Friends of Ham, Chopping Block and Roots

It’s sad that we’re too often writing about restaurant closures, the latest and most surprising being Friends of Ham in Leeds and Ilkley.

According to this report in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, the two satellites – Ham and Friends in Queen’s Arcade and the Friends of Ham branch in Ilkley found it hard to get established and the original branch in Leeds’ New Station Street has suffered from a short term cash flow during this hot summer weather with no outdoor seating.

A local property and investment company Glentrool have stepped in to purchase Friends of Ham and plan to work with the creators of the business Anthony and Claire Kitching, so with any luck we will still be able to enjoy their craft beers, good ham and cheeses in the New Station Street location.

It’s good to be able to report two new openings in York which is fast becoming a hub for independents.

Michael Hjort, chef/patron of Melton’s of York’s and director of York Food Festival is to open The Chopping Block above Walmgate Ale House.  The space above the bar has been run as a bistro for a few years but Michael says “now is the time to up our game here and run a quality led informal restaurant.”

‘The Chopping Block he says will serve diverse modern food like aubergine stuffed with lamb and pomegranate, game burgers with roast venison and sea bream with Yorkshire cider, samphire and summer vegetables’.

Close on the heels of the Chopping Block but in Marygate on the other side of town is Roots, a second restaurant for the famed and Michelin starred Black Swan at Oldstead. Promising a changing seasonal menu of sharing plates that open with such modish dishes as cured trout, fennel kimchi and Meridian apple and ox cheek, cauliflower and kale. Skosh watch out.

The booking site opened a week ago and lines were jammed. Roots opens on 14 September. If you can’t get a table we will post our report. It’s what we’re here for!

Goodbye El Piano, Hello Los Moros

It’s goodbye at the end of August to the long standing El Piano on Grape Lane after 21 years of upholding the values of vegan and vegetarianism and hello Los Moros, the Moroccan and Middle Eastern street food stall that has been trading from York’s Shambles Market for the last three years and who will be moving into the Grape Lane premises in the autumn.

Tarik Abdeladim at his Los Moros stall at Shambles Market, York

El Piano was founded in 1997 by Magdalena Chavez ‘We are moving on’ she says ‘Our job is done. Twenty one years of blazing the vegan and gluten-free trail has led us all to the happy point where almost all eateries in York are now offering vegan and gluten-free options’.

And to her customers Magda says: ‘It has been our absolute pleasure to serve you all these years and we thank you for your loyalty and support. You will still be able to find us and our products, recipes, videos and books at”

Los Moros owner Tarik Abdeladim is a worthy successor and while Los Moros will not be wholly vegetarian, Tarik plans to uphold the principles of El Piano with ‘tasty vegan and vegetarian dishes. One of our most popular dishes on the stall is our vegan falafel’.

‘We’re describing the restaurant as a modern North African kitchen’ says Tarik. ‘We’ll be serving some favourites from the kiosk, like our handmade merguez sausages, but using the restaurant as a space to develop the food in new directions, and play with different techniques and ingredients’.

Los Moros will be open for lunch and dinner from the autumn at 15-17 Grape Lane.

Roots Opening in York

Over the last few months I’ve watched teams of builders and decorators turn the unloved Bay Horse pub on Marygate, York into Roots, the much anticipated second restaurant for the Banks family, where Tommy Banks began and helped turn it into the top rated, Michelin starred Black Swan at Oldstead.


Don’t expect a clone of the Black Swan, Roots they say is going to be ‘a sharing plate restaurant’ on the theme of Tommy’s recently published book of the same name in which the menus are based on three (not four) seasons: the Hunger Gap running from winter into spring; Abundance summer into autumn and Preserving from autumn to winter.


The first published menu: The Preserving Season lists what sound like 14 cutting edge dishes with smoked eel doughnut; pork fat carrots and garden pea falafel and hear this: turbot, strawberries and cream. Good to see Courtyard Dairy supplying the cheese and interesting sounding desserts featuring Douglas fir, lemon verbena and woodruff. Choose individual plates or their Feast Menu at £50 a head. There’s sure to be a rush when the online booking opens on 1st August for the official opening mid September.

Roots, 68 Marygate, York YO24 1AZ

Rascills Still Firing Two Years On

We made a return visit to Rascills the other day, the restaurant at Raskelf that Richard and Lindsay Johns opened a couple of years ago. Fans will know them from their years at the lovely Artisan at Hessle.


‘Where’s Raskelf ?’ I hear you say. It’s a bit off most people’s radar but worth finding between York and Thirsk, just off the A19 not far from to Easingwold.


Richard and Lindsey Johns

Worth finding not least for the £45 set menu of three accomplished and generous courses. A no-choice menu is never a problem for me. I’m happy for chef to bring me what’s good and what he/she wants to cook and if it saves on waste then that makes perfect sense. Don’t worry; they can handle any dietary requirements if you let them know in advance.


On a balmy evening we began with drinks in the little garden they’ve created out front, then dinner that began with a smooth little cup of lemon grass, Thai inspired soup and was followed by a generous piece of snowy halibut and pea and mint risotto, beautiful cooked beef rump – is there a better cook of meat than Richard Johns? – with gorgeous crushed new potatoes and finished with a textbook crème brulee. They keep a good wine list and offer a modestly priced wine flight.


They are open Wednesday to Saturday and their £25 lunch is terrific value. As Michelin used to say – worth a detour.

Food Book Awards

For the past few years I have been one of the judges for the Guild of Food Writers annual food writing awards. Last year 100 new books landed on my doorstep. Who says you can’t have too many cookery books? The awards are always worth following for discovering really good quality and worthwhile food books, some from small publishers you may not otherwise come across along with blogs, broadcasts, magazines and campaigns you may have missed. Having just returned from an amazing trip to Georgia, I was delighted to see that Carla Capalbo’s book on Georgia had won the Food and Travel award. It was the book that guided us through so many food and wine adventures in that remarkable country.  There are many other worthy winners so take a look.

Food Writing Award: Joanna Blythman for work published by the Sustainable Food Trust and in The Guardian and Sunday Herald

Cookery Writing Award: Meera Sodha for work published in The Guardian’s Weekend magazine

Restaurant Writing Award: Tim Hayward for work pubished in FT Weekend Magazine

Food Blog Award: Grand Dishes ( by Iska Lupton and Anastasia Miari

Food Broadcast Award: Food Programme: Leah Chase: The cook who changed America presented and produced by Dan Saladino (BBC Radio 4)

British Food Award: Sue Quinn for work published in Dorset Magazine

Food & Travel Award: Tasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the CaucasusTasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the Caucasus (Pallas Athene)

Campaigning Award: Foodism: Issue 21 (sustainability special issue) (Square Up Media)

Food Magazine Award: Market Life magazine, edited by Mark Riddaway

First Book Award: The Palestinian Table by Reem Kassis (Phaidon)

Food Book Award: The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World by Lizzie Collingham (Bodley Head)

Cookery Book Award: The Modern Cook’s Year by Anna Jones (4th Estate)

Special Award: Charlie Hicks

Lifetime Achievement Award: Anne Willan

Yorke Arms

A frisson of fear ran through the hearts of the Yorke Arms faithful when Frances Atkins put it on the market in November last year after a 21 year tenure and 15 years of Michelin stardom. The Yorke in anyone else’s hands seemed like the end of an era. She was flirting with the idea of a new venture, before Leeds-based ‘serial entrepreneur’ Jonathan Turner parted with the thick end of £1.5m, and a deal was struck; as a result, he’s taken over the day to day running of the place, and Atkins has remained at the pass with her loyal crew. A ‘major refurbishment’ followed, and the Yorke re-opened at the end of May. But what if it’s had a shocking makeover? We loved it the way it was – all flagged floors, roaring fires, burnished oak antique sideboards and the inimitable, easy charm of the general manager John Tullet, as much a part of the place as the oil paintings on the walls. It was with a keen sense of anticipation that we keeled up on a perfect early summer’s evening to chart the changes and check out the new menu. Has it been Farrow & Balled? Has Turner been to the Country Inn Interior Warehouse and bought mock-leather chairs and yards of mock hops? Review to follow. (Clue; relax.)

Turning the Tables on the Food Critics

Leeds Indie Food Festival began yesterday and runs until 28th May. There are still tickets for a host of events. Take a look: Having just enjoyed a fabulous five course lunch at Home presented by a very professional team you might want to book for Turning Tables, where the tables are turned on people like us, ie food critics. Felicity Spector from the Telegraph, Rhik Samadder – he does the gadget reviews in the Guardian and Mark Samson from Food and Travel Magazine, will cook for guests in aid of the charity Action on Hunger.

Leeds Indie Food 2018

If you’re a Masterchef fan you will have relished the young Teesside lad putting a Middlesbrough Parmo in front of the gobsmacked judges – you know a Parmo right? The fried, breaded chicken breast, topped with béchamel sauce and melted orange cheese. But who knew that Australia also has the very similar Parma? Parmo versus Parma go head to head at Leeds Indie Food Festival (10-28 May) though sadly this event is already sold out. Never mind, there are lots of other great sounding events celebrating the independent bars and restaurants across the city.


The Reliance will be ‘Cooking the Books’, creating a specials board from three classic cookery books. Latitude wines will be collaborating with Laynes Espresso in a food and wine matching event. There’s a secret Persian supper club, a five course supper from the Junk Food Project, new wave charcuterie, a vegan Mexican feast and loads more. Sign up now for the LIF passport for discounts and priority booking.


The Amazing No Knead Bread Story

I’ve been on something of a bread-baking mission recently. I reckon I’m a reasonable bread-maker. I’ve got a shelf full of baking books and I’ve been on one or two courses but never managed to master sourdough.

Then a few weeks ago I decided it was time to crack it. I thought producing the starter would be the difficult bit, far from it. While I managed to create a very decent starter, I couldn’t bake a decent loaf that I could be proud of. Most of them tasted pretty good but they were either misshapen, too wet, too dry, over-proved, under-proved.

The high hydration loaf I was aiming for, with plenty of holes and a good crust, was impossibly sticky and I never managed to knead it to the smooth cushion I’d seen on the You Tube videos.

Enlightenment came with a  dough that required no-kneading at all. None. The recipe was created some ten years ago by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. (Yes, I know our ancestors have been making bread like this for ever) and it was a revelation.

The story goes that Lahey rang Mark Bittman, a columnist on the New York Times, just around the corner and invited him to come over. He had a new  bread making method that gave professional results without any kneading at all. Bittman made a video of the process and the story went viral. It has remained one of the most popular recipes in the paper ever since.

The secret ingredient that makes this bread so wonderful,  is time. Mix together flour, salt, yeast or sourdough starter and water into a ‘shaggy dough’ then leave it for 12 or up to 18 hours. Turn it out, fold it and let it prove for a further two hours then pour the wet dough into in a cast iron pot with a lid. I use a Le Creuset casserole (called a Dutch oven in the US) and bake for 30 mins in a hot oven. Take off the lid and let it crisp and brown for 15-30 mins and you will have the most amazing loaf.

Do have a go and let us know how you get on. The full recipe is here.


Rafi’s Curry Demonstrations

If you haven’t discovered Rafi’s Spicebox, let me introduce you. Rafi’s put together packs of spices to which you add your own main ingredient – say vegetables, chicken, lamb etc. to make an authentic curry.

The family business was started by Rafi Fernandez in 1989 and is today carried on by her sons Kevin and Lee with shops in York, Leeds, Newcastle and Sudbury in Suffolk.

I’ve known the York shop for years but last week was reminded just how good it is at one of their cookery demonstrations that are being rolled out across the branches.

Lee Fernandez and Marketing Manager Ian Lea reminded us that an Indian meal is made up of three or four dishes of different tastes and textures usually including a crunchy fresh salad and a pickle.

The demonstration showed us how to put together a complete meal with a main dish of Goan green chicken and rice, a side dishes of south Indian sambhar – lentils, toasted coconut, curry leaves and mustard seeds brightened with a dash of tamarind and a salad of cucumber and moong dahl with a spring onion and mint chutney.

There was plenty to taste and we all went home with the curry packs, which I suppose was the point, but what really impressed was not just how to make a curry, but what a decent, happy and ethical company they are. They have begun to offer their spice mixes in bring-your-own-jar, are working to eliminate plastic bags and involve the staff by sitting down and eating together every week.

For information on upcoming demos click here.

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