One York restaurant is getting creative to keep us Covid-safe and warm through winter, reports MAXINE GORDON

AUTUMN is suddenly upon us and as the nights draw in, winter seems just around the corner.

As the hospitality industry reels from further lockdown restrictions and cases of Covid-19 are on the rise, if people are going to eat out, many will feel safer outdoors.

That’s easy in summer – when venues can have outdoor tables and parasols. Come October though, the challenge is how to keep people comfortable when eating outside,

For comfortable, read warm and dry. But there is more to it than that. It has to be inviting – enough to lure people from their sofas, Deliveroos and box sets.

If you need a case study in how to do that, then check out The Churchill Hotel in Bootham.

York Press:

Wood-fired pizzas at The Churchill on Bootham

This rather grand hotel is more used to hosting wedding parties than pizza ones, but it has had to adapt to the times.

It has recast itself as a magical outdoor restaurant, specialising in selling wood-fired pizzas from Thursday to Sunday.

You can still book to eat from a more substantial menu inside should you wish – but one look at the Churchill’s fairy-lit garden should change your mind.

And new for autumn are a set of see-through 'garden igloos' which diners can hire for up to a group of six people for a fee of between £20 to £45 for a two-and-a-half hour slot. This is non-refundable and is in addition to your food and drink bill.

York Press:

One of the heated garden igloos for hire at The Churchill

The igloos officially opened at the start of October - just days after our visit, so we were unable to review the experience. But one was in place, so we had a look inside. It was like, well, sitting in an igloo made of see-through plastic panels. Our waiter told us that each one would be heated for the colder months and would be disinfected between each party.

So no igloo for us. Instead we had an outdoor table (for free) next to a heater (which had run out of fuel).

It's no second best to be in the garden area, with its outdoor lights and heaters and candle-lit jars on each table. There is a huge fire pit too.

If we escape a second lockdown, I suspect The Churchill will be fully booked all year.

We were meeting two friends, K and D, who had already arrived and were enjoying a bottle or warming and fruity Malbec.

Our waiter pulled a nearby table closer so we could sit as a four – but still be socially distanced. Each table had a number and a QR code from which we had to download on to our smart phones to place our order.

I am getting used to this and after a small hiccup over how to put in my bank details we were soon enjoying a drink too – a large glass or Malbec for my husband and a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc for me.

Staff were in masks, as were we when we popped indoors to use the loo.

The menu is accessible via the QR code. When eating outside from Thursday to Sundays, the choice is limited to pizzas and sharing platters. For the rest of the week a house menu applies.

York Press:

The Churchill's pizza 'hut' serving wood-fired pizzas

We all only had eyes for the pizza. There were at least nine choices on the menu and we each had a different one, priced from £11 for a Margherita to £12.95 for a pizza with prawns.

There is a special offer too: a Margherita pizza with a bottle of Peroni for £12.95.

Other options included: New Yorker (with mozzarella, pepperoni, mixed peppers and jalapenos) £11.95; Vesuvius (mozzarella, salami, spicy N’duja sausage, pepperoni and jalapenos) £11.95; Pollo Barbeque (BBQ chicken breast with red onions) £11.95; Rustica (mozzarella, chargrilled aubergines, chestnut mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and rocket) £11.95; and Fig and Gorgonzola (white pizza with mozzarella, fresh figs, gorgonzola, red onion, rocket and balsamic glaze) £11.95.

My friend K had the latter. It is called a white pizza because it has no tomatoes, but the other ingredients made up for any flavour deficit. It was a "wow" she declared. Her hubby spoke equally highly of his Rustica.

Covid precautions prevented us sharing our pizzas so you will have to take them by their word.

My hubby went for the Vesuvius (mozzarella, salami, spicy N’duja sausage, pepperoni and jalapenos) – forgoing the addition of chilli oil because he reckoned it would be spicy enough. He said it was, adding the level of heat was “just right”.

I picked the pizza with prawns. By the time our meals arrived it was pitch dark, and we were eating by candle light (our photos reflect that!)

The pizzas appeared to be served on wooden boards with handles and we were given stainless steel cutlery with which to eat it.

Pizzas take mere minutes to cook in a wood-fired oven (in a 'hut' in the corner of the grounds), so our orders were with us promptly.

The pizzas are a decent size and our pizza chef – Henry – didn’t scrimp with the toppings.

I enjoyed mine – and I think it tasted even better for being outside. The base is thin, but not too thin and the edge has a nice rise (perfect for holding on to if you don’t use a knife and fork).

My pizza was quite sweet on account of the cherry tomatoes. The prawns were perfect: still juicy and not overcooked. If I had one grumble, I would have liked more of them. It was nice to have a scattering of rocket leaves on top – a bit like having a salad with your meal!

So, the pizzas got the thumbs up all round. As the fellas had some more wine, me and K asked for a hot chocolate which wasn’t listed on the menu accessed by the QR code. But this wasn’t a problem as our waitress popped inside to get us our hot drinks – with the instruction to make one “extra hot” for K and one “extra chocolatey” for me! We had to pay for these separately at reception before we left.

If pubs and restaurants want some inspiration on how they can cater for their customers through winter, they should come and see how The Churchill is doing it in style.

The Churchill Hotel

65 Bootham, Clifton, York

T: 01904 644456


Food: good 3.5/5

Service: great 4/5

Ambience: Magical 5/5

Value: Fair 3.5/5

Reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press