If you need to know just how difficult it is to run a restaurant talk to James and Tommy Banks, the two brothers behind the much feted Black Swan at Oldstead. James remembers that despite earning a Michelin they found it difficult to fill this out-of-the-way restaurant on a quiet Wednesday in November. They were on the brink of closure when Tommy took part in the Great British Menu. It meant the Black Swan could reach a wider audience and from then on the phone never stopped ringing. They were, and still are, fully booked every night. TV helped make a success of the Black Swan and led them to open a second location, Roots in York, which was booked out even before it opened.
Tommy Banks of the Black Swan at Oldstead and Roots, York
Things have been less happy for others. Rascills, where chef Richard Johns cooks like a dream but couldn’t get enough punters through the door at the restaurant he runs with his wife Lyndsey at Raskelf and has announced their closure at the end of the year. With plenty to choose from in York, diners have less inclination to travel the 15 miles to Raskelf.
Rascills will be there until Christmas, so we urge you to make a visit for dinner or for one of the best Sunday lunches in the county served on the last Sunday of every month.
Another distinguished restaurant Alimentum in Cambridge closed earlier this month, though happily for us in Yorkshire, head chef Samir Effa has been signed up by Simon Gueller at the Box Tree, presumably with the job of regaining the Michelin star it lost this year after holding it for 14 years.
When Andrew Pern, chef/patron of the Star Inn at Harome lost his Michelin star a few years back, he recalled how he got back in the kitchen and between him and his head chef Steve Smith, they covered every single shift for the next three years until they’d won back that star.
Good news then that having taken a back seat for the last few years, Simon Gueller has reported that he will be back in the kitchen invigorating the Box Tree. We wish all these hardworking chefs well.
The surprise news when the 2019 Michelin stars were announced a couple of weeks ago was that the Box Tree in Ilkley had lost its star. We’ve written before about Michelin’s curious star system and how we are often baffled by those honoured and those serving comparable food that miss out year after year. I’m thinking Skosh and Cochon Aveugle in York, Home in Leeds and the Hare at Scawton.
Simon and Rena Gueller with friend Marco Pierre White
It’s been a while since I visited the Box Tree so can’t comment whether the demotion by Michelin was justified but I would only say that in the new 2019 Good Food Guide, (IMHO a much more accurate and readable judge of British restaurant food), the Box Tree scored an estimable 6 which translates as ‘exemplary cooking skills, innovative ideas, impeccable ingredients and an element of excitement’.
We have long been supporters of Simon and Rena Gueller from their early days in a little bistro in Harrogate then Leeds and later bringing much needed order out of the chaos that was the Box Tree in the late 90’s. I’m also ever grateful that they came to our house just days after Christmas when everyone else was closed, to cook a fabulous spread for our wedding.
If you care about these things and, of course, for chefs it is the ultimate accolade, and want to tick off the Michelin stars in Yorkshire and nearby here is the list of M. starred restaurants:
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!
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.
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.)
Monday saw the launch of the 2018 UK Michelin Guide – streamed live in front of an invited audience. After an interminable build up they finally announced the 16 new stars.
No new stars for Yorkshire, seems their inspectors never get beyond Leicester apart from a star for Moor Hall at Aughton near Ormskirk and Loch Bay on the Isle of Skye. Unusually Michelin announced a third star, (making a total of only five in the UK) for The Araki, a London sushi restaurant with just nine covers that serves one set menu at £300 per person. Drinks extra!
Happily all the current Yorkshire star holders held on to their badges and remain in the club. Once again congratulations to Skosh and Joro for their Bib Gourmand – recognition by Michelin for a restaurant (or chef) worth watching.
We wrote way back in 2012 why we believe Michelin to be an outdated and irrelevant award but we understand why it means so much to chefs. For an interesting article in the London Eater on why Michelin’s matter click here.
Congratulations to Skosh, York and Joro, Sheffield on their Michelin Bib Gourmand announced this morning. So glad we visited and reported some time ago, we’ll never get a table now. Congratulations too to our neighbours the Staith House, North Shields for their Bib Gourmand.
The big one, the Michelin stars, are announced on Monday, 2nd October, live streamed at 11.30am. It’s my guess that York’s Cochon Aveugle will be crossing their fingers. It’s too soon for Horto, though the inspectors appear very keen on the small plates Scandi vibe.
It’s Wednesday lunchtime and chef Andrew Pern is sitting in his whites at a table in his own Star Inn at Harome but there’s no food in sight and the cutlery and napkins have been pushed aside to make way for a large ‘mood board’ of magazine cuttings with ideas for his next big venture.
Rockpool of shellfish with oyster ice cream and seaweed velouté
The Star Inn the Harbour is his latest project. A 160 cover fish restaurant to be housed in the former Tourist Information Centre in the heart of Whitby. The plan is to open in May with a dining area, bar, ice cream parlour and outdoor seating. It’s a plum location in the heart of the town right by the harbour. No wonder the local competition are a little jumpy.
A preliminary menu (which he warns is bound to change) majors on fish and seafood (£5-£15 starters/£15-£22 mains). Naturally they’ll be doing fish and chips: ‘We’d be stupid not to,’ he says, but also Dover sole; monkfish ‘scampi’; halibut and lobster thermidor. On ice: oysters, langoustines, lobster, crevettes then maybe deep fried calamari, fish soup and his fabulous posh prawn cocktail served with a Bloody Mary sorbet.
There will be Rockpool, a Star Inn favourite. He dashes to the kitchen: ‘I’ll get them to make you one’. What comes out is a wooden box filled with pebbles and seaweed: ‘a bit of theatre’ he says and in a hand thrown pot (100 newly commissioned from a local potter) come scallops, prawns, oyster and mussels topped with oyster ice cream and in another pot, a seaweed velouté to pour over.
You will thank me for trying it so that I can confirm it’s absolutely terrific.
It’s also the reason why Pern has a Michelin star and why in January, the Star won Best Gastropub in Britain. Me, I’m counting down to May when the Star rises over the harbour and Andrew Pern, (he was born here) comes home.
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.
Obsession 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.
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.
It’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’.
Our name Squidbeak is inspired by graffiti seen in a swanky Yorkshire restaurant describing a pretentious meal: "Squidbeak of a bum arse on a bed of bum gravy". It sums up our aversion to overpriced, gussied-up food. That doesn't mean we don't love new, creative cooking. Just that Squidbeak means no bull. Squid,’ says a biology professor at the University of California are ‘whimsical and always hungry’. That's us.