Museum Street Tavern, York: Why you should visit this Yorkshire restaurant before everyone else finds out about it
It’s the kind of blustery autumnal evening when a warm, bustling pub is like a welcoming cocoon. Say what you like about the British weather, but when it comes to pubs nobody does them better than we do (okay, and the Irish).
So I headed to Museum Street Tavern in York with high hopes. Formerly Thomas’s Bar, a popular city centre watering hole, this impressive Grade II-listed building has had new life breathed into it after sitting empty for several years.
It’s the brainchild of independent landlord Richard Martin with the stated aim of raising the bar for pub food and bar snacks in York, focusing on Mediterranean-inspired flavours with seasonal Yorkshire produce.
It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel but it certainly makes all the right noises for anyone who likes the idea of good food in a pub setting.
You can eat very well in York these days and because it was a Thursday evening (or Friday eve as I prefer), and the fact it’s in a prime location, practically on the doorstep of Museum Gardens and a short walk from the Minster, we decided to book a table. As it turned out we needn’t have bothered.
My bubble of anticipation deflated somewhat when we walked in to find the place nearly empty, with two blokes drinking at the bar and a couple finishing off some food at a table in the raised dining room.
I wondered for a second if we’d walked into the right place. Is there another room? Somewhere brimming with laughter and bon vivants, perhaps? Ah, there is, upstairs. But sadly that, too, was deserted. Oh well, sometimes you have to make your own entertainment.
Despite the fact it’s so quiet my first impressions of Museum Street Tavern are positive. I don’t know what it was like in its previous life, but the new owners have made the most of the building’s character and they’ve clearly put a lot of thought into the layout and subtly mismatched tables and chairs to help create a relaxed, informal vibe.
Things soon improved when a smiling waitress appeared at our table with a jug of iced water and a couple of glasses.
Personally, I like a jug of tap water on the table and if it comes with ice then even better. She cheerfully went through the menu and checked the allergens list with the confidence of someone who knows what they’re doing (it’s surprising how often you’re met with a look of mild panic when you mention the words ‘nut allergy’ in a restaurant).
The menu here changes regularly in keeping with the emphasis on seasonal and, where possible, local produce.
At the end of the day, though, it all comes down to the quality of the food and the cooking, and on both points they’re on the money. We start with the Dale end cheddar and prosciutto focaccia toastie (£7.50) and pan fried scallops with celeriac puree, truffle butter and crispy parsley (£16).
A toastie can often be a bit underwhelming but here it’s elevated to a thing of beauty.
If that was good the scallop dish was even better. It’s surprising how often scallops aren’t done well but here they were cooked to caramelised perfection, taking the lead in a stellar ensemble.
The main courses continued to hit all the right notes. You’ll find ribeye steak with triple cooked chips (£28) on many a menu but few will be as good as this, the crowning glory of which was a thick, flavour bomb of a bearnaise sauce. Whoever made this should take a bow.
And the same goes for the beef cheek and ale pie, hispi cabbage with pie jus (£19.50), which was as glorious as it sounds – the beef was meltingly tender, the cabbage expertly charred, and the rich jus lip-lickingly good. Put simply, it was a near faultless piece of cooking worthy of a standing ovation.
We opted against a desert for the simple reason we were stuffed – always the sign of happy eaters.
The common thread linking every plate of food, aside from the precision of the cooking, was the quality of the ingredients. It sounds obvious but if you’ve got top notch raw materials in the hands of a skilled team that knows what it’s doing then you’re onto a winner. There’s also a decent range of beers and a wine list that manages to be genuinely interesting without going totally off-piste.
The owner Richard wants his pub to “offer something for everyone”, whether it’s the post-work crowd after a pint and a quick bite or the throng of tourists and theatregoers, and the food is meant to reflect this. My only slight gripe is it might be helpful to have a ‘bar snacks’ section on the menu, but, like I say, it’s a minor quibble.
And I only mention it because I want Museum Street Tavern to flourish. It’s got bags of character, the staff are friendly, the food is delicious and I imagine with a full house the place is buzzing.
Our bill, including a bottle of red wine and service, came to £112.50. Is it a lot to pay for a pub meal for two? Possibly. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Plus, you can have as little or as much as you want. And having glanced at a sample menu I’d definitely come back for Sunday lunch, with dishes like a nine hour braised lamb shoulder served with Greek salad whispering seductively to my inner glutton.
I wish the place well because cooking this good deserves to be enjoyed by more people. It could just do with a bit more atmosphere. Where’s Russ Abbot when you need him?...
Museum Street Tavern, 3 Museum Street, York. YO1 7DT. www.museumstreettavern.com
Open for drinks Monday, 5pm-11pm; Tuesday to Saturday, noon-11pm; Sunday, noon-10pm. Food is served Tuesday to Saturday from noon-3pm and 5pm-9pm and on Sunday from noon-6pm.