MAXINE GORDON gets more than she bargained for at a riverside lunch in York

WITH forecasts of a last burst of summer for last Saturday, I was determined to enjoy a sunny lunch outside, savouring York's riverside.

That is easier said than done. York's rivers are among its loveliest assets, yet there is a dearth of opportunities to enjoy riverside dining in the city centre.

A mental scan of the geography of the city brought to mind City Screen and its neighbouring bars off Coney Street; Andrew Pern's fabulous terrace overlooking the Ouse at the Star Inn the City near Museum Gardens; the cluster of pubs and restaurants on King's Staith, and Dyl's historic setting under Skeldergate Bridge by Tower Street Gardens.

A new name to that short list is the Tank & Paddle at Merchant Exchange, with its balconies above Queen's Staith. It is best known by its former names: Missoula Montana and previous to that, The Living Room.

I'm always amazed by how much it costs to refurb a pub. Some £400,000 was spent giving the Tank & Paddle a new identity. Inside, it's a generous space with a mix of tables and booths (each with its own TV screen). There are several other TV screens mounted on walls across the site. All were showing sport.

I had booked online and because I couldn't see if there was an option to request an outside table I turned up early to try to secure one in the sunshine. Luckily, one last spot was available.

When my friend Lisa arrived I popped to the bar to order drinks – a white wine and soda for me (£5.70) and an orange juice and tonic for Lisa (£1.95).

We were given menus and told to order at the bar. The website informed that a "non-gluten" menu was available. This wasn't handed out at first, so I had to go back and request one.

It was a cracking day and the table on the terrace was a sun trap. However, there are downsides to eating outside – it is where the smokers gather, and we were downwind of a table where people had gathered to enjoy a few drinks and fags. Soon our view over the river was obscured as more drinkers came out on the terrace, standing with their drinks, and taking in the riverside views that were now lost to us. It was a case of win some (we had an outdoor table), lose some (no view of the riverside, just people's backsides, and lots of smoke in our lungs). We'd ordered our food by now, otherwise, we'd have gone elsewhere to eat.

The gluten-free menu was brief: a selection of nachos, a chickpea, sweet potato and spinach curry, a mixed salad and a plate of smoked haddock fishcakes.

The latter were filled with spinach and cheddar and served with avocado, soya bean and slow-roasted tomato mixed salad (£10.50) – and Lisa picked this with a side of fries (£2.75).

The main menu is divided into sections featuring small plates (£4.50 each or three for £10, or five for £15); platters such as nachos and chicken wings for sharing; sarnies (£6-£6.50); a choice of salads and mains including mac 'n' cheese (£9), cod and chips (£11) and lemon and herb chicken (£11). There is a selection of burgers and pizzas too (with an offer of pizza and a drink for £9 or £10 with an alcoholic drink).

I chose three dishes from the small plates menu: a taco with shredded duck, croquettes with chicken and chorizo, and Margherita arancini (rice balls filled with red pepper, tomato and melted cheese).

Of the three, two were decent. The taco was soft and bursting with filling – the meaty duck nicely balanced by a sweet chilli sauce and sharpness from the spring onion. The arancini were pretty good – crispy rice balls, filled with melting cheese that oozed into the tomato and pepper like the best pizza slice. However, the croquettes were so-so, their heavy crunchy coating being dominant.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to finish my meal, because we were stopped in our tracks as Lisa tucked into her fishcake (which was served lukewarm, not to her liking). "I've got a hair in my mouth," she said, her eyes widening. As she cut more into the fishcake, she found another.

I immediately took it back to the bar and the waiter had a closer look. He apologised, took a photo "to send to the supplier" and gave me a refund of the dish, £10.50, in cash.

We headed into town to have a coffee somewhere else – wanting to forget about the unpleasant experience as quickly as possible.

Things go wrong in restaurants – as in life – but often their effects can be mitigated by the actions of staff and management. I'm not convinced just refunding the price of the fishcakes was enough to make up for our ruined lunch. Had I been in charge, I would have given the whole meal gratis, and drinks, and offered a complimentary meal for the diners to return.

So in my book, the Tank & Paddle tanked – and in more ways than one.

Tank & Paddle, Merchant Exchange, York

T: 01904 461000


Food: unable to score

Service: Limited 2/5

Ambience: Disappointing 2/5

Value: OK 2.5/5

Reviews are independent and meals are paid for by The Press