a little bland. My opinion is not reflective of Easter European food in general – especially because all I tried was vegetarian and the meat dishes on the menu looked a lot more varied an interesting and probably more traditional. The beetroot soup and tomato sauce were my favourite. To check out more pictures of this restaurant and their food, check this blog post written by people who live in York. http://travellingtoast.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/barbakan/
5. Cafe Concerto 21 High Petergate York YO1 7EN (Cafe and bistro)
At the end of our Snickleways walk, we treated ourselves to a tea and dessert at Cafe Concerto. It looked warm and inviting from the outside and the interiors were really cool with pieces of music making up the “wallpaper” of the place. I don’t know enough about music but I could gather that there were some very famous pieces of music on the wall.
I went straight for the dessert cabinet which was pretty impressive and a peppermint tea. The desserts were a bit pricey and looked decadent so we had a “duet” where you get two half portions of desserts of your choice. The banoffee pie and raspberry-rhubarb-ginger crumble were on our table within minutes. Both delicious and a nice way to end our culinary tour of York. I’d definitely go back!
This cafe is ideally placed near the Yorkminster so you could kill two birds with one stone 🙂