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York Minster Refectory – top food in a heritage building

After donating a Tour of York as a prize for a charity auction at the Yorkshire Awards, I was surprised when my wife and her friend started bidding for the tour to try and bump the price up. They “accidently” won the auction and I was booked by them to take a few of the Mum and Dads from my sons first class at school on a walking tour of York. We decided to make a night of it so booked into a hotel and decided we would book somewhere “interesting” to eat.

I had not been to York Minster Refectory, but was keen to try the restaurant which if I am honest had had mixed reviews when it was first opened.

The restaurant as the name suggests sits next to the magnificent York Minster in a Grade II listed heritage building. The building was originally built as St. Peters School in 1833, becoming York Minster School in 1903.

The restaurant opened in April 2023 and the official opening was conducted by King Charles and Queen Camilla just a few weeks before his Coronation.

This royal seal of approval was given to Andrew Pern, who manages the restaurant and also owns York’s Star Inn the City and the Michelin starred The Star at Harome. Andrew Pern has handed over the day to day running of the Refectory to Joshua Brimmell, who is the Executive Head Chef at the Star Inn the City, with Joshua and Andrew developing the menus.

Their philosophy is to let the seasons write the menu, based on Yorkshire’s brilliant pantry of food and most items on the menu are supplied by a full array of White Rose flag producers.

I had read that Andrew and Joshua’s approach to the food and cooking is very much old-fashioned British-style favourites with a new take through Anglicised French classics. So we arrived at 7.45pm excited to experience the food.

Firstly, when we arrived it was getting dark and the restaurant looked great as we walked across York Minster Piazza past its Roman column to the beautifully lit old building.

We were welcomed at the door and shown to our table for eight.

Firstly, a mention of the service – the staff were attentive, friendly and very helpful – offering us advice about the menu and their preferences. This is always a good sign.

The menu was interesting with a series of Snacks to sample before getting to the Starters. The Main Course (called the Main Event on the menu) had some great choices as well as a Raw section with the options of Black Treacle Salmon, Heritage Beetroot or Steak Tartare available as starter or main course size. I also like the fact that the desserts were detailed as Puddings!

The wine menu was comprehensive and we ordered a light French wine and some crisp white.

The men in the party all had a few snacks to start. We each had an oyster – there was a choice of dressing and we chose the gooseberries and nasturtium. They were great, full of the taste of the sea and who would have thought gooseberries went so well with oysters?

We also thought we would try the Coronation Crab Vol-Au-Vent. These were a thing of great beauty with a devilled quails egg, a smidgen of salmon and flaked almond. These went down well and were larger than we expected and had a delightful light curry flavour.

From here we went onto starters. I had the Torched Marinated Mackerel. This was well presented and featured gooseberries again! But also flavours of fennel and fresh horseradish which always goes down well with mackerel. There was also a slight cheese tang made with Yellison Crowdie – a local goats milk cheese. The mackerel as the dish name indicates had been torched leaving a crisp skin surrounding the soft but meaty fish.

Many of the rest of the party went for the Refectory Cocktail. I did have a bit of food envy here as it looked fantastic with Atlantic prawns, spiced crab, mussels and clams, with a bit of avocado. Basically it was a very posh prawn cocktail with extra crab and shellfish.

For main I went for the 12oz Sirloin Steak. It was served on the bone with a salad, Hollandaise sauce and skinny fries. It was great – and dare I say almost too big (or maybe I had just been too greedy with the earlier snack menu!) We ordered mange tout and chantenay carrots on the side which were tasty and simply done.

One of our group went for the Steak Tartare for his main course and raved about it. A couple of the wives went for a Bouillabaisse of Roasted Stone Bass. This also got a big thumbs up with the stew full of Shetland mussels, crispy squid, king scallops served with Whitby Crab “Rouille” Toast – unfortunately I didn’t get a photo as they had wolfed it down before I could get a picture!

We were stuffed – but when there was a Minster Mess on the menu, I had to make room to try this. It was interesting and I enjoyed the strawberries and vanilla ice-cream. The only criticism was I was expecting lashings of meringue but the dish was served with “meringue hay” which I felt were more like the candy cigarettes you used to be able to get from sweet shops as a kid.

A couple of people went for the Bananas and Custard, this came with cinder toffee but also coated in fine dark rum and muscovado sugar. It looked superb and it was reported back from the other end of the table that it tasted as good as it looked.

All in all it was a great experience. Food was great, service excellent, the décor interesting with some heritage stone work mixed in with a more modern decor and the exterior location helped make it a memorable occasion.

Whatever teething problems the restaurant had in its early days, it has definitely sorted them out and now can firmly be thought of as one of the better fine dining experiences in York.

The view as we left, with York Minster lit up in all its majesty made a perfect end to the day.

1 Comment

Sep 27, 2023

That’s an epic meal Barbs, how did you move after finishing all that?

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