Keep York out of the chain gang

Done Danish
Done Danish

emma-beaumont-headshotYork is getting yet another chain restaurant. Emma Beaumont says that we should retain our city’s individuality

The Danish Kitchen has closed. You know the Danish Kitchen, on High Ousegate, opposite Ann Summers. Yes, that one. After 36 years it has stopped serving hearty Danish fare, whatever that is.

I’ll level with you; I’m not that devastated about this demise. The restaurant never looked that inviting and their website is largely photos of whipped cream and mayonnaise bathed prawns.

Still, what rankles me is that it’s being replaced by a Byron burger restaurant. For those who don’t know, Byron is a London chain pushing poshed-up burgers and other Americana fare.

Like a one-night stand in a five star hotel, it’s a way of getting the dirtiness you crave, but in sanitised surroundings.

Oh Byron; lovely, consistent Byron. When I took a four year sabbatical from York (for university) you were a regular hangover haunt of my pals and mine.

It had a knack for delivering the fatty junk that we craved, but with less shame and self-loathing after. To top this off you could even accompany your heart attack on a plate with a glass (bottle) of pinot, numbing the guilt further.

There have been only two moments, which shook this love.

1) The photo that emerged of a piggy-snouted George Osborne destroying a Byron burger in a manner similar to how he’s devoured all our hopes and dreams. He Tweeted a photo of the meaty carnage in an attempt to be a man of the people. The people were repulsed.

The Chancellor studies Byron

2) When in Byron, Covent Garden in 2012, a blazer clad waiter couldn’t contain his astonishment that we had finished the courgette fries, skin on chips, onion rings and (most of the) side salad. “Wow, you shouldn’t eat for a week after that,” he sputtered. This is not a way to encourage people to return to your establishment blazer man.

These unfortunate incidents aside Byron and I have a solid relationship, but under no circumstances do I want them moving to York.

To be honest my instant reaction when I heard the news was one of relief. I love sprawling London and miss it dearly. Anything bringing York closer to the capital is a good thing in my mind. Ahh yes; my goldfish-like mind…

And I’ve been here before with these southern chains infecting our city. Wagamama’s, Waitrose, GBK, Yo Sushi, Strada, Urban Outfitters, and the massive Topshop… the list goes on.

I welcomed each with a hefty “Finally!” But with every one of these openings York’s sense of individuality is slowly being chipped away.

What we are in danger of creating is a homogenised city, a sort of sub-London. York is not just another English town, but one steeped in history, individuality and slight oddness.

Change is good, but a slide towards a world with Lord Starbucks as the supreme ruler cannot be desirable

The influx of these chains takes the vibrancy out the city and renders us rather schizophrenic. We have the historic Shambles, intimidating city walls, yet they exist messily alongside Ask, Zizzi’s and the house of the bastardisation of Italian food, Bella Italia.

Chains are tempting, familiar, and I would be lying if I said I haven’t found myself in one of the two Pizza Expresses in the city. Although quite why there are two is beyond me: can people not walk the length of Davygate without thinking about round two of doughballs?

But when I have friends to stay I want to take them to Il Paradiso, Evil Eye or even Betty’s.

We have great places to eat and drink, yet it’s Jamie’s (generic) Italian that is booked up on a Saturday night.

I’m not trying to create some weird fossilised York, representative of my childhood, that I can show off to others in an all-knowing, “weren’t my young years cool” manner. OK, that’s not the only thing I’m trying to do.

Change is good, but a slide towards a world with Lord Starbucks as the supreme ruler, flanked by Colonel Nandos and Lieutenant Pret a Manger cannot be a desirable thing.

If (when) you eat at Byron, the chances are that my dystopian view of the future won’t come to fruition, but great restaurants like the dearly departed J Baker’s won’t be able to keep up in this Chain City.

So stick it to the man and to George Osborne (synonymous things), and head to that special little burger place on Blake Street. I reckon they need all the help they can get. McSomething? Must be Scottish…


5 thoughts on “Keep York out of the chain gang

  1. I confess I was actually struggling somewhat with what conclusions I was supposed to come to from reading the article. Perhaps disingenuity is a viral infection, spread via a keyboard.
    But I admire the chutzpah of a company re-inventing the beefburger. This ‘Byrons’ outfit will doubtless tread the same path as did Starbucks. That is, sell a pretty mundane product at four times the price, tell the world it’s ‘cool’, get a few nobs to be seen munching away and people will buy it by the bucketful.

  2. It’s all very well for Fobby Fonebone (crazy name, crazy guy) to call this article disingenous, but I am struggling to work out exactly what Fobby is trying to say. Apart from a mildly amusing riff on food inspired by literary giants, Fobby takes a gentle ramble around York and its culinary scene, before agreeing with the original article.

    As for PB, I think the moaning charge is unfair. This was a cogently argued opinion piece, which made some hard-hitting, but fair, points about York and its eating habits. Any city which allows such a great establishment as J Bakers to slip through its hands should hang its head in shame.

  3. Hi PB- regarding the ‘twin contradictions’. I was trying to explain the allure of chain restaurants and why they are becoming more prevalent in York, using my own (admittedly) lazy actions as an example. Hypocritical maybe, but I’m not even sure it was a singular contradiction as I stated that I wasn’t lamenting the loss of the Danish Kitchen.

    What is sad is that some great restaurants such as J Baker’s can’t survive, largely due to the onset of these chains, which as I said, present an obvious, unthinking option we have all taken in the past. One that I’m trying to take less.

    I’m not sure I completely agree with your ‘ stranger, strange town’ argument as with the rise of sites such as Tripadvisor, new cities are no longer such an unknown entity. And as a tourist, how much better to have an individual, memorable experience, rather than a lacklustre lunch at Pizza Express that could be replicated anywhere?

    Thanks for commenting, I think this is a very interesting debate!

  4. Overlooking the obvious twin contradictions to rue the loss of a restaurant she apparently never visited (nor presumably did enough others) to be replaced with one she likes and spends money in; this comes across as moaning for the sake of it.

    There are a plethora of good, independent restaurants in York and similarly, some real shockers. The best and worst are all Indies.

    Having run one of them for some years and spoken to thousands of visitors over the time I did; what York was always missing was a few decent chains.

    Il Paradiso is cracking – le Langhe serves stunning food and Bistro Number 8 a pleasure to visit but on any given weekend trip to York you’ll not get a table in any of them, chances are you’ll never even know they exist.

    I only speak for myself but I’ve found good and bad in every city I ever visited but a good independent in a city I don’t know is eternally out of reach.

    I’m as sick as everyone of Jamie’s Smug Mug and Wagamama is to Japanese food what two other totally unrelated items are to each other but, you know exactly what you’ll get, they’re interesting, welcoming, family friendly and can always fit you in. To a stranger in a strange town they’re a vast improvement on what we had before.

    It’s a shame to loose a place that appeals to a slightly older visitor but Byron do burgers better than most and I’m looking forward to it.

  5. A trifle disingenuous, is this article. The author admits she enjoyed these things whilst at the University of Darn Sarf, where such comestibles are perfectly acceptable for students having fun, fun, fun.
    But do not let them break through the metaphorical portcullises that guard the fine and majestic gates of York. They are not wanted here!
    I agree that York is dominated by anodyne food chains, but that is hardly different to any other city of similar size whose revenue relies heavily on tourism…and students.
    But the article gives off the steamy whiff of parochial snobbery; which I suppose would be expected in York; I do actually live here, by the way.
    I must confess that I only picked up this article from a tweet, and I was puzzled as to what actually was a ‘Byron Burger’. I assumed a range of snacks named in honour of literary giants; I awaited mention of the Kentucky Fried Dickens, The Doner Quixote, The Fleming Charcoal Grill, The Milk-shakespeare Bar, and possibly the Christopher Fry-up.
    However, since this ‘Byron’ confection appears to have the blessing and approval of Chancellor Osborne, I feel I will give it a miss.
    And I would agree that York should give it the elbow too.

    So in the main, I agree with Emma Beaumont, but feel that the calibre of York tourist and student; (you were one once, as was I…) wants cheap, fast and ‘known-branded’ food, especially if it’s trendy. I cannot see that to many Michelin stars are going to shine over the Minster……
    Us residents will probably eat at home.

Comments are closed.