It took experimental Leeds chef Michael O’Hare just a year to gain his reputation as a man who does unusual things with unusual ingredients. In 2015 his artistic menu featuring sea urchin, foie gras donuts, chilli sorbet and kimchi ramen won his Man Behind The Curtain restaurant the city’s first Michelin star in a decade. The food scene in Leeds exploded after that.
Yorkshire has in fact long been home to more Michelin stars than any other county outside London. Yet many of the most popular dining experiences are in the countryside rather than the cities, hidden away in unassuming village inns (many with rooms for minimal postprandial exertion). Take farmer’s son and self-taught chef Tommy Banks, whose family’s quaint Michelin-starred village pub, the Black Swan at Oldstead, was recently lauded as the best restaurant in the world in a high-profile public vote. Tommy takes great pride in his kitchen gardens and gets his kicks experimenting with unsung greens such as lovage and woodruff, and indulging in some ‘food theatre’ – much to the surprise and delight of his rural diners.
Covering an area of 2.9 million acres with moorlands, dales (valleys), country pastures and a sea-lashed coastline, Yorkshire’s geology is so diverse that it makes a bountiful larder. Top chefs are taking a keen interest in seasonal ingredients that can be sustainably harvested from the land, and a handful of local companies now take food enthusiasts out on foraging walks combining fresh country air with cooking tips.
Taste the Wild (from £85) dabbles with up to 300 wild foods and its one- and two-day courses could involve rummaging in hedgerows for berries, beneath woodland canopies for chanterelles or along the beaches around Robin Hood’s Bay for edible seaweeds and shellfish, followed by an alfresco cook-up.
In a salt-shrivelled fisherman’s cottage down a cobbled lane on Whitby’s East Cliff, Fortune’s has been traditionally smoking kippers since 1872. Its cramped storefront backed by tea-coloured old photos and charred smoking room are a window into a bygone era that lives on in this classic British seaside town. Whitby crab and cockle stalls compete with fish-and-chip shops and garish slot machines, but a new breed of restaurants is determined to get the town out of its comfortable rut by adding prized seafood such as local mackerel, lemon sole and North Sea halibut to the mix.
In the summer of 2017, Michelin-starred North Yorkshire chef Andrew Pern returned to Whitby – his home town – to open Star Inn the Harbour with a fish-focused menu and a backdrop of lobster traps and rod-wielding fisherfolk.
Pies and puddings
Early cookbook author Hannah Glasse coined the term ‘Yorkshire pudding’ in her 1747 tome The Art of Cookery, but much to the chagrin of Yorkshirefolk there’s not much else to bind the little batter cake to its namesake county. Nevertheless, artery-clogging pies and puddings are king in ‘God’s Own County’. A recent fad is the Yorkshire pudding wrap, though it has been on and off menus for years; join the queue of tourists at York Roast Co in North Yorkshire’s medieval tourist magnet to try it, rolled with meat, gravy, vegetable trimmings and stuffing.
For gourmet pork pies or shortcrust steak-and-ale pies, a favourite destination is the pretty Georgian town of Helmsley in North Yorkshire, widely known for its delis. Hunters of Helmsley, run by a family from farming stock, sells coveted pork pies featuring just the right balance of crisp buttery crust, gelatine and top-quality, coarsely ground, herbed meat.
South Asian influences
After WWII and Indian independence, thousands of South Asian immigrants hot-footed it to West Yorkshire to take up jobs in the textile industries that underpinned cities such as Leeds and Bradford. The population in some areas is now as much as a quarter South Asian, and Indian and Pakistani food is as ubiquitous in Yorkshire as the Sunday roast.
Bradford has claimed the title of Curry Capital of Britain for six consecutive years, but try Bundobust or Cat’s Pyjamas in Leeds for a modern Yorkshire take – walls plastered with Bollywood stars, eclectic dishes from Parsi classics to Goan chicken curry and Delhi chat, all paired with craft beers.
France it is not, but Yorkshire is carving out an unlikely niche for itself as the home of Britain’s most northerly wineries. Vines cling precariously to chilly hills, producing delicate whites, sparklings, and even a few light, oak-matured reds from grape varietals you’re not going to find in the supermarkets. This handful of wineries are fledgling commercial entities and you’ll have to come to the source to sniff, sip and swill; several have rooms so you can make a night of it.
Ryedale has won awards for its English sparkling wine, but Sheveling Wine Estate, planted at 840 metres in historic Holmfirth is a slick all-rounder with daily tours, hillside self-catering accommodation and a restaurant that feels more Loire than Last of the Summer Wine.
In the past decade Yorkshire’s traditional ale- and bitter-producing beer giants have met their match in a new breed of craft breweries par excellence, many of them with little more than a shed to their name and a penchant for experimentation and new-world hops. There are hundreds of these popping up, making Yorkshire ground zero for hopheads.
Among the most prized are beers from Ilkley Brewery in the chichi West Yorkshire spa town of the same name; Saltaire Brewery, in the shadow of a 19th-century Unesco mill town; Magic Rock in studenty Huddersfield; Northern Monk, housed in a Grade II-listed mill in Leeds; and Brass Castle in the foodie market town of Malton. Most have tasting rooms. Or take a Leeds or York tour with Brewtown to hit several in a day.
An award-winning microbrewery and tap room is just the tip of the iceberg in Malton. Hard community graft and investment from the local gentry have helped the town perform a 180 in the past few years from run-down provincial centre to thriving food capital. Now its dashing Georgian market square is embellished with antique shops and cafes selling parkin (a local sticky ginger cake), Yorkshire curd tarts, pies and artisanal coffee.
On the second Saturday of every month the square is flooded with local producers during what has fast become Yorkshire’s best monthly food market; visit the annual Malton Food Lovers Festival in May to see this in hyperdrive.