MAXINE GORDON heads out for mid-week after-work drinks and food at Thor’s Sol Ast tipi in York

MANY of us are nervous about getting back to our pre-lockdown lives.

Perhaps it’s no wonder. The Government's message has moved from ‘stay home to safe lives’ to ‘get back to the pub and here’s a tenner off a meal out’.

From yesterday, we are now required to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets – something that has been mandatory in Scotland for weeks.

So, the messages are mixed. Go for a pint without a mask, but if you want a pint of milk you need to cover up.

Not surprisingly, many people who feel confident enough about returning to pubs, cafes and restaurants often want to sit outside, where the risk of catching the virus is said to be much lower.

Thor’s Tipi – a massive marquee in the grounds of The Principal hotel by York Railway Station – offers the best of both worlds.

York Press: Thor's Sol Ast summer tipi in YorkThor's Sol Ast summer tipi in York

It provides outdoor tables, spread out generously in the manicured grounds at the front of the hotel, as well as covers inside, under a giant cream tipi with transparent sides that are as good as windows, letting light flood in.

Bookings are thoroughly recommended and are made by telephone. Also, if you book ahead for an outside table and the weather turns, you get first dibs on an inside spot

This happened to me and my friend Lisa last Wednesday. The forecast looked great for an early evening rendezvous – our first since lockdown – but turned almost as soon as I switched off my laptop and reached for my lipstick.

All was fine, however, because the friendly waiter who met us on arrival led us to an inside bench where we enjoyed a drink and a catch-up – with the promise of a table when our food arrived.

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First things first. OK, this Tipi is not for everyone. For starters, the benches we had to sit on were low and felt a bit flimsy and uncomfortable. I’m probably showing my age, but I’d much rather have a chair and table.

But I wasn’t going to let an uncomfy seat come between me, seeing one of my best mates for the first time in more than four months, and having a G&T somewhere other than my back garden!

York Press: Inside Thor's summer tipi in YorkInside Thor's summer tipi in York

So, my heart sank when the G&T arrived. Is that it? I asked the waitress. Served in a large, plastic, glass the size of a goldfish bowl, the actual G&T looked like the dregs from the morning after the night before. Our waitress was sweet and totally agreed. “I’m going to get you another one – and put it in a smaller glass.” She kept her promise, and the follow-up was worth waiting for.

It might seem a small point. But if you’ve been missing the pub and the theatre of having a drink, in a nice glass, with garnishes, in the company of friends, then you want things to be just right.

Especially if you are coming out for a drink in the middle of a global pandemic which has killed half a million people.

Yes, you want that G&T to be pretty much perfect.

Happily, I can thoroughly recommend the Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla (£6.50 for a single with tonic). I love gin with a slice of orange, or even better, with natural orange notes in it (like this one). If you normally have lemon or lime in your gin, switch it up, you won’t regret it.

My friend Lisa was driving (you can pay to park in The Principal car park) so had a virgin frozen cocktail – Pina Colada, which, not surprisingly, gave her brain freeze and tasted overwhelmingly of pineapple.

If you are a massive foodie, don’t head to Thor’s expecting gourmet-grade grub.

But if you are hungry and fancy some tasty carbs with a drink, in a fun place to hang out with mates, then Thor’s is just the ticket.

Caterers, the Hog and Apple are in charge of the menu, which has a limited selection of sandwiches, chips and a salad, as well as mini plates for children. We counted ten choices in all and three for kids as well as one dessert: Eton Mess. Prices are from £5 to £10.95. All dishes have suitable warrior names, such as Odin’s Bowl – chargrilled rump steak with skin-on fries and peppercorn sauce.

York Press: Valkerie salad at Thors' tipiValkerie salad at Thors' tipi

We tried three dishes: Valhalla fries (£7.50), Valkerie salad (£7.50) and the Lagertha – an Indian flat bread stuffed with bhaji, dahl, mushrooms, and chutney (£7.95/£5 for half).

By now we were sitting at a large wooden bench. The place was filling up, but people were socially distanced and table service made sure customers stayed in their seats. Loos are available in the conference wing of the hotel, we were told.

The food arrived all at once in brown cardboard open boxes with disposable wooden forks, but no knives.

The salad – a medley of quinoa, tomatoes, and croutons – has an overriding taste of salt and lime that was unpleasant. Most of it was left.

Hungry by now, we ate the flatbread but were unable to discern any of the ingredients, short of being able to say it tasted sweet and was filling. Disappointing.

York Press: Valhalla fries at Thor's tipiValhalla fries at Thor's tipi

Luckily, the other Valhalla fries were better, and we enjoyed them in that ‘I’m starving give me carbs now’ mode. The skinny fries topped with minced beef and melted cheese might have looked like a bird’s nest, but don’t let that put you off. If you like cheesy chips and lasagne, then you’ll love these.

So, suffice to say, Thor’s may not be serving the stuff of the gods, but if you want a great place to hang out with friends or family for some socially distanced drinks and snacks, it’s worth a visit.

And the tipi staff are tip top.

Thor’s Sol Ast

The Principal York Hotel Gardens

T: 07483 339119.

Open daily from 11.30am - 11pm

Food served Wednesday to Sunday

Food: Hit and miss 3/5

Service: With a smile 5/5

Value: OK 3/5

Ambience: Relaxed 4/5

All reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press

Read more post-lockdown eating outs by clicking here