20 August 2014

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Focus on... restaurants in York and Harrogate


York&Scarborough - Cedar_Court_Grand_framed_by_York_Wall.jpgUntil quite recently, York’s culinary landscape was limited to tourist-trap teahouses, antiquated hotel dining rooms, sandwich shops and the occasional carvery. Happily, times are changing and this world-famous cathedral city has acquired a handful of serious restaurants deserving of its rich history and quaint cobbled streets.

The genteel spa town of Harrogate has faced a similar conundrum – its upwardly mobile inhabitants have long clamoured for dining destinations to match their expensive tastes, but only recently has their town been endowed with eateries worth a special trip. Thankfully, chefs in both York and Harrogate are taking full advantage of Yorkshire’s rich regional larder.

Restaurants in York


The cosy confines of homely Ambiente on Goodramgate provide the backdrop for high-quality, authentic tapas with a few idiosyncratic add-ons. The restaurant’s size belies its extensive menu – a wide-ranging line-up of choice picks ranging from boquerones, albondigas and patatas bravas to paellas and the weird-sounding ‘bananacurry’.

Barbakan Caffè & Restaurant

Polish cuisine stakes its claim at this casual eatery, which combines an easy-going café and a rustic restaurant. Go for hearty platefuls of peasant-style cabbage and sausage stew (‘bigos’), savoury pancakes, and traditionally made pierogi dumplings. Barbakan also offers a selection of decadent cakes baked on the premises.

The Blind Swine

The Blind Swine is arguably the jewel in York’s crown, and foodies who detect a Scandinavian vibe about the minimalist environs and highly original tasting menu are not far off the mark: chef Michael O’Hare cut his teeth at world-beating Nordic superstar Noma, which might explain why it often takes months to secure a booking at this six-table restaurant.

The Blue Bicycle - The_Blue_Bicycle_2009_-_Blue_Bicycle_Shop_Front.tif.jpgThe Blue Bicycle (pictured, left)

Famous as a brothel at the turn of the century, this colourful venue now woos diners with its vintage-themed setting, cheeky artwork, cosy nooks and seasonal menus. Intricate fish dishes are the stars of the menu and there are some intelligently chosen global wines too. Out-of-towners can make a weekend of it by booking one of the Blue Rooms behind the restaurant.

Café No. 8 Bistro

The dynamism of Chris Pragnell and Martin Gore has transformed this unassuming café-cum-bistro into one of York’s go-to dining destinations. It may be small, but Café No. 8 boasts three menus for different times of the week. Come summer, guests are able to snag a table out on the tiered garden terrace, which backs onto the city walls.


Delrio’s can suffer bouts of inconsistency, but book the right table on the right night (avoid the bar area if possible), and the restaurant sings with kitsch rustic charm. Likewise, stick to the pizza and pasta staples, and you’ll be rewarded with warming, well-prepared Italian fare served in a buzzing atmosphere.

Il Paradiso Del Cibo

From the outside, Il Paradiso looks like a rough-and-ready takeaway pizza joint, but venture beyond the cheap facade and you’ll be treated to some genuinely authentic Italian food from the ‘nonna knows best’ school. Pasta is made on the premises, the specials board is always changing, and there’s a raft of very affordable set deals.

J Baker’s Bistro Moderne

Chef Jeff Baker has been sating appetites here since 2006, thanks largely to his penchant for combining locally sourced, seasonal ingredients with natural flair and an unfussy attitude to serious cooking. The modest ‘bistro-style’ dining area downstairs lends itself to grazing and flexibility, with prices admirably pegged back for the city’s peckish foodies.

Le Langhe

Part café, part deli, part restaurant, this forward-looking enterprise takes its inspiration from Piedmont’s Langhe Hills (the birthplace of the Slow Food movement). Eat lunch in the deli/café or out on the courtyard; otherwise head up to the intimate candlelit restaurant for an evening menu that changes with the seasons – look out for wild boar porchetta, Alba truffles and homemade pasta.

Melton's - Meltons_int_4_120407.jpgMelton’s (pictured, right)

Michael Hjort’s cute little charmer close to the racecourse has been pleasing York’s foodies for more than two decades with its quaintly dated surrounds, rigorously sourced Yorkshire ingredients and admirable prices. Menus change regularly, but expect canny Anglo/European ideas such as a duo of marinated lamb with soft polenta, swede purée and cavolo nero.

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Restaurants in Harrogate


Dark hues and mahogany fittings permeate the interior of this long-running restaurant beneath the Studley Hotel. Expect an eclectic array of pan-Asian dishes running from Thai fishcakes and Japanese-style tempura prawns to Szechuan kung po chicken and Filipino beef tagalog. A special sushi and sashimi menu is also served every Tuesday.


The Sukhothai brand originated in Leeds and has been making waves in Harrogate since opening on Cheltenham Parade in 2010. Although the simple, stark confines of the restaurant don’t do the flavour and colour of the food any favours, all the usual Thai suspects (tom yum soups, som tum salad, pad thai noodles) are cooked to near perfection.

The Tannin Level Bar & Bistro

This family-run venue serves a menu of British staples leavened with ideas from around the globe. Rich red colours and dark wood set the tone, conjuring up echoes of an eatery that stood here some 30 years ago. Each evening heralds a different promotion or ‘meal deal’ – from steaks and wine nights to early-bird menus.

William & Victoria

Run by the Straker family for over three decades, this elegantly appointed restaurant and below-stairs wine bar has become something of an institution – thanks largely to the consistent quality of its simple yet stylish Anglo/international cuisine, combined with a fine selection of steaks and a regularly updated wine list with plenty of bargains.

Van Zeller

Tom Van Zeller is one of Yorkshire’s most celebrated chefs, and he’s been reeling in accolades (and customers) since opening his self-named restaurant. His artfully presented, creative takes on contemporary cuisine range from crab with mussel beignets, bisque, cauliflower, apple and Manzanilla olives to red deer with cavolo nero, smoked potato and chestnut purée.

Find bars and pubs in York and Harrogate.

This feature was published in February 2013.

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