MAXINE GORDON borrows some teenagers and heads for dinner at Spark:York

LOTS of things make me feel ancient these days. Not having a TikToK account and dyeing my grey hair are just two. But a visit to Spark:York is on that list too.

Spark surely needs no introduction, but for those of you who have been living in a parallel universe for the past two years, it is the temporary box park in Piccadilly now home - in an array of old shipping containers - to a host of independent food outlets and bars.

Street food is the order of the day here and visitors are truly spoiled for choice with vendors selling everything from South American nachos to Asian ramen as well as pizzas, pastas, burgers and fries.

There are a few bars too, including one offering two Aperol Spritz for a tenner. I started with that - and ordered my teenage companions a mix of soft drinks.

OK, Spark is trendy and filled with Millennials and Gen Zers, but it doesn't mean anyone who remembers the New Romantics cannot pass its door. I'll admit, I was the oldest swigger (on those Aperols) in town during my visit, but so what? It's a fun place to hang out - and it's outdoors - so by both accounts I rate Spark as an essential part of city life in these difficult times.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees Spark that way.

It has become a source of tension in the city - or at least among the keyboard warriors of The Press's letters page. Some people don't like it. It's too modern looking; it took too long to install outside cladding (which was part of its planning agreement); there are too many young people there having fun.

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It's a shame that there is a divisive whiff of Marmite around the place because if doubters could get over their prejudice and check it out they might see why many people like it so much.

And so to the food. There were four of us (I'd come with three teenagers to help me blend in!). For reviewing purposes, we decided to order different dishes from a variety of traders.

Since its reopening after lockdown, a one-way system is in place throughout the two-storey site. With vendors on both levels, we had to undertake a bit of a trek to study each outlet's menu (listed on boards outside each container) and make our selections.

The three teens were all vegetarian and former vegans. Not surprisingly, Spark caters brilliantly for non meat eaters. Döner Summer leads the way with its range of vegan kebabs featuring meat substitutes which are made in house.

York Press:

Some of the food outlets at Spark:York

The girls had eaten there before and raved about it, but decided to venture further afield tonight.

G was in the mood for a 'burger' so ordered from Sloppy's which also serves fries. The burger, a side of fries and three diet cokes came to £16. The food lived up to the outlet's name. One bite and the burger was bursting out of its bun, a slice of bright orange American cheese following suit as if it were trying to break out from jail. There wasn't much talking as G tore into it, but she stopped long enough to say it was "delicious". The fries were good too, with a covering of paprika to give them a smoky edge.

Next up was a box of nachos from Dogs's Nose Taqueria (DNT), which boasts to be the North's first plant-based taco restaurant. Its menu is also 100 per cent naturally gluten free. Its soft corn tortillas are made from Masa harina flour and pressed to order; with anything less than perfect turned into tortilla chips.

York Press:

Nachos and 'chorizo' from DNT at Spark

S ordered the 'chorizo' tray (£9) - and after a short wait was tucking into crispy nachos topped with 'chorizo' and salsa made from fermented tomatoes and topped with 'cheese' created from fermented tomato juice. There was guacamole and chilli slices too which made it nice and hot for S - just how she liked it.

For E's order, we headed upstairs to Shori, which sells 'Asian fusion' and which means triumph in Japanese. I'd had the chilli beef ramen (£10) from here on a visit last month and can thoroughly recommend it: melt in the mouth pieces of beef cheek with pieces of al dente broccoli in a darkly rich and spicy soupy broth. Yummy.

Tonight, E only had eyes for the bao buns (two for £10). These were soft white bread-like steamed rolls which open like a clam to reveal a clutch of culinary treasures inside. In this case, there were deeply savoury mushrooms and sweet carrots which were slightly charred and caramelised. Divine was the verdict.

We had eaten pizza from RAD at Spark before (also good), but wanting to sample something different I stopped at Aroma 2, where the Italian chef was running a solo ship. The menu was brief: three pastas and a gnocchi and snacks such as bruschetta, courgette flowers and arancini as well as a choice of breads.

I chose the gnocchi (£8) which came with a ragu of tomato and sausage.

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Gnocchi from Aroma 2

Served in a small brown cardboard bowl, I agreed to a generous topping of grated parmesan and a dusting of black pepper, before carrying it to our table.

The sauce was really something: rich and tangy, but meaty too with the sausage pieces ground down and slow-cooked like all the best ragus. If I were to have it again, I would ask to have the sauce with pasta. The gnocchi were fine - little oval bombs of thick, squidgy, potato - but in a face-off, I'd chose spaghetti every time.

And so we were finished. Full up, the teens headed off in search of more fun, while I returned home to my cocoa and slippers.


17-21 Piccadilly, York


Food: Tasty 4/5

Ambience: Fun 5/5

Service: Great 5/5

Value: Fair 4/5

Reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press