Staycation: Middletons Hotel, York
by Joely Carey
Cobbled streets with history at every turn, York is also a haven for independent shops, glorious food… and ghosts (optional)
Whirlwind 24-hour city breaks require precision packing – when I arrive in pretty York, I realise I’ve made a rookie error. I’ve packed just one pair of shoes – silver stilettos that would most definitely result in a broken ankle on York’s cobbled streets! I ditch them in favour of the old trainers I’ve been wearing all day – the result isn’t one of my best looks, but time is ticking and my husband John and I have new places to discover and a dinner reservation for 8pm.
This ancient walled city could keep you busy for weeks – it’s a knock-out for history lovers, the architecture is mind-blowingly beautiful, and if you haven’t walked the 13th-century walls that circle York, what have you been doing all your life? But this place is also, perhaps surprisingly, great for foodies… if you know where to look.
Cross the Ouse Bridge, named after the river it spans, then wander through the medieval Shambles – it’s kind of a must, just ignore the plethora of wizarding shops (unless that’s your vibe). The only shop I seek round here is the Bluebird Bakery – its sourdough makes life complete, as does its focaccia and everything else in the shop, really.
From here, it’s on to Fossgate Merchants Quarter, renowned for its independent shops, bars, and eateries, and home to one of John’s favourites – the teeny tiny Blue Bell, York’s smallest pub. It’s a real step back in time, perfect for a cool pint before we make our way to the magnificent Minster to marvel at its huge medieval stained-glass Great East Window. If you’re lucky to be there on a sunny day, the colours are mesmerising.
We trot back to the Lady Anne House building of Middletons Hotel, just a few minutes from the Ouse Bridge, to change for dinner. Our compact room with views over the manicured garden is tastefully decorated with luxe bedding in muted tones. Added touches, such as The White Company toiletries and a dinky Roberts radio, give it a boutique feel.
Dinner is in the newly opened 1711 restaurant, inside the Middletons’ sister property less than 10 minutes’ walk across the city. We have a quick aperitif on the fairy-lit terrace. Dating back to (yep, you guessed it) 1711, the building is perfect for dinner a deux, oozing elegance with high ceilings and huge windows. Led by Philippines-born head chef Marlon Sanchez – classically trained at the Culinary Institute of Barcelona – 1711 has a fresh take on Asian-Mediterranean fusion cuisine using outstanding Yorkshire produce.
I love that the menu is small – there are just five dishes suggested for starters, mains and desserts, and these change every few weeks. A carnivore to the core, John chooses a starter he’ll go on to rave about to anyone who cares to listen – venison carpaccio. Served with the tiniest dab of truffle and topped with delicate strips of shallot, it is an absolute masterpiece of texture and taste.
My bay scallops are served perfectly squishy on garlic cream with sliced Jerusalem artichoke, topped with a delicate deep-green nibble of crisped kale. Despite the warmth of the evening, I’m tempted by the ox cheek main, but instead have the salmon. It comes in a floral vinegar glaze and is served with a light lobster sauce, hen of the woods and the prettiest peach jewels of arenkha caviar.
Opposite me, John’s rack of lamb is delicately flavoured with passion fruit and served with wild mushrooms and an oh-so-creamy dauphinoise. Nursing full bellies, we share a pavlova – with a perfectly chewy centre – adorned with seasonal fruits and served with a lip-smacking sorbet.
Outside, the streets are eerily quiet. York is rumoured to be one of the world’s most haunted cities and the ancient buildings do seem to whisper secrets long forgotten. I’ve yet to do a ghost tour, but that just gives me another excuse to visit this grand old lady again.
How to book
A Cosy Room at Middletons Hotel costs from £146.90 per night on a B&B basis (based on two people sharing). Heritage Suites cost from £256.90 per night. For more info and to book, visit middletonsyork.co.uk.