How Yorkshire and the North are leading the way when it comes to top restaurants

Yorkshire has five of the top 20 restaurants in the country. Is it northern resilience, or overdue recognition of the region’s strong culinary scene? Catherine Scott reports.

Last week’s National Restaurant Awards saw the North outstripping the South when it comes to top eateries.

Four out of five of the UK’s best restaurants are in northern England and the region has 16 in the top 40 – double the number in 2019, the last time the poll was held.

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A total of eight Yorkshire restaurants were in the list of 100, but more impressively five of them were in the top 20.

Chef Tommy Banks at the Black Swan, Oldstead has been named Restaurateur in the National Restaurant Awards Picture Bruce Rollinson

The Angel at Hetton came an incredible second – up more than 50 places from last time – with another northern restaurant, Moor Hall, taking the top accolade.

Restaurateur of the Year was Yorkshire’s own Tommy Banks who also had two restaurants in the top 100 – the Black Swan at Oldstead coming in 10th and Roots in York 51st.

Banks says it comes as no surprise that the North and Yorkshire in particular is starting to outstrip the South.

“The quality of restaurants has been improving for a while,” says Banks, who also holds Michelin stars at both his restaurants.

Michael Wignall says having The Angel Hetton,named number two in the country was 'surreal'. It was placed 54th in 2019. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“There were no awards last year due to Covid or I think we might have seen it then.

“It is far better for a place to have more than one good restaurant as it means everyone has to be at the top of their game and I think that’s what is happening. Roots was the first restaurant to get a Michelin star in York, but there will definitely be more.”

York saw two other restaurants in the top 50 with Skosh at number 18 and Le Cochon Aveugle at number 41.

For organiser of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, Thom Hetherington, the accolades are long overdue for the North of England.

Johanna and Michael Wignall too over at The Angel at Hetton just three years ago and have since gained a Michelin star among many accolades Picture Bruce Rollinson

“I have been banging the drum for the North’s restaurants for the last 20 years and at last everyone is seeing what I am seeing and I am so proud of all the work the chefs have put in to maintain these amazing standards.”

Hetherington, who also organises the Northern Hospitality Awards, says there are a number of reasons for the North’s success.

“There are the talented young home-grown chefs like Tommy Banks who are doing some amazing things and growing their own produce, and then there are the young chefs who cannot afford to set up in London and so are heading to the North where rent and staff are cheaper and the risk is lower.”

He says couples like Aimee Turford and Alisdair Brooke-Taylor at the Moorcook Inn at Norland (14th in the NRAs) are a prime example.

“They have travelled the world and could have set up a business anywhere, but they chose this barn of a place in West Yorkshire and are doing some incredible things. It was a gamble but it is paying off, they couldn’t have afford to do that elsewhere. When people see success stories like that it makes them happier to take the risk and move North.

“Then there is Michael Wignall who started out in Yorkshire, went away and made a name for himself and has come back and created something really special at The Angel.”

Wignall, who has transformed The Angel at Hetton since he and wife Johanna took over three years ago, says the news they were second in the country came as a shock.

“We came 54th in 2019 and I really wasn’t planning to go down to the awards as we were really busy. But they kept asking me and in the end Johanna said I’d better go,” says Wignall, who gained a Michelin star at the Angel in 2019.

“I was waiting for them to say 
where we had come and when it went passed 54 I thought ‘great we’ve done better than last time and it would be brilliant to be in the top 50’. But then 
it went down to 30, 20, ten and then five.

“I couldn’t believe it when they said we were second to Moor Hall who were number one last time. It was all very surreal.”

Wignall, who became a father for the second time during lockdown, says the quality of restaurants in Yorkshire and the North has definitely improved in the last ten years.

“There are more and more quality places opening in the North – ten years ago there weren’t half as many,” he says.

“A lot of people are moving out of the cities and realising you can get really good produce outside of the capital.”

He says in many ways the pandemic has also had some positives.

“We decided to do delivery boxes during lockdown. Not necessarily to make money but we had invested £30,000 in a kitchen and we really needed to use it and we also wanted to keep our name out there.

“They went really well and meant we could bring nine people back off furlough. But it also meant that people from much further afield tried our food, liked it and then when we reopened wanted to come and try us firsthand.”

Also the ‘staycation’ boom has been another factor in Yorkshire success, he says.

“We are in the Yorkshire Dales and we have rooms and that has really benefitted us,” added Wignall, who is in the process of expanding the number of rooms at The Angel to 20.

It is something Hetherington agrees with.

“The pandemic has been very difficult for everyone, particularly in hospitality, but the North does seem to have fared better than the South, and in particular London,” he says.

“London has lost the international tourist trade on which it relies, much more heavily than the North, also offices have been closed so people still aren’t eating out in the city centre as much – and rents are far higher than in the North. All this has made a perfect storm which has seen many established businesses forced to close. Whereas smaller provincial cities such as Leeds and York have seen their footfall hold up much better because their footfall is much more based on domestic rather than international tourism and loyal supporter – that has been the saving of us.

“The suppliers have also really stepped up in the North.”

But Hetherington doesn’t see this as a blip for the North’s hospitality industry.

“This is just the beginning,” he says. “I am very optimistic about the future of the North and not just high-end restaurants highlighted by the NRAs. There are some very exciting things happening across the board no matter what your budget.

“There are so many creative and brave chefs and restaurateurs out there. They have shown what they can do in the most difficult of circumstances.

“But we do need to have a proper strategy in place to ensure that we build on this success and so when international tourism does resume Yorkshire and the North capitalises on that.

“You can bring visitors to Yorkshire from anywhere in the world and you are spoilt for choice when it comes to world class restaurants.”

Yorkshire has eight restaurants in the Estrella Damm National Restaurants Awards which highlights the top 100 in the UK.

2nd: The Angel at Hetton, North Yorkshire

10th: The Black Swan at Oldstead, North Yorkshire

14th: The Moorcock Inn, Norland, West Yorkshire

18th: Skosh, York, North Yorkshire

19th: The Man Behind the Curtain, Leeds, West Yorkshire

32nd: Joro, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

41st: Le Cochon Aveugle, York, North Yorkshire

51st: Roots, York, North 
Yorkshire

To see the full list visit www.nationalrestaurantawards.co.uk