Countess of York: On track for afternoon tea

Inside the Countess of York

Going to the cafe and the gift shop has become as much a part of a museum visit as enjoying the collections themselves but the National Railway Museum has gone one better – a tearoom you might want to visit with the added bonus of trip to see its remarkable collection.

The Countess of York is a charming tearoom inside a beautifully restored railway carriage with decor that evokes a bygone era.

It’s only offering is afternoon tea – but it’s a tea worth travelling for.

The traditional tiered serving of finger sandwiches, scones and fancies proves plenty to while away the time.


Unusually there’s also a mini soup course – currently a warming and spicy butternut squash for the autumn which, together with the warm scone, is a welcome rise in temperature.

The sweet collection includes a light creme brûlée as well as a tantalising macaroon.

And the selection of teas on offer is second to none. I sampled a robust South African estate tea and a light and perfumed China rose tea.

Both served in solid silver pots and at just the right temperature. In a world where the coffee drinker is king, this place elevates the tea drinker to be queen.
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With the uniformed waitress rushing through the carriage to serve everything or offer advice, it’s easy to forget that this is a train that’s going nowhere – sometimes you’ll need to take a quick check out of the window just to be sure that you’re not travelling down the tracks.

The afternoon tea is served each day between 12pm and 4pm. and costs £19.95 (children £14.50) or £27.50 with champagne. A visit to the tearoom includes free parking, and of course, the museum with its outstanding collection of locomotives is available for a gentle stroll after tea.

Countess of York is situated between Great Hall and Station Hall in the Museum’s South Gardens.

Autumn Afternoon tea menu by Sarah Hartley


What the food inspectors found in York

The latest files from food inspections I’ve been able to open up come from the foodie capital of Yorkshire – York.

The two files added to the map join part of a wider investigation across the north of England to find out what having a ‘zero rated’ premises really means.

Every council area carries out these regular inspections and the findings lead to the scores which should be displayed prominently on every restaurant, cafe, work canteens and take-away.

As the Food Standards Agency explains: “The hygiene standards found at the time of inspection are rated on a scale. At the bottom of the scale is ‘0’ – this means urgent improvement is required. At the top of the scale is ‘5’ – this means the hygiene standards are very good.”

But what diners and shoppers aren’t told is what exactly led to the premises being zero rated and requiring urgent improvement.

In York, there were two – Freshways which required thorough cleaning and the Grange Hotel where staff needed advice about the correct temperatures for reheated food.

Unusually, the council decided to withhold information about four other premises where legal action may be pending. Those premises are:

  •  Jumbo Chinese Buffet, 2 George Hudson Street, York
  • Shambles Butchers, 2 Little Shambles, York, YO1 7LY
  • Maxis Restaurant ,Ings Lane, Nether Poppleton, York, YO26 6R
  • Oven Gloves Bakery ,47-48 Auster Road, York, YO30 4XA

The customer complaints officer explained: “Our reason for withholding the information is that we currently have ongoing investigations which may result in legal proceedings.  This information is excepted from disclosure under Section (5)(b) of the Regulations, as disclosure could adversely affect the course of justice, the ability of a person to receive a fair trial or the ability of a public authority to conduct an inquiry of a criminal or disciplinary nature.

“Whilst we accept that there is a strong public interest in disclosure of such information, we consider that the public interest in upholding the ability of the authority to conduct criminal proceedings is stronger and the exemption should be upheld.”

  The files will be made available at a later date once the authorities have concluded their investigations.

All the files opened so far can be found on this map and also at the noticeboard

To see the full report via, click here.

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Street food fights, home delivery and other food news from the north

Hungry GeckoA round-up of foodie news and events from around the north this week:

* Fancy a meal cooked up by a chef and brought round your house? If you’re in Manchester a business doing just that is setting up in the city after running in the capital for the past year. says: “Housebites’ unique model allows customers to browse daily menus created by local chefs at, place an order for a specific time slot and have high quality meals delivered to their door, often by the chef themselves. Because chefs are limited to serve their immediate vicinity, food is never delivered long distance and given the time to go cold.” If you try it out, please do let us know how you get on.

* A celebration of street food is on the cards for Newcastle folk with an Urban Night Feast at the end of September. Organisers say: “The smells of Thai, Spanish, Caribbean, Indian and British food will fill the air, along with music and laughter – so come with friends, grab a drink and enjoy!”  The event runs from 6pm to mednight from 27-29 September.

* And more street food…..for the first time, the Bolton Food Festival (August 24 to 27) will include a designated al fresco dining area, called Gourmet Kitchen, featuring a variety of traders selling high-end international street food. Situated on the south side of Victoria Square (near Newport Street), the Gourmet Kitchen will include Harvey Nichols’ Gastronomique van selling French cuisine and The Hungry Gecko, Asian street food by Masterchef 2011 finalist Jackie Kearney

* And finally on the topic of street food…… The Guardian takes a look at the tensions that arise between established traders and the fly-ins of the streets in this round-up of clashes from from  Blackburn to Saltburn.

* Talking of thorny topics, the Liverpool food blog Food Fascination kicks off a debate about the responsibility food critics on local newspapers should take with keeping their reviews real. “Local newspapers have a duty to provide high quality accurate criticism, it’s only to the benefit of the city and it’s readers,” he writes before taking the Liverpool Echo to task for a recent write up.

* Experienced north west restaurateur Jaf Siddiqi has promised his latest venture, premium Indian restaurant Malai, will help bring back the authenticity of the famous ‘Curry Mile’ area of south Manchester, the Big Hospitality website reports.

* Remember the announcement about the re-opening of the Wetherby Whaler? Well Leeds Grub has a guest blog trying out the famous old Harry Ramsden’s – from the somewhat challenging viewpoint of someone who doesn’t eat fish. Mel of Yummy in Yorkshire explains: “Now it’s important that I confess that as a “flexitarian” I don’t eat fish and so go to places like this for the chips instead – but I had a fish fan with me so I can comment on the quality of the fish!”

* A York pub only opened within the last nine months has already won a nationally recognised award by being chosen as the regional winner in the Best Cask Beer Pub section of the prestigious Great British Pub Awards. One and Other reports:

“The York Tap based on Platform 3 at York station is the brainchild of the owners of fellow beer emporiums Pivni and Sheffield’s own Tap, and has been serving up a wide range of speciality and artisan beers and ales, as well as their Czech house beer Bernard, to thirsty commuters, tourists and keen locals willing to make the trip.”

* Liverpool-born celebrity chef Aiden Byrne has backed a campaign to promote food from Liverpool City Region.
Food Tourism Connect is funded by the Rural Development Programme for England.  The initiative is a commitment to raising the profile of rurally produced food among visitors to Liverpool City Region and to drive demand by promoting it direct to consumers, buyers and wholesaler. Kirkby-born Aiden, formerly head chef at the Dorchester and the youngest ever chef to receive a Michelin Star, supports the campaign because of his own commitment to using locally grown, fresh ingredients. “This region has a great deal to celebrate when it comes to food production. The food we produce is of the highest quality and it is about time we started creating a strong brand in the way other food producing regions have.’

* The exploits of  food nut blog reports from the weekend’s Huddersfield Food and Drink Festival and finds a ginga ninja rather too hot to handle.
If you’ve some food news to share, feel free to add it via the comments below or drop me an email foodiesarah AT or tweet @foodiesarah.

York’s newest restaurant – Fusion

Described as a mix Spanish and Mexican tapas, One and Other brings news of a new restaurant in the busy entertainment venue The Basement.

“The bar will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-5pm, and then by night The Basement will still hold its usual live music and comedy nights. The new bar will serve chilled Mexican beers and a selection of wines and cocktails to accompany the dishes.”


The Basement City Screen is at 13-17 Coney Street, York, YO1 9QL.

Grazing at J Baker’s Bistro Moderne, York

The word ‘grazing’ might lead you to think of little morsels, nibbles and impossibly twee amuse-bouche. Maybe.

Well forget that idea, the ‘grazing by night’ menu of this rather fantastic bistro in York’s foodiest street is anything but the light option. The seven courses on offer are rather more substantial than a morsel but no less fun for it.

Everything has the sort of attention to detail that you’d expected from a Michelin-starred chef and the little twists which make really good food soar.

We attempted to pace ourselves, taking care not to dive too deeply into the generous helpings of bread but, in the end, resistance was futile, this menu is designed for the long haul.

Each of the courses has left a memorable impact – and one proved just too challenging but left me with a timely reminder about trying new things which I’m pleased to have been pushed on.

The vodka infused and thickly cut smoked salmon was sweet with a silver spoon of oyster and caviar bringing the aroma of the sea straight into the darkened city eatery.

The Redcar smokies served with a corn chowder were exquisitely light, with a level of flavour which kept all the elements of the dish separate yet combined – they’d be worth going back for as a meal on their own.

The platter of duck’s liver, quails egg and blood sausage bonbon was a step too offally for my tastes but gusto a plenty over the table before the piece de resistance of Shorthorn beef with spinach and a delicately encased duck egg.

Sweet lovers don’t miss out either with a chocolaty take on one of my all time favourites, piping hot rice pudding which came with ‘chocolate air’! The ‘air’was a lighter-than-light mousse and a sudden surprise  with the chill of some ice-cream.

Some cheese? Well if you can, and we did, there was a quality selection of regional cheese including local offerings from the Thirsk-based Shepherd’s Purse.cheese

And it doesn’t end there with a selection of truffles which were handily provided as a takeout when that really did prove to be one treat too far.

All-in-all a remarkable feast with a lovely laid back service, completely unhurried and wonderfully intimate.

It seems I’m not alone in my admiration, checking the list of those who’ve also eaten there is like a who’s who of foodies.

Of those, I think Jay Rayner summed things up pretty neatly:

“If there were more places like this in Britain’s towns and cities, there would be a skip in my step and a song on my lips and a killer scar on my chest from where they’d gone in to perform the heart bypass on account of my overindulgent eating habits.”

I’m already looking forward to finding an excuse for a repeat visit.

* The grazing menu costs £39.50 per person. J Baker’s is at 7 Fossgate, York. 01904 622688.