Curtain Up

To 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.

Enhanced lighting for Patrick Gwynne’s magnificent Theatre Royal restaurant

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.


Pern & Johns Link Up

Breaking news: Richard Johns (Falcon Inn, Withernwick) and Andrew Pern (chef/prop. of the Star Inn and Star Inn the City) are linking up for a new venture in York. We’ve long been fans of chef Richard and Lindsey Johns ever since their days at Artisan in Hessle.

Richard and Lindsey Johns

Richard and Lindsey Johns

They closed there in 2013 feeling they had taken the restaurant as far as they could as a two-person operation. After a break to recharge, they surprised us all by opening at the Falcon Inn in Withernwick, 15 miles from Beverley in the far reaches of east Yorkshire, so it was a surprise to hear from Richard that ‘due to circumstances we do not control there is no long term future here’.

The couple are relocating to York in mid May to ‘work on a new project with Andrew Pern’. The location of Andrew’s new venture is still under wraps until negotiations are complete but we will keep you posted.

While the Johns’ move is a loss for East Yorkshire it’s good news for York.  We wish them all the very best of luck.

On The Grid

Perky Peacock 01Our friends at Maraid, (the people who designed our website) introduced us to On The Grid,  a great website for travellers.  It was created by a New York design company for their own neighbourhood and then  opened it up to designers all over the world to share  ‘exceptional places’ in their city. By exceptional they mean cool shops, good restaurants, coffee stops, museums, the sort of places you look for when visiting a new city. Jane and Richard at Maraid have created the site for York. Stunningly photographed and with great places to go, (including one of our favourite places, the Perky Peacock above) we love it.  Take a look, then explore all the other cities around the world.







Yorkshire’s Sweet Tooth


Yorkshire has always had an exceedingly sweet tooth. The love affair probably dates from when sugar stopped being an expensive luxury reserved for the gentry; probably from 1660 when John Taylor set up his sugar refinery in Skeldergate, York and dentists started rubbing their hands.

Mackintosh’s in Halifax made Quality Street and Toffee. Liquorice Allsorts and Pontefract Cakes came out of Bassett’s in Sheffield,  York had Terry’s and their famous Chocolate Orange while Rowntree’s invented the Kit Kat. Little Maxon’s in Sheffield remain the family firm, independently making their mint humbugs and Jesmona Black Bullets, Yorkshire has given Britain an historic conveyor belt of household names.

Yorkshire manufacturers made world-beating breakthroughs in the development of toffee, chocolates and boiled sweets and at Rowntrees, in enlightened management before foreign regimes took over.  Today, Nestlé Rowntree stamp out six million Kit Kats from the Haxby Road site. It is Britain’s biggest confectionery exporter, but the sad truth is Rowntree is just a name now albeit with a history worth remembering.

It was the maverick Mary Tuke, aged 30 and scandalously unmarried from an influential Quaker family, who started it all. In the 18th century she ran a grocer’s shop in York without a license from the Merchant Adventurers. It took seven years before they finally allowed her to trade legitimately. Her descendants began manufacturing cocoa and chocolate until another Quaker, Henry Isaac Rowntree acquired the company. When he faced financial difficulties, he brought in his brother Joseph to help sort things out.



Joseph Rowntree in old age


Joseph brought in a French pastille maker to produce fruit gums and pastilles and it was these, not chocolate, that proved to be the turning point for the business. Only later did Joseph purchase state of the art equipment from Holland to begin producing a purer form of cocoa and raising enough funds to build a large factory on Haxby Road.


Rowntree’s Cocoa Works, Haxby Road

There they developed countless new lines that grew into household names. The first chocolate selection box for the mass market was Black Magic, followed by Dairy Box along with Aero, Kit Kat and Smarties.

For Joseph Rowntree, whose Quaker principles meant he was as concerned with people as much as product. He introduced medical and dental care for his workers, he instituted the first ever company suggestion scheme, offered cookery lessons, singing classes, a book club and an angling club, though works outings were abandoned  when everyone got drunk in Whitby on the first trip. At New Earswick he built a model village with green spaces, a folk hall and sunny, well-built houses with gardens for working people, and he created one of the world’s first pension schemes on which many of today’s systems are based,

At much the same time, Joseph Terry was setting himself up in competition with Rowntree’s. Since 1767 he had been producing candied citron, jujubes, mint cakes and coltsfoot rock at a site on Bootham. In 1823 he moved to St Helen’s Square and there laid the foundations for the famous company.


Terry’s Chocolate Works on Bishopthorpe Road

In the 1930s Terry’s built their factory, the Chocolate Works, a red brick, art deco building on 170 acres on Bishopthorpe Road. They named themselves Terry’s of York, acquired their own cocoa plantation in the Venezuelan Andes (using a cocoa palm as their logo) and developed Neapolitans, All Gold and Terry’s Chocolate Orange; and like Rowntree initiated insurance, pension schemes, convalescent and social clubs and holidays with pay.

The 1960s brought massive changes for Terry’s. It is a story of takeover and merger, by  United Biscuits and eventually Kraft who closed the Chocolate Works, moved production to Europe and made 300 workers redundant.

The landmark Chocolate Works is yet to be developed into flats and offices. The shop in St Helen’s Square is now a bar named Harker’s, though a replica of the shop can be found in the Castle Museum – a reminder of the glories of this pioneering Yorkshire giant.

By the mid-80s Rowntree’s was also facing takeover. A hostile approach by the Swiss multi-national Nestlé led to vigorous protests. Opponents even traveled to Switzerland to protest at the Nestlé headquarters. The takeover went ahead anyway.

Nestlé was and remains, the world’s biggest and most powerful food multi-national. It also stands condemned in some countries for its marketing of infant formula in the developing world where access to clean water is limited. A British boycott of Nescafé has been in place for many years supported by bodies as august as Save the Children and the Women’s Institute. There is little doubt where Joseph Rowntree would have stood.

For more information on Rowntree’s www.rowntreesociety

Blind Swine On Tour

Blind Swine breadBlind Swine the York restaurant that we rated the best opening of the year  is closing on lst January.

We’re dismayed, not least because we rate Michael O’Hare’s  bizarre, fun and innovative cooking, the no choice menu and even the cocktails, but all is not lost, Blind Swine are going ‘on tour’. If you want to know what that means then read on, this is from their Facebook page:

‘The Blind Swine will be closing its doors on 1st January 2014. Our lease has ended and Michael and the team are relocating in the new year details of which will be announced soon.

We are unable to take bookings until we have a definite opening date
In the mean time and over January and Febuary in true rock and roll style we will be going “on tour” filling as many dates as we can in Yorkshire and the North East

We are calling the tour SWINESTOCK. The tour will consist of ;

Pop-up nights in and around york

Guest chef nights in other restaurants

Home dinner parties

If you are interested in either coming to see us on tour
or being part of it (venues and home dinner parties)
please email for details.

Thank you everyone for your continued support we look forward to seeing you in the New Year.’

In the meantime, you may just be able to squeeze in a booking. There are no more weekend tables available in December and they are closed Sunday and Monday, so hurry if you want a table before the end of the year. Failing that, have them round to your place too cook for you. It should be a riot.  Tel: 01904 634825


Braised Beef Cheeks with Orange Gremolata

We’ve featured Christopher Trotter’s recipe’s before for no better reason than they are delicious. Christopher runs cookery courses and bespoke food tours around Fife, his patch on the east coast of Scotland. I can vouch for his food tours, I’ve been on one and they are terrific. Now he’s here in Yorkshire,  demonstrating at the York Food Festival and promoting his new book ‘The Whole Cow’ the follow up to his first book ‘The Whole Hog’, and has given us this recipe. It uses slow braised beef cheek, for a deep, rich flavour, but it is the orange gremolata that really lifts this dish into something special.

Beef Cheek Beef Cheek

Beef cheek is a great discovery and well worth seeking out, the rich flavour is certainly worth it. Get the butcher to trim the cheeks. Each one will weigh about 500g and will feed up to 3.


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 trimmed beef cheeks
  • 25 g butter
  • 6 shallots peeled
  • 2 carrots sliced thickly at an angle
  • 500ml stock
  • thyme and bay leaf

For the Gremolata

1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped
grated zest of orange

Mix together


Season the cheeks and brown them all over in a hot pan (that can later go in the oven)  with the olive oil.

Set aside and then brown the shallots and carrots in the pan with the butter.

Reduce the heat and return the meat on top, and pour over the stock, bring to simmer add the herbs and cover with a cartouche*.

Braise in an oven 150C 300 F gas 2 for about four hours. Check the liquid doesn’t drop too much and top up if necessary. When cooked the meat should offer no resistance and the main vein will break under pressure.

Allow the meat to rest in the liquid, this can be over a period and simply reheat or allow at least half an hour. Strain the liquid and reduce a little and check the seasoning. Serve in slices with the shallots and carrots and a little sauce with a spoon of gremolata on each one.

This dish is really still open to experiment, try cooking with a little red wine and not just stock, Geoffrey Smeddle of the Peat Inn allows the cheeks to cool completely and rolls them in cling film and presses them in the fridge, then you can slice a perfect shape. He also suggested the *cartouche, a round piece of greaseproof paper which really keeps the moisture in for slow cooks

If you want to know more about Christopher Trotter

Star Inn the City Coming Along

We’re excited to see building work progressing at the Star Inn the City beside Lendal Tower in York. It’s a great location in a corner of the lovely Museum Gardens and bordering the river. Refurbishment of the Old Engine House – the main restaurant – is well underway and we have watched the diggers preparing for the brand new glazed extension and outdoor dining space to the side. Altogether it will seat 120 and is due to open late autumn. We can’t wait.


Artists impression ot the Star Inn the City











York Wine Club

Jim Helsby & Terry Herbert of The Wine Club

We’ve long been fond of the York Beer and Wine Shop, a specialist shop tucked away off Fishergate that does what it says and more.

Jim Helsby is the man behind it and a bit of a York legend. There’s been his long-standing beer column in the York Press and he’s been running this precious little shop since 1985.

Today it  stocks 250 bottled beers from home and abroad with the likes of  Cropton’s ‘Monkman’s Slaughter’, Hambleton’s ‘Nightmare’ as well as scores of German and Belgian beers and Timothy Taylor’s on draught. Then there are ciders, both draught and bottled, and some of the loveliest well-cared for cheeses anywhere: Berkswell, Stinking Bishop, unpasteurised Brie de Meaux.

Wine, though, is a relatively new addition. An interesting selection, particularly strong on Spanish wines  that led to the collaboration in 1995 with wine merchant Terry Herbert and together they run The Wine Club.

Once a month they email you with the offer of one or two mixed cases of good value wines from growers you don’t find in supermarkets. You can collect or – within reason – they’ll deliver. Click here for this month’s offer. It’s a fair indication of the range, value and unfussy style of the club.

Terry will also organise a personal wine tasting for groups of 8-12 and every few months he organises wine tastings with supper. In April it was at Melton’s, on 11th July it is the Dawnay Arms at Newton on Ouse, for a tutored tasting of Langeudoc wines, a three course supper, plenty of wine, all for £35. Not surprisingly at such prices, these events are usually a sell-out so book now. We’ve booked our table, so watch this space, we’ll be reporting back.

York Food Festival 2011

York Food Festival starts this weekend. (16th-25th September). It’s the biggest and arguably the best in the county with dozens of stands, stalls, markets, street food, demonstrations, tastings, workshops, lunches and dinners.

Parliament Street is the hub of the market with dozens of stalls selling everything from fish to fairy cakes. It’s a bit of a scrum at the two weekends of the Festival so if fighting through the crowds is the extent of your experience of the YFF, then think again. There’s so much going on – and some chaff among the wheat – that it’s worth studying the website to pick out something different.

For what it’s worth here are my tips for the week:

Parliament Street:
I do Parliament Street midweek when it’s calmer and quieter. If you are looking for a particular stall, do check the website; not everyone is there every day.

Cookery Demonstrations:
Demos take place every day in the demonstration area in St Sampson’s Square (outside Brown’s). The ones I’ll be watching:

17th September 1pm
I’m keen to see Darren Iddon, the newly appointed chef for the multi-million pound hotel at Raithwaite Hall, near Sandsend. He’ll be demonstrating fish with my man from Whitby Seafish and now  York market, Matthew Asquith.

24th September 1pm & 5pm
Rather aloofly, Betty’s have never left the hallowed portals of their York tearooms to take part in the YFF – until this year. Imagine it, demure Betty’s slumming it among the gas rings of a tented workshop but I do like the staff at Betty’s Cookery School so I’ll be along to support them.

25th September 1pm
Squidbeak readers have recommended the Green Room, Scarborough. I haven’t made it there yet so I’m keen to see chef Rob Porter demonstrating.

25th September 3pm
We like Tea Hee’s so a Cheese Tasting with Sophie Smith is just about unmissable. Annoyingly, it clashes with Sophie Jowett of Little Pretty Things and her chocolate tempering and chocolate truffle workshop that starts at 2.30pm in the Workshop Area.

Slow Food Workshops are held every day at 12.30pm in St Sampson’s Square. Well worth dropping in on.

Wine Tastings:
17th September 7.30pm
Karen Hardwick is a great wine educator: straightforward, engaging, informed and funny. Enjoy sharing platters in the Guildhall with a tutored tasting of Southern Rhone wines or her Sauternes lunch at Melton’s on 18th at 12.30pm.

Peter McKenna is another impressive wine educator. He’s doing sherry and port  tastings at Melton’s Too on 19th and 22nd at 6pm.

24th September 5pm & 7.30pm
A tutored tasting of s Grand Crus St Emilion’s at the Mansion House followed by a visit to the Guildhall Wine Fair hosted by York independent wine merchants Field and Fawcett.

Lunches & Dinners:
The Festival  lunches and dinners are some of the best events on the week’s menu from a convivial curry night to a black tie do. A big hit last year was the Grazing Café, in Parliament Street where you could pick up a plate of local produce for three quid plus a glass of Champagne, and forget going back to the office for the afternoon. I know exactly how popular this was because I was helping out behind the counter.

20th September 7.30pm
New this year is Dine at My Table in which festival goers are invited into homes to dine with a local. And there’s no finer gaff in York than the Lord Mayor’s official residence, the Mansion House. His Worshipfulness won’t actually be cooking; that will be done by chefs from the Feversham Arms at Helmsley so expect seriously good nosh.

20th September 7.30pm  
Alternatively, same time, same night, a more laid back supper in the Guildhall might be more Squidbeak’s style. The three chefs who took part in Great British Menu on BBC2, Tim Bilton, Stephanie Moon and Andrew Pern will be demonstrating their dishes at a supper followed by Q & A’s. With three such outgoing characters, it should be great fun in another stunning setting.

24th September 7.30pm

Having regularly nagged the Festival organisers to lay on something for vegetarians, I’ve spotted this four course vegetarian dinner with wines hosted by Burgundy expert Dr Gareth Morgan.

Prices, venues, booking info etc on the Festival website:

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