Best and Worst Places to Eat and Stay 2016

A typical year sees some of the best – and worst food experiences, and 2016 was no exception. Our perennial grumble is over-fussy, ‘cheffy’ food, and one of my lowlights which ably fits that category is a road house on the outskirts of Halifax which re-opened at the start of winter with whistles and bells after a million quid makeover. We often mutter that Masterchef has a lot to answer for, and here it is, writ large; huge plates with dots and dabs, skid marks and ‘reductions’ but very little actual taste. Gah. (Mandy)

Cocktail Bar, Iberica, Leeds

The low point of my year was outside the region, but the Michelin-starred 21212 in Edinburgh involved an epic tasting menu of ever more complicated and confused plates. The nadir was  ‘porridge milk’ served in a paper cup, oh, and some breathtakingly overpriced wine. (Jill)

At the other end of the scale,  Gimbals continues to delight and surprise me.   They’ve just celebrated their 20th birthday in their charming, atmospheric restaurant in Sowerby Bridge and Simon Baker’s kitchen skills remain incomparable – I haven’t had a duff dish there all year, but my favourite two courses were a partridge breast wrapped in bacon with confit partridge bubble and squeak with caramelised pear and crispy sage, and a sticky figgy pudding with toffee sauce – two simple, honest, faultless dishes bursting with flavour and texture, a complete joy to eat.  If I could only eat in one restaurant ever again, Gimbals would be it. (Mandy).

In Leeds,  Iberica confirmed that chains are not all bad. The Swine that Dines continued its upward trajectory; and the Reliance is just that, but it’s in York that I’ve enjoyed some great new openings. Skosh with their exciting small plates and the lovely Rattle Owl, a couple of doors along. I’ve enjoyed the relaxed vibe and the excellent wines at Cave du Cochon and at the new Rascills at Raskelf a salad of smoked ham and mozzarella was my dish of the year. (Jill)

A couple of local finds have brought me much happiness this year; Blue Sky Baker in Hebden Bridge, where I score not only fabulous bread, but THE BEST peanut butter on the planet, Proper Nutty, made down the road in Brighouse, and a cool bar called Drink? which has risen out of the damp ashes of the devastating Boxing Day floods. (Mandy)

 The saddest closure of the year was Le Langhe, York’s favourite Italian, but we’re cheered that our young protégé Tom Mckenzie is part of the team putting together a bold new plan for the York Boxpark, a series of shipping containers  that will be transformed into a sociable place to eat and drink in the city centre. (Jill)

 My ‘stay’ of the year was at Cowside in beautiful Yockenthwaite where Mandy and I enjoyed a restorative weekend in one of Landmark Trust’s glorious cottages. (Jill)

My pub of the year gong goes to the White Lion in Cray, sensitively renovated by a young York couple – there’s minimum Farrow & Ball and maximum stone flags and roaring fires – and some of the best views in the Dales. We took a walk round Upper Wharfedale, ended up there and enjoyed an excellent pint of Hetton Pale Ale and rare beef sarnie – it wins hands down. (Mandy)




Closure of Le Langhe

Le Langhe shopWe were saddened to learn of the sudden closure of Le Langhe, probably our favourite restaurant in York. The shutters are up and it appears to be under new ownership. We know nothing more than what we have read on the website, which says little more than thank you and goodnight. Le Langhe was a crazy, idiosyncratic and superb Italian restaurant and consistently one of our top ten restaurants in Yorkshire. The mercurial Otto cooked like a dream, wonderful understated food from his Le Langhe homeland. We loved this place, the silky pasta, the amazing wine collection we could even handle the erratic service in exchange for such fabulous food. The deli was a wonderful resource and the only place to source white truffles. Thank you Otto for many fabulous meals, we will miss you.

World Class Obsession

If you’ve ever tried to get a table at Michael O’Hare’s Man Behind the Curtain, you will know it’s booked up forever. If you are quick, and prepared to travel out of the county, you might sample his food at a table at the Michelin starred Northcote, near Blackburn.


Man_Behind_CurtainObsession began as a week of events to fill the restaurant in the quiet months, now it is what Nigel Haworth calls ‘a monster event’ where 23 world-class chefs cook for a night over 17 nights and each year the line-up gets more amazing.


For Obsession 17 there’s O’Hare, Michael Wignal from Gidleigh Park, James Close and John Williams, recently Michelin-starred at the Raby Hunt and Ritz respectively. There’s a woman’s chef night with  Claire Clark, Anna Hansen, Isaac McHale from the Clove Club and Atul Kochhar from Benares.


But that’s not all, like us, you may not know leading chefs from Italy, Japan, Australia, Slovenia and China and the USA, but they are some of the world’s best coming to Blackburn to cook. I know it’s crazy.


It is a stunning line-up and pricey of course: £130 per person for champagne and canapés followed by five courses – add wine on top of that.

Obsession runs for 17 days from 20 January to 5th February. The hotline opens 8am on 1st November 033 999 7762.


Appleton’s of York

Appletons_York_001TSLong before nose to tail eating became fashionable, my granddad, a pork butcher in Burnley, proudly boasted he used every part of the pig. You can see this from the home movie he shot in his factory in the 1950s and my grandma making the hand raised pork pies they supplied at Christmas.

Now, you will find excellent pies at Anthony Sterne’s  new shop, Appleton’s on Lendal in York. You might remember Anthony as the chap who made I’s Pies. Keen meat shoppers will already know about the branches of Appleton’s in Wetherby and Ripon. Now Anthony is bringing pork pies, pork products and fresh pork to York city centre, something not seen since the lovely Scott of York sadly closed in 2008.

On the opening night where we sampled pies and pints,  I talked to farmer David Fieldhouse who until recently was breeding and rearing his rare breed Berkshires and Large Whites at the family farm at Stutton near Tadcaster. Now he has transferred all his pigs to Anthony Sterne’s land near Ripon so that they can be fully outdoor reared.

We liked Appleton’s pies,  especially the ones still warm from the oven and as Appleton’s is virtually on our doorstep, we will be back for sausages, dry cured bacon, ham shanks, gammon and pork joints.

Good to see Appleton’s joining Burr and the newly opened Spring Espresso on Lendal, bringing more good food and drink to this corner of York.

The Etivaz is in

We love Andy Swinscoe’s little cheese shop, the Courtyard Dairy in Settle. And, oh boy … what he doesn’t know about cheese isn’t worth knowing, so when he tells you that the Etivaz is in, it’s time to listen.

Swinscoe_Courtyard_DairyIt might sound like an anagram, but actually Etivaz is an Alpine cheese made on small farms during the summer months between May and October. I bought some last Christmas and can confirm it is superb with a wonderful flavour that suggests something deep and ancient. Andy describes it as a cross between aged Gruyère and Comté, but ‘with an extra depth of flavour from being made over an open fire’.  Watch his film of the Swiss couple making their Etivaz in a chalet up a mountain, right out of a scene from Heidi. And when you’ve seen it, go order your cheese!





Fishing Remembered

A rather heart-warming event was held last week at Whitby’s ‘Fisherman’s Wife’ fish and chip restaurant, the one on Khyber pass with the fabulous views over Whitby beach.

The restaurant invited a group of retired fishermen and their wives for a special fish lunch and a chance to share photographs and memories of their days at sea. The guests had between them fishing experience of 500 years. Ronnie Frampton, 83, who fished out of Whitby for over 60 years said: ‘This has been a brilliant day to meet everyone who’s been at sea for a long time. Our fishing days were tough at sea, but it’s in our blood…I’ve had a fantastic time.’

Ronnie Frampton at the Fishermans Wife lunch


Curtain Up

Theatre_RoyalTo York Theatre Royal for the launch of their bistro following its £6 million refurbishment. The theatre re-opened in April with a new stage and seating, better access and a new open-plan foyer and glassed in colonnade.


The dining area is little changed. Patrick Gwynne’s listed 1967 ‘mushrooms’ are a rare, early example of poured concrete and remain untouched, but new chairs and tables (with laser etched theatrical quotes) made by resident Snowhome of York designer John Green, give it a fresh look.


The new foyer area though is totally different: bright and modern and a cool place for morning coffee and cake and, if the new manager Matt Beevers has his way, for lunch and dinner too.


Matt comes from York’s Restaurant 19 and before that from the Victoria at Robin Hood’s Bay. He has been charged with improving and expanding the food offer and invited us to consider visiting the theatre bistro not just at performance times but throughout the day and evening .


I can’t yet vouch for the meals proper – they served us some rather nice canapés and drinks – but credit for their commitment to local suppliers: Bluebird Bakery bread, brownies from Blond and Brown, Sykes House Farm butchers, Cross of York for fish, York Coffee Emporium and York Brewery.


After reports of disastrous service soon after the April re-opening we look forward to Act Two at the new improved York Theatre Royal.


Food Awards 2017

Man_Behind_CurtainIt’s the awards time of year, so here’s a quick round up:

The 2017 Waitrose Good Food Guide came out in September with new entries for Ox Club and Tharavadu in Leeds, White Rabbit in Todmorden and the Crathorne Arms south of Middlesbrough. One of our favourites,  the Swine that Dines is credited in a list of ‘Best New Openings’ with our congratulations to Ian Myers who is named as ‘a chef to watch’.


Last week the UK Michelin Guide was published with no surprises for Yorkshire, just a sigh of relief I suspect for the six Yorkshire restaurants that retained their stars. They are: the Star at Harome, the Yorke Arms at Ramsgill; the Black Swan at Oldstead; the Box Tree, Ilkley; the Pipe & Glass at South Dalton and the Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds.


Among our near neighbours: Raby Hunt at Darlington has been awarded a second star, a stunning accolade and one of only 20 in the UK. Single stars are retained by House of Tides, Newcastle; Fischer’s of Baslow and Northcote at Langho.


Michelin’s ‘affordable dining’ award, the Bib Gourmand goes to Prashad in Drighlington, Chadwicks of Maltby and Le Langhe in York.


Yorkshire got a look-in at the Great British Pub Awards with

Best Beer Pub: the Sheffield Tap. Best Student Pub: the Doctor’s Orders, Sheffield. Best Cider Pub: Foley’s Tap House, Leeds and across the border Best Food Pub for the Freemason’s at Wiswell near Clitheroe.

Proper Nutty!

Jill and I are often asked what our guilty secrets are, food-wise. Mine’s crisps – I can do a family bag in one sitting. Jill’s is peanut butter. I didn’t think I was partial until these bad boys appeared on the shelf of my new favourite bread shop in Hebden Bridge, Blue Sky Baker.

proper nutty

Stuart & Kathryn Franklin lived in New Zealand for a while and developed a taste for the very different artisan peanut butter they discovered there which wasn’t over processed or too sweet. When they moved back to Yorkshire they realised it was impossible to source anything remotely similar, so started to make their own. It wasn’t long before friends and family were clamoring for it, and it became obvious that they had to up the ante. From the kitchen table they moved to a small factory in Dewsbury, installed a roaster and grinder; they roast their peanuts slowly roasted in small batches, then they’re ground – and nothing artificial is added. ‘Nowt but Nuts’ is 100% peanuts, and ‘Slightly Salted’ has a smidgen of sea salt. And that’s it. I’m a complete convert. NOTHING beats a slather of it on buttery toast with my morning espresso. NOTHING. Jam? Pah. Check out their website for stockists and recipes – today I will mostly be making chocolate and peanut butter brownies.



Blue Sky Baker

What do you do after a long day on the building site? Put in a shift in the kitchen at Salvos, of course. At least that’s what Paul Heyhoe did. Just for the love of it he worked for nothing – or at any rate, his supper. Reckons he learned more from John and Gip Dammone about how to put ingredients together to make a great plate of food than he ever could have at school. In his spare time (ha!) he made bread at home and sold it in the Salumeria. Now he’s baking full time in the Beehive Bakery by the canal in Hebden Bridge, and a month or so ago opened his shop on Cheetham Street. It’s a lovely space, light and white and nothing like the bookies it was beforeblue sky baker. Right now Paul makes and sells bread and a few cakes, in a couple of weeks there’ll be sandwiches on the menu too. His light, crispy pane carasau the size of a tennis racket is the best alternative to crispbread this side of Sardinia. He makes fougasse and foccacia as well as an impressive range of loaves; olive, rye, wholemeal, granary and porter. Cakes include the likes of stout, flapjack, lemon tart and at 3 in the afternoon the brownie has SOLD OUT. No matter. People are already travelling some distance for his doughnuts, which are divine (oo-er matron). It’s just great to see a smart new business opening up in a town that on Boxing Day was 6 feet under water. That’s Blue Sky Thinking, Blue Sky Baker.

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