In 2018 Tommy Banks opened Roots. Back then securing a table was harder than scoring tickets for Glastonbury and things haven’t changed much since. 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.
The handsome and personable Tommy is in demand for everything from Great British Menu to Test Match Special. Otherwise you might spot him at the pass and while brother James probably wouldn’t call himself a sommelier 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 sturdy, 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 has morphed from a dozen or so small dishes to a multiple course tasting menu based around the three growing seasons: Preservation, Hunger Gap and Abundance with fruit and veg harvested from five acres of the family farm at Oldstead.
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 a number of times now. 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 cheesy 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.