Maxine Gordon calls in for lunch at one of York's favourite independent cafes

CAFE No 8 has been long established on the York eating out scene – and a firm favourite with its fans.

From its compact space on Gillygate it spread its wings in 2015 to run a cafe at York Art Gallery and then at Merchant Adventurer's Hall.

This year, it is all change again, with cafe bosses retreating to the original site and focussing purely on running the Gillygate bistro.

Less is more seems to be the mantra for 2019 – and that is also apparent in the menu, which is fairly sparse with none of the specials that were once a trademark of the place.

The plus side of having less choice is that ordering is over in a jiffy – leaving more time to chat to your dining partner (in this case, my mate Lisa) while waiting for the food.

It was Saturday lunchtime and the cafe was fully booked and had to turn away a stream of people. It was a particularly busy day, said the staff, because of the York Ice Trail. It meant we had to wait a bit longer than we might have expected for our orders to be taken and for the table to be cleared.

The lunch menu includes an all-day breakfast as well as bacon or sausage sandwiches and a selection of small dishes, mains and desserts.

Children eat for half price and those under five eat for free – which is a great incentive for families to eat out. However, it did mean there was a bit of bustle with parents pushing and lifting heavy buggies past our table, which was in the narrow corridor of the main restaurant (there is a larger dining room at the back, leading to a small garden with a view on to the bar walls).

Menu highlights included roast beef sandwich, goat's cheese sandwich, and mushrooms on toast (all £8), soup of the day (£6) or soup and sandwich for £10.

It was a bitterly cold day so Lisa and I ordered the soup – celeriac and cauliflower – to warm us up. On arrival, this looked very appealing – served in a white china bowl on an earthenware platter with two small ovals of white bread and a dish of butter. There were some croutons scattered on the top of the soup, which was piping hot and very creamy. It was nice enough, but lacking flavour; we needed to season it, and struggled to detect the flavours of cauliflower or celeriac, with the overriding taste being one of cream.

For mains, there were just seven choices, including a seafood stew (£11.50), kedgeree (£10) and pear and blue cheese salad (£8.50). Lisa chose the lamb burger with fries (£11.50) while I picked the meaty platter (£7.50).

Lisa wasn't disappointed with the burger – which she said was delicious. She generously shared it with me, so I can vouch that it was very, very good. The meat was full of flavour, and moist, on account of being stuffed with caramelised onion, mint and feta, roast red pepper and tomato chutney. All the flavours worked wonderfully together. The chips were five star: thick, crisp and golden and moreishly soft inside, you could have played Jenga with them. We asked for a side of mayo to dip them into.

The best bit of my meaty platter was the ham hock terrine – two servings of perfectly slow-cooked ham with just the right note of saltiness. Some terrines can be too firm, but this was more of a pressing, with the pink strands of ham falling away easily and tasting absolutely yummy. Next best was a tiny pot of pickles, including pieces of cauliflower. Also on the platter were small rounds of chorizo, a scattering of olives, cornichons and capers, a few sun-dried tomatoes, but no other meat nor focaccia, despite their billing on the menu.

There were three desserts listed – lemon, rhubarb and ginger posset; chocolate delice, and a poached pear crumble, all at £5. Lisa had her heart set on the crumble, so our faces fell when the dish arrived: a poached pear in a pool of blackcurrant coulis with a spoonful of mascarpone cream with just a few crumbs of crumble on top. Whenever I see such "deconstructed" dishes, I do think MasterChef has a lot to answer for. To ease our dismay, the waiter brought us some more crumble to pour over the top – but it didn't make it into the dish we'd been hoping for.

Our lunch was not perfect – but when it was good, it was very good. Cafe No 8 has much to offer, some great cooking, a lovely spot and good value – particularly for families.

Our lunch for two with one diet coke and two coffees came to £44.25.

Cafe No 8, 8 Gillygate, York

T: 01904 653074


Food: Great in parts 3/5

Service: Stretched: 3/5

Ambience: Bustling 3/5

Value: Good 4

All reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press