As well as ruins, walls and old churches one thing York has in abundance is coffee shops, tea shops and cafes. There are of course the usual chains such as Costa, Starbucks and Nero. But there are also plenty of independents including institutions such as Betty’s (which we never managed to visit as there was always a long queue, and British though I am, I do object to queuing in the rain). Even independent coffee/tea shops can seem rather formulaic. But there are two cafes we visited in York which really seem to have something original to offer. It was only after talking with the staff that we discovered that, coincidentally, both are newly opened ventures.
The first was Retro Fondue. If the name isn’t enough of a clue, then the bright orange logo and seventies style furniture rather gives it away. The cafe is an homage to anything that can be dunked, whether it is the original Swiss conception of dipping savoury stuff on the end of forks into melted cheese, dunking sweet things into chocolate or even their own take on nachos.
We enjoyed Retro Fondue so much we went twice. On the first occasion we had a seafood fondue for two. This came with seafood (mussels, squid and other aquatic creatures I can’t now recall) predunked in the sauce, but plenty of bread on the side. With our traditional fondue forks it was a bit like spear fishing on a very small scale. The thing about fondue is it’s a fun and sociable way of eating – the last time we ate like this was in the Philippines at a shabu-shabu restaurant. And because it is an unhurried way of eating it is also surprisingly filling. It was certainly a good choice for a light lunch.
On the second occasion I had a craving for churros. If you are not familiar with churros, they are a variation on doughnuts. (I thought they originated in Mexico until I looked on Wikipedia which suggests they were originally from Portugal or Spain). The design of churros is very clever – they have lots of ridges which makes them ideal for dipping in chocolate sauce. the trick of course is to get the churro in your mouth before dripping chocolate all down your front. Otherwise there’s not much you can say about churros – the churros at Retro Fondue were freshly made and the chocolate sauce was suitably rich and chocolately.
Not only is the food good at Retro Fondue, but the prices are very reasonable. The cost of a Fentiman’s lemonade was, if I remember correctly, £1.65. I sound them being sold for a higher price in a store up the road. I asked if there were any other branches (hoping that there might be one somewhere in London) which is when I discovered that this was the only branch and it had only opened a couple of weeks previously. However they are actively marketing Retro Fondue as a franchise opportunity. I hope they do well and one day I get a branch a bit more local than York.
Retro Fondue is on Goodramgate, which is on the east side of York city centre, not far from the Minster. The other cafe we visited is on the opposite side, on Micklegate. We had spent the morning doing a very convoluted walk around the city, following the city walls anticlockwise from Lendal Bridge to the Bishopgate St bridge, up to the castle, down to Ousegate, back over the river and up Micklegate. By then we were gasping for something to drink, and were surprised by the lack of cafes in this, admittedly more residential, part of the city. We were just about to give up when we saw a cafe ahead of us. This was Your Bike Shed, which is described on its website as “is an exciting new place where cycling and café culture meet in one relaxed and friendly environment”. Basically it’s a cafe with a bike repair shop attached, or possibly a bike repair shop with a cafe attached. An unusual feature of the cafe is the indoor bike rack by the front door. In fact, most of the patrons (including us) looked like they arrived on foot rather than by bike, but no matter – it was a wet Monday afternoon and the place was really busy. A enjoyed a good cup of coffee and a decent pasty. The milk shake was a bit disappointing though – I was expecting a thick shake but this was just flavoured milk – admittedly freshly made. Not quite as good value for money as Retro Fondue, but a nice ambiance and an enjoyable place to spend an hour on a wet afternoon.
Apparently Your Bike Shed opened in November and it’s obviously doing well. I hope both cafes continue to thrive and are still there for us to visit next time we are in York.