Visit: 12 November 2022
Award: 1 Michelin Star
Roots is situated in a Grade II listed former pub in the heart of York. Opened by Tommy Banks in 2018, it was the city spin-off of the Black Swan, Tommy’s Michelin-starred destination in Oldstead (see my review here).
Originally, Roots was designed to serve the exceptional seasonal produce from the Banks’s 167-acre family farm, including its “uglier vegetables”, with sharing plates, high volume, and low prices. However, after Covid, this model of restaurant was not practical, so it reopened four days a week, not six, and served tasting menus only, at £160 per person, for a maximum of 46 diners. A 12.5% discretionary service charge is added to the bill, and this is shared between all the staff. There are two accompanying drinks packages available at £75 or £130 per person, as well as a wide selection of wines.
Roots’s head chef, Will Lockwood, spent six years at the Black Swan. Roots won a Michelin star in January 2021 and was voted the Observer Food Monthly readers’ Best Restaurant for 2022.
We started the meal with two types of Oldstead charcuterie that included a very good lardo from a 12-week-old pig, and an oak smoked salami.
Next, we were served 14-days aged sirloin beef tartare that had been dehydrated, smoked and diced, topped with artichoke and yeast foam with marigold oil, and with smoked and cured ox heart grated over the top, all in an artichoke tart casing. This was superb.
Whitby brown crab savoury custard was served with parsley oil, pickled parsley stems, Oscietra caviar, and accompanied by an excellent brioche toast with the white crab meat and chive butter on top. This was another memorable dish.
Isle of Mull scallops were served raw and marinated, with a fermented rhubarb sauce, and spiralized turnip.
The homemade sourdough had an excellent crust and was served with cultured butter.
For me, the most memorable dish of the meal was the Senshyn onion (a Japanese variety of onion that is naturally sweet) that had been brined overnight in yoghurt whey, then barbecued, served with sautéed chanterelle and brown beech mushrooms, a sauce made from the yoghurt whey the onions were brined in, split with chive herb oil, a girolle mushroom brown butter sauce, with lemon thyme and wild garlic. Another superb dish.
Next was lobster tail that had been brushed with a sea buckthorn, blackcurrant wood and carrot sauce, then barbecued, and served with a variety of carrots from the farm pan fried in butter, carrot “stars” pickled in sea buckthorn vinegar, and an aerated sea buckthorn sauce.
Very tender pan seared and roasted Scottish venison, was served with a sauce made with the deer bone and split with bone marrow, and with Savoy cabbage folded around garlic, pulses, beetroot and hen of the woods mushrooms. A venison “cruffin” (a cross between a croissant and a muffin) was stuffed with venison and venison heart ragu, topped with chive and crumb, and served alongside.
A selection of cheeses was available (at a £19 supplement) if you had the capacity. Sadly, we didn’t.
The pre-dessert was compressed pears macerated in apple marigold vinegar, with a pear ice cream, candied pumpkin seeds, and topped with Sinodun Hill goats’ milk cheese granita. The sweetness of the pears complemented the nutty, yoghurty sweetness of the cheese, moving us seamlessly from the savoury to dessert courses.
The unusual dessert combined the potatoes and chicory grown side-by-side on the farm. The base was a chicory root crumb crumble, with a chicory infused ice cream, giving a mixture of temperatures and textures, topped with a Charlotte potato aerated custard, with brown butter caramel infused with chicory, and smoked sea salt.
There were two petit fours – a chicory and brown butter ice cream sandwich with a rose fudge centre, and blackcurrant and sea buckthorn “Roots pastilles”.
Finally, there were some exceptional brown butter and tangerine marigold Madeleines served with a raspberry dipping sugar. The Roots coffee blend was roasted by Lonton Coffee Co. in Barnard Castle.
There is an extensive wine list, with a selection of cocktails and liquors, presented on a iPad. The list included a selection of the canned Banks Brothers premium wines that we were very impressed with. We tried some of the white wines that were available, including an excellent South African Chardonnay, and a South African Red Muscadet dessert wine. There were also some unusual Oldstead garden spirits on the list that are worth trying. We tried the fennel pollen spirit that was like a mild grappa with aniseed notes.
One note of caution if you need to order a taxi at the end of your meal. We visited Roots on a Saturday evening and there are clearly some challenges ordering taxis in York. The earliest we could get a taxi when we tried to book after our meal at 11pm was for 2am, so we were faced with a 20-minute walk to the train station to join the taxi queue there. It’s best to order your return taxi well in advance.
The food at Roots was exceptionally good. The dishes were very innovative and there was an impressive degree of culinary expertise on display. The staff were top drawer. This was a very memorable experience, and definitely worth a trip to York.
Coffee selection roasted by Lonton Coffee Co. in Barnard Castle
The Head Chef is Will Lockwood. Will applied for a job at the Black Swan at Oldstead, in 2014, and was offered a position as demi chef de partie. He remained with Tommy Banks and his team, climbing the ranks at The Black Swan, where he was named head chef in 2017.
After taking some time out in 2020, Will returned to work with Tommy in 2021 as the head chef of Roots, replacing his predecessor, Sean Wrest.
Outside the restaurant:
We tried a variety of the Banks Brothers canned premium wines. One 250ml can holds sufficient wine for one large glass or two smaller glasses. The canning maintains the freshness of the wines and avoids any chance of corking.
The Muscadet No 12 is made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes and is from one of the top appellations for this grape variety (a 2019 vintage). It is aged on the lees for 18 months, and is made by Dominique Martin. It’s bursting with flavours of citrus, and crisp apple, and there are mineral notes of sea salt, making it perfect with seafood. The cost in the restaurant was £13 per can.
The Pinot Gris No 16 is rich, fragrant, creamy, and aromatic, with tropical, peachy notes (this is a 2021 vintage). Made by the Cattin family in Voegtlinschoffen, Alsace, these Pinot Gris grapes are grown in the Le Clos Madelon vineyard, an old WWI battlefield. This is a rich, off-dry style white wine that is a perfect and versatile match to a variety of dishes. The cost in the restaurant was £13 per can.
The Chardonnay No 3.1 has apples, pears and butter notes. It is full bodied and creamy, and a perfect match for seafood. This was an excellent wine, and definitely the best I have ever tasted out of a can. This is a barrel-aged Chardonnay, made by Newton Johnson in Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa (a 2021 vintage). The cost in the restaurant was £15 per can.
We also tried the superb Red Muscadet No 8 with our desserts. This is a South African, 2021 vintage, from the Worcester region, 60 miles from Cape Town, in the sheltered Breede River Valley. This sweet red fortified wine is made by Christo Pienaar and has notes of strawberry jam, raisins and spice. It is served chilled, and it has a fresh, juicy, sweet taste that works well with fruity desserts and cheese. The cost in the restaurant was £13 per can.
Oldstead homemade garden spirits – the fennel pollen was like a mild grappa with aniseed notes: