Tucked away on medieval Micklegate street and close to the historic York City Walls is Fish & Forest – a very modern foodie’s delight. With an unassuming storefront, simple yet cosy interior design and chatty, laid-back staff, this restaurant is invitingly lacking in pretension – and yet its menu is geared towards the gourmet.
The brainchild of Yorkshireman Stephen Andrews, a self-taught chef who cites his wife as his biggest influence, Fish & Forest prides itself on its sustainable credentials. The concise menu, which is delivered via a chalkboard, changes regularly depending on the day’s catch, but centres around wild or ethically-farmed fish and locally sourced game. And, as it’s 2023, the list always features a creative vegetarian option too.
To start, my partner and I opted for the king scallop ceviche and the venison carpaccio – entrees which inadvertently paid direct tribute to the restaurant’s name. I felt some initial scepticism at the pairing of the seafood with slices of strawberry, but was quickly won round as the sweetness married itself handsomely to the scallops’ umami sensuousness. With small dollops of labneh and sprigs of samphire only enhancing the flavours, our taste buds were in for a veritable treat with each bite.
The venison carpaccio was similarly pleasurable. As a millennial cliche, I’m guilty of occupying an entire fridge-shelf with assorted, half-eaten condiments. As if heaven-sent, the carpaccio came dotted with pickled onions, mustard seeds and capers – all of which lent a crisp, crunchy, sharp contrast to the gaminess of the thinly sliced meat. I was pleased to learn that the venison used for this starter was offcuts from the main course (more on that later), a simple but effective low-waste technique of which other restaurants should take note.
To follow came hand-seared stone bass with marinated courgette ribbons, broccoli and peas, paddling in a mouthwatering fermented tomato sauce. The meatiness of the fish, the tang of the tomato and the tender earthiness of the vegetables worked a treat. We also sampled the perfectly cooked venison fillet which was accompanied by vegetables, a pepper mousse and a peppercorn jus that our waiter ladled onto the dish table-side, to keep the veggies crunchy right up until the first bite.
The desserts and drinks
Dessert was a strawberry pavlova and the special a sumptuously creamy raspberry tart adorned with freeze-dried raspberries. But don’t fear – the menu does cater to those opposed to a fruity dessert; a chocolate delice and choice of two cheeses were also on offer. A boozy finisher is an option too, with sweet wines, coffee liquors, cognac and whiskies all available on the concise but well-considered drinks list.
Fish & Forest, 110 Micklegate, York, YO1 6JX; fishandforestrestaurant.com
Things to see and do in York
With its rich mix of history, culture and fantastic spots for eating and drinking, I wasn’t surprised to read that York placed number one in a recent Which? travel survey ranking the UK’s best cities and towns for a short break. The historic centre is the perfect size for a weekend’s worth of exploration, with all the biggest hitters just a short walk from one another. Malmaison York, where we stayed, was a handy base to sightsee from given that it’s equidistant between the railway station and the most popular attractions.
In just two days (and without having to make much of an effort) we ticked off more than ten sights, with highlights including the ceramics exhibition at York Art Gallery, the National Railway Museum and the Holy Trinity Church – all of which were free to visit. Kids (and kids at heart) will love the Jorvik Viking Centre – a smells ‘n’ all, Disney-esque immersion into York life under Viking rule, which even boasts its own low-octane theme ride. Locked In Games – a brand of escape room – is a memorable way to while away an hour if you’re as addicted to organised fun as we are. And the House of Trembling Madness pub is a fabulous local spot to grab a pint and some grub (so long as you can handle a fair few antler-ed friends hanging off the wall).
A visit to York isn’t complete without the sampling of a Yorkshire pudding, of course. We had our fix at the rather quaint tea room inside the Red House Antique Centre, just a stone’s throw from York Minster. The centre itself is a tantalising Aladdin’s cave of antiquities (my partner bought a Chinese snuff bottle we – okay, I – definitely do not want nor need) and the tea room a gem hidden away on the first floor. On offer there is a sharing plate of four mini Yorkshires, each filled with roast beef, horseradish, red onion chutney, which more than hit that pud spot for us.
How to get there
A speedy LNER train connects London and York, with the impressive Victorian station just 10 minutes’ walk from the main attractions. That, combined with the city’s fantastic food offerings and rich blend of heritage, culture and charm, makes York – as Which? magazine can attest – the perfect UK city break.