York should create its own ‘Borough Market’ says food festival director

york-borough-market
Something to aspire to? Borough Market in London. Photograph: Borough Market on Facebook
York should aim to create its own version of London’s hugely popular Borough Market, the director of the city’s food festival says.

Michael Hjort, who runs the hugely popular York Food Festival, which reaches its climax this weekend (September 27 and 28), feels that the city could transform the daily market into a destination for foodies.

“I don’t believe it’s unthinkable that we could run a Borough Market-type operation in York, if you had the will to do it,” he told YorkMix.

Based in Southwark, close to London Bridge Station, Borough Market is considered the capital’s leading food market.

Like York’s market, it has a centuries-long history. But more recently it has become home to artisan food producers including Bread Ahead and The Ginger Pig – which rears much of its livestock in North Yorkshire.

It is also a great place to enjoy globally-inspired range of street food – something York conspicuously lacks when the food festival packs its bags.

A “source of exceptional British and international produce” Borough Market was named Britain’s Best Market Attraction 2014.

A fresh approach

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Lively and tasty: Borough Market in London. Click to see a bigger image

Work is now underway to refresh York’s daily market. Stallholders have temporarily relocated to Parliament Street while their usual home, Newgate, is upgraded.

The market is due to return there ahead of St Nicholas Fair in late November. It will be renamed Shambles Market.

York has always been a market town – now is the time to take a fresh approach to this city asset, Michael says.

“The place needs a different style of management that will focus on bringing in stallholders with particular values and product ranges,” he said.

“I’m not sure it has to be a 100 per cent food market, but it would be nice to think there would be a decent food deal.”

One way to boost the market’s future prosperity would be to remove it from direct council control – in the same way as York’s museums and libraries have become semi-autonomous.

“It has to be free from that style of management.”

‘No longer a food desert’

York’s hugely popular food festival began in 1997. But Michael says it began to thrive once it was out of council hands.

“You need to keep it out of the local authority’s hands so you can be innovative and take risks.”

Since then, the festival has grown enormously, brought in the street stalls and incorporated a schools programme.

Michael’s day job is running the Meltons and Meltons Too restaurants in York. He thinks the city’s food offer is better than it has ever been.

“Over the past half a dozen years one of the nice things is the choice has not only got wider, but it’s got more diverse.”

Citing the Chinese restaurant Red Chilli on George Hudson Street, Ambiente serving genuine Spanish specialities on Goodramgate, and Thai and Korean restaurants coming to York, he says “York is somewhere worth stopping in.

“You can visit York or come to work here and it’s not the gastronomic desert that 25 years ago it was.”

He is also pleased the city now offers “places which mix food and beer a lot better than used to be the case.
“Think of The Hop [on Fossgate] – can you imagine 10 years ago seeing pizza and real ale as a combination?”

There are still challenges for the local hospitality sector. “It remains difficult for independents to get a toehold anywhere in the prime city centre locations.

“All those places that tourists walk past in droves are filled by the names you can find anywhere else.

“You have to go into Swinegate, down Fossgate, up Goodramgate if you’re to find something different.

“That’s not just about York; that’s part of the high street across Britain.”