You can hardly switch on the telly without seeing Tommy Banks, the wunderkind of British food, winner of the Great British Menu, a Masterchef judge, guesting on Saturday Kitchen and presenter of the BBC’s answer to Bake Off, the Big Family Cooking Showdown.
He’s been heard giving his View from the Boundary on Test Match Special and Grace Dent in the Guardian called him ‘the poster boy of hospitality’. It’s a wonder he has time to cook let alone open a brand new 50 cover restaurant in York.
He did just that in September when securing a table was harder than scoring tickets for Glastonbury. It’s not just him of course. Roots is the second restaurant for the Banks family – the two brothers James and Tommy and Mum and Dad, Anne and Tom, who took the Black Swan at Oldstead from country pub to Michelin stardom in the space of 5 years.
When he isn’t on the telly, Tommy is at the Roots pass most days at least for the time being. Brother James probably wouldn’t call himself a sommelier but he is the wine enthusiast and front of house. They’ve also joined forces with their good mate from Lockwood’s in Ripon, Matt Lockwood, who takes on the job of General Manager and the parents have got stuck in with interior design – Dad Tom especially with the practical stuff – turns out he’s a plumber, spark and furniture maker.
The mock Tudor tavern just outside the city walls is no great beauty, but they’ve stripped out the flowery carpets and disco lights and imposed on the rambling 19thcentury building a rather elegant Scandi vibe with Treske made chairs and tables made at Oldstead, the legs fittingly a tangle of roots.
The menu is made up of a dozen or so small dishes that change regularly based on three (not four) growing seasons: Preservation, Hunger Gap and Abundance with fruit and veg harvested from five acres of the family farm at Oldstead.
Diners select a few of these to share, but for 55 quid per person the ‘Roots Feast’ is the better bet since it includes almost every dish on the à la carte. ‘You can’t call it a feast and go home hungry’ says James Banks.
It’s worth arriving in time for a drink in the upstairs bar because Roots have an inventive list with gins and vodkas made locally. Who knew there were distilleries in York, Sutton on Forest and Catterick? There are Yorkshire beers and ciders brewed in Leeds, Malton and Bedale too. The cocktail and soft drinks list (they hate the word mocktails and we agree) are full of foraged stuff like woodruff, wormwood, sweet cicely and spruce tips all growing in and around Oldstead.
We’ve been to Roots twice now, both times for the Preservation menu. If you think fermented foods are too hardcore, we think you’ll be a convert once you’ve sampled the ray wing with fermented potato strings, sour pea falafel or chicory and carrot pudding. Trust me veg-phobes, you’d never know it had ever been near a carrot or a chicory root. It really is amazing. Even the bread is terrific – their own sourdough plus delicate little seed crackers served with cultured butter and some whipped cheesey thing.
Roots is just as special as the Black Swan but different; more relaxed, informal, not as dainty and we loved it and it leaps into our top ten.
Read more about Roots in my review for the Yorkshire Post.