A little over three years ago I wrote a glowing review of Mannion and Co, the delightful cafe in York on Blake Street. Back then, the queues snaked out of the door every lunchtime, and they still do. Mannion and Co is under the watch of Andrew Burton, a well-known Yorkshire chef with a renowned high-end restaurant cooking CV, latterly at the Black Swan, Helmsley and the Star at Harome.
When Andrew opened in York, the city was saturated with cafes and if that hadn’t been enough of a nut for him to crack he is now having a go at the Brazil in the bowl, Helmsley, his former stomping ground. It is hard to walk but a few yards in the town without tripping over boards offering tea and scones but that has not daunted Andrew from taking there his hugely successful concept – best described in his own words as a bistro-cafe, deli and bakery with a distinctly European feel to it.
The promise of a good brunch certainly puts a spring in the step and on a blisteringly hot Sunday morning, walking along Castlegate towards Mannion and Co the lovely town shone and the crowds were out to prove it. Andrew has bagged one of the best locations in Helmsley, bang opposite the castle and on the pathway through to the market place, and, even better, it has an outside seating area.
So recent is the renovation of the former interior design shop that the paint has barely dried. Like the one in York, the cafe is small yet carefully formed with an impressive array of bread and pastries all freshly baked on the premises; I defy anyone not to be tempted in by them. Choose to sit in the downstairs room off the back or like me, negotiate the narrow, stairs to the upstairs room – so worth it for the view to the castle.
Those of you already familiar with the York cafe will recognise the menu, and in an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of a way, I agree with this, but perhaps a little stamp of being its own person might be good too?
On the menu at Helmsley are Mannion and Co trademark hefty Deli Boards (from £6-£16.50) of charcuterie, smoked salmon or cheeses, even a sausage roll and pickle platter. These can be for one or to share. I spy my favourite of a savoury scone with herbed mascarpone and spicy relish (£4), a dish that works for me at any time of day.
A changing daily blackboard brings the flexibility for creativity, availability and seasonality that I would expect Andrew to use. There was eggs as Benedict or scrambled with smoked salmon or mushrooms on thick toast. For more substantial dishes came slow cooked pork shoulder, pearl barley and salsa verde or a heritage tomato tart with a pickle salad.
Our choices of a smoked haddock and comté cheese fishcake with duck egg and watercress and dill Hollandaise and a Yorkshire Rarebit (for us without bacon) were both exceptional and made the perfect brunch dishes sizeable to carry us through to dinner.
At Mannion and Co with those cakes on offer is would almost be rude not to have at least one (and one to take home for later). A chocolate pastry came filled with a pistachio frangipane and topped off with poached, glazed apricots. The tart was seriously good and showed off those expert skills coming out in the tiny kitchen here. Washed down with good coffee, what a perfect brunch.
It is early days for the cafe in Helmsley, but the signs are good. Summer will always bring in the crowds and winter will be harsher but here’s hoping they repeat some of the bistro nights so popular in York that they are sold out months in advance. I would brave Sutton Bank on a winter’s night to be there.
The queues are not out of the door just yet, but it is only a matter of time.
Mannion and Co, 5 Castlegate, Helmsley, YO62 5AB. 01439 770044. Open: Thursday to Monday, 10am-5pm (4.30pm Sunday).