MAXINE GORDON makes the most of the summer sun with a lunchtime visit to SPARK:York

LOVE it or hate it, SPARK:York has made an impact on the city.

It's been called an eyesore – or worse – on account of its rather ramshackle appearance: a Lego-like construction of used shipping containers, covered in vibrant street art, on a temporary site in one of the city's less picturesque spots, lower Piccadilly.

The whole area is earmarked for development and SPARK has the right to stay put until next June, although its bosses have publicly expressed a wish stay longer should the council wish/allow it.

However, that is a debate for another day and another section of this newspaper.

Our concern on a sweltering Tuesday lunchtime was to check out what it had to offer for lunch.

Billed as a place to eat, drink and shop as well as a community venue with space for hire, SPARK has certainly caught the imagination of locals.

When the weather is great – as it was over the Bank Holiday weekend – the place is packed, with people enjoying drinking and eating and mixing with friends, lapping up the opportunity to hang out in the open air and soak up some rays.

SPARK has two storeys connected by stairs and a lift. There are plenty of places to sit outside, many of which offer the cover of a large umbrella.

The majority of the outlets that were open during our lunchtime visit were selling food and drink. As for punters, it was fairly quiet, although traders confirmed it had been exceptionally busy in the previous three days.

That turned out to be to our disadvantage because our first port of call was upstairs to Shōri (which means triumph, success and ultimate victory in Japanese). Unfortunately we can't tell you if it lives up to its name because most of the dishes we wanted to order were sold out, including the spicy mushroom bao (£8.50) and the blackbean and jackfruit gyoza (£5.50).

Downstairs, Cardamom & Dill, the vegetarian cafe, was closed while the owners were on vacation, and Fish & Forest, which advertises on social media a tempting array of "poke bowls" full of tasty-looking fish and veg were also not open for service.

This left us with a choice of pizza, burger, American beef sandwiches, and fries. Not the healthiest of options, but we were hungry.

First up was Pizza Me, where you can grab a simple Marinara pizza (with tomato sauce, garlic and basil) for just £6. We were planning to order some fries too, so only wanted to share a pizza. Trouble was my daughter wanted a Margherita and I fancied the mushroom (called The Fun Guy, with mozzarella, Portobello mushroom, truffle oil and mushroom ketchup). But as everything is made fresh to order this was no problem and the pizza chef prepared us a half and half, which along with a can of refreshing Orange and Pomegranate San Pellegrino came to £9.50.

We were handed a buzzer and told to return in a few minutes when it vibrated. This gave us time to pop into the neighbouring Fried Chicken stall and order some rosemary and garlic fries with a mayo (£3). Again another buzzer was handed over.

Meanwhile, we found a shady table to sit down and have our drinks – a cold bottle of water for me – as we waited.

Most people around us seemed to be enjoying pints of beer, cider and glasses of wine from the bar on the ground floor – even though it was only 1.30 in the afternoon!

Within ten minutes of ordering, both buzzers rang, so my daughter and I dived off in different directions to claim our lunch.

The fries were excellent: heavily seasoned with a pungent note of rosemary. They were lovely and crispy and irresistible when dipped into the mayo.

The pizza was good too. I normally like mine crisp and thin. This one was thin in the base but fluffier and fuller towards the edge. The tomato-sauce base was clearly home-made and tangy and sweet. If I had one complaint, I would have liked some more mushrooms, but the mushroom ketchup (which I asked for on the side) was delicious. It was dark and savoury and not over-sweet, and perfect for dipping pizza crusts into.

For pudding there was just one choice: Melk, which sells ice-creams, sundaes and milkshakes, using flavours from local supplier Yorvale.

My daughter chose a blueberry milkshake (£4), made from two scoops of blueberry ice-cream blitzed with cold milk. Feeling full, I opted for a lighter option: the gin and elderflower sorbet and the dairy-free vanilla and coconut ice-cream, which was served in a small tub (£3). Of the two, I preferred the ice-cream, which had a lovely coconut flavour. The sorbet wasn't such a success: perhaps because I couldn't really taste any gin.

Perhaps I should have gone to the bar and had a G&T instead!

One of the many pleasing things about eating and drinking at SPARK is knowing you are supporting local businesses, often start-ups, with ambitions to go on to bigger and greater things.

Indeed that has already happened to some of the first traders who set up business in this rather rundown corner of Piccadilly.

Which has to be a good thing for them, for us, and for the city of York.

SPARK: York, Piccadilly, York

Food: Fast and fresh 3.5/5

Ambience: Hip hangout 4/5

Value: OK 3/5

Service: Great 4/5

Reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press