Review: Tours in a Dish, York
It won’t have escaped your notice, but there’s quite a bit of food and drink activity going on in Yorkshire. So much, in fact, that it can make me feel quite dizzy. From Michelin-starred to fabulous street-food; from beer, wine and gin to excellent cheeses; from meats to the best rhubarb; from amazing seafood to stunning curries. And then there is Afternoon Tea. I have a passion for tea, cakes and enjoying the whole ritual with friends and family, so I jumped at the opportunity of combining an Afternoon Tea tour of York with a bit of tea tasting and walking.
I joined an Afternoon Tea Tour organised by Tours in a Dish, a new company in York, created by Camille Boulais-Pretty, a French-Canadian archaeologist. Camille draws on her extensive historical knowledge of tea and York’s cultural history to create a city centre walking tour visiting several York buildings, each with its own historical past.
The tour started with an introductory meeting in Exhibition Square, followed by a short stroll to nearby Gillygate. Our first stop was Love Cheese, a specialist cheese shop and deli, where we settled into a cosy back room, and Camille taught us how to pair tea with cheese. The reasons for the success of this unlikely pairing are, apparently, myriad. The creaminess of cheese and the bitterness of tea are natural bedfellows, one tempering the other. Like wine, tealeaves deliver varying degrees of astringency and tannin content, and the range of flavours is huge. Temperature is another factor.
The loose-leaf teas were provided by Hebden Tea Company in the Shambles. We were given a tea-tasting mini-workshop, choosing between taste, colour, scent and origin of the teas, from white to aged Pu-erh. This gave everyone an informed start to the rest of the tea tour ahead. I love white tea, so enjoyed the pairing with a clean, citrusy sheep’s milk cheese called Wigmore. Reluctantly we had to leave Love Cheese and walk through York to the Shambles, the city’s famous 14th century market street, recently named Britain’s prettiest street, pausing outside Hebden Tea Company, and then wandering into the Flax & Twine Café. This gem is a vintage gift and homeware shop operating on the ground floor, while up the creaking staircase is a delightful café. Here we shared cream tea with warm scones served on elegant mismatched china. Jam or cream first?
Next we walked through the Shambles market, where Camille introduced us to the friendly owner of Los Moros. It’s an Algerian street-food stall serving North African delicacies. Tea wasn’t available at the time so we just enjoyed the delicious sweet almond biscuits that had been soaked in orange juice, plus gained some more historical insight into the Shambles market.
Our next stop was Whittard of Chelsea on Parliament Street. I had previously dismissed it as a chain selling premium-priced tea and coffee, choosing to support local businesses instead. However, I was impressed by the staff’s knowledge of tea blends, and they handed us some specialist teas to taste.
The longest stroll of the day came next as we made our way towards the station, and our final stop at the Principal Hotel, where we enjoyed Afternoon Tea in the comfortable Garden Room with views of the city towards the Minster. We were lucky as Crème de la Crème winner Mark Tilling happened to be working a shift in the kitchen while promoting his new book. Foodie surprises don’t come much better than that! The Afternoon Tea was just superb, starting off with a first course of a surprising sweet potato and chorizo soup, smoked mackerel mousse with apple and lime purée served on crisp bread and Yorkshire rarebit with sweet chutney. Next came the traditional cake stand! Along with the Principal’s usual offering on the top tier, Mr Tilling had created a raspberry and chocolate mousse – a perfect delight.
This Afternoon Tea Tour was peppered with interesting historical insight, and I always enjoy anecdotes about this great city. Visitors will appreciate the route journeying past landmarks including the Minster, the Shambles, the City Walls and the railway station. York residents will revel in spending the day as a tourist. A date with Camille and Tours in a Dish, with a three-hour walk visiting some hidden gems and meeting the people behind York’s indie food initiatives is highly recommended.