They say variety is the spice of life and Elaine Lemm finds a start-up in York on sparkling form. Pictures by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
I love my work, there is always something new to try on the food scene in Yorkshire. I am at the recently opened Spark in York, which has, quite literally, sparked all kinds of controversy to get planning permission to open the development of 20 shipping containers which are now home to food, arts, retail and community projects. Housed on the somewhat neglected lower end of Piccadilly on the site of what was once an aircraft factory, it’s hard to understand the upset, but as I don’t live there, it is not for me to enter into the fray.
For sure, Spark is an unusual addition to the burgeoning food scene in York and its motives are sound. Its young directors, Tom McKenzie and Sam Leach, have created Spark for start-ups, small independents, and social enterprises to have a chance. In their words “we are creating a destination. A local landmark and catalyst for change, to reinvent civic spaces and re-energise Piccadilly.” I can’t argue with that.
Oh, and did I say, the food is good too. Because of the variety on offer, we went three times and there was little to complain about.
On a warm summer’s evening, Spark is buzzing. There is barely room to stand, never mind sit, but we do find somewhere to perch after a wander round to decide what to eat. There is a lot of choices, from Thai, Ramen and Bao to gourmet burgers and dirty fries, buttermilk fried chicken, bars, breweries and much more in between. I guard the perching spot while waiting for my husband-cum-waiter to return with crisp, cold Sauvignon blanc and a buckwheat galette (£6.50) from Krep. Described as vegan, it is stuffed full of sweet potato mousse, Romesco, artichokes, pickles, onions, greens and preserved lemons; an advert so good for veganism I could even consider converting. There is no mention of the V-word from the side of me with the enormously stuffed Cochon galette of 24-hour slow-cooked pork neck, pickles, onions, a fiery Chimichurri sauce and cheese (£7). I didn’t tell him the beer he was drinking from the on-site micro Cuckoo Brewery was vegan.
Another visit, and this time for authentic Thai food from Tikk’s Thai Kitchen. A cold wind meant no perching in the central courtyard this time; instead, we ate in their shipping container. The interior is simply furnished and decorated to create an original space. Tables are simple, as is the menu with the food served in disposable, recyclable bowls. Everything is pared back except the food, the flavours and smiles coming from behind the counter. Large lightly battered crunchy tempura prawns and delicious sriracha mayo fries, lime and coriander fill the bowl (£7.50). When I have finished, there is not a scrap left. Neither was there with a fragrant Thai chicken curry with rice. Chatting to Tikk, he tells me of the success he is having here with over 400 portions served from the tiny kitchen the Saturday before; it’s a good job they don’t have to wash up.
Up to now there is less choice for dessert than savoury offers, but what is there is good. We were more than happy with a design your own waffle confection loaded with Maltesers, marshmallows, toffee sauce, and a crepe loaded up with bananas, Dulce de Leche and a moreish sprinkle of sea salt (£4.50). All I can say is thank goodness they’d run out of cream.
If by now you think a hipster beard or a student union card is required to visit Spark, then no. Everyone is here, everyone that is who seriously enjoys food, drinks, the arts, music with a bit of retail therapy thrown in. Everyone who wants to support the independents, and believe me they have never needed it more than now.
If you don’t want to squeeze onto a bench and table with complete strangers, then this may not be for you, though I highly recommend it; there is no choice than to get involved with the people around you and it really is exciting and on our visits, great fun.
Spark is going to be in York only until June 2020, but let’s hope it stays longer. We need more of this innovation. Well done York for letting it happen.
Spark C.I.C. 17-21 Piccadilly, York YO1 9PB. Sunday-Thursday: 8am-10.30pm; Friday-Saturday: 8am- 11pm.