We are upstairs at Drake’s fish and chip shop, Low Petergate, tucking into a mini portion of what they do best. The chips are super crispy but light and fluffy inside; the cod is ultra fresh and the batter has the perfect crunch. Mushy peas are not my favourite, but these have me converted. “The secret is they add some salt and sugar to the peas,” whispers Ben Thorpe, our host for the York on a Fork food tour. Ben, who runs the popular York on a Fork food blog, started his spin-off food tours last summer and now takes groups of foodies out across the city each week, sampling the best of what independent York has to offer. As a champion of indy food businesses, Ben is ideally placed to be the perfect culinary guide. He gave up a job in IT to focus on food and now not only works for the York Food & Drink Festival but is a coordinating judge for the Guild of Fine Food at their national Great Taste Awards. He is also a Yorkshire Mark Ambassador and was featured in the latest Lonely Planet guide to England. We start at 11am – meeting outside the statue of William Etty, by York Art Gallery. Joining me are a couple from Norfolk, just arrived in York for a two-day visit, looking for tips on where to go to eat and drink to make the most of their stay. The food tour is a great place to start because not only does Ben lead us around some of the best eating spots in the city, he peppers the session with lots of tips on where else to go in search of top notch grub and booze. We start in Forest on Petergate, where we tuck into a trio of mini Yorkshire puddings with a range of stuffing. Our next stop was Drakes for f&c before we headed through the crowds of Shambles and into the market’s food court. York’s history surrounds us and Ben skilfully mixes stories about local food heroes with tales from the past, including that of Catholic martyr Margaret Clitherow’s terrible fate on Ouse Bridge, where she was crushed to death. In Shambles Food Court, we tuck into more gorgeous food. This time it comes from the Smokehouse Burritos stall, an offshoot of Shambles Kitchen (located on, yes, you’ve guessed it, Shambles). Next stop is York Gin, where the entertaining and informative Jenny O’Hara breezes through an introduction to the company’s six varieties, offering mini tipples too. Keeping on the chocolate theme, Ben tells us about York’s history as a chocolate city and the rise of Rowntree and Terry’s, before leading us to York Cocoa Works, which is still making chocolate within the city walls today. We sample some delicious pieces – and try the 100 per cent dark chocolate bar, agreeing we like our chocolate dark, but not that dark. Then it is on to Ambiente, one of York’s big success stories. Ben shares how the owners Zoe and Tim Sinclair now have a small chain of five restaurants across the region. We finish, a short hop away at The Walmgate Alehouse, for a beer and some insanely good sticky toffee pudding with dark toffee sauce and milky-white ice-cream. Ben is already pointing out other places to visit – such as the Brew York beer hall, just across the road, and Spark, the bustling container park in Piccadilly which is packed with street food businesses. Ben’s menu choices are spot on – giving a real flavour of the best of York but also the highlights of Yorkshire and English cuisine. Portion sizes are sensible too, allowing you to enjoy everything without being over-faced. Whether you are a visitor to York or have lived here for years, the food tour is sure to bring a few surprises, but will certainly please your tastebuds. Fact file Tickets for the food tour are priced at £65 per person and include visits to six established businesses with vegetarian options available and a couple of alcoholic drinks included. Find out more at: yorkonafork.com/the-york-on-a-fork-food-tour or email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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