There’s one rule you should always follow when dining out in York, and it’s this: look up.
My home city is head-scratchingly complicated. Thinking of opening a restaurant within the walls of York? Welcome to a heritage minefield, where you can’t unlatch a window without applying for planning permission first. Everything around you is deeply and highly old, and old to the left and old to the right. You’re stood on the icing of a fabulously stratified cake of Olde Ingredienffe – Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, Medieval, Pre-Industrial, Post-Industrial, ’70s Concrete Abomination, you.
Except it’s never quite that simple.
The fascinating/frustrating thing is that these layers are swiss-cheesed around you on all sides. You’re not on the archaeology, you’re in it – entrenched in the past.
(Mind how you go. History is both holy and holey).
Much of the town planning paperwork revolves around listed buildings – our structural protection system defined with delightfully British imprecision. In layman’s terms, then:
- Grade I listed buildings are those of exceptional interest (archaeological, historical or cultural).
- Grade II* buildings aren’t exceptional, although they are of more than special interest.
- And the Grade II building, the runt of the litter, is merely of special interest.
And if you’re wondering, the Grade III was abolished in 1970. Presumably to make things less vague.
On Wednesday, I had the good fortune to end up in La Piazza, a superb Italian restaurant down one of the most historified streets of York. It’s sunken into the depths of a Grade II, made of absurdly sturdy-looking timber beams and ceilings that are either too high or too low. Needless to say, the overall effect is gorgeous. Even though York is filled with so many similarly lovely buildings that it’s easy to suffer from eye-indigestion…at a certain point during the meal, when conversations had reached natural lulls, everyone started to look around and pupils dilated wildly. And these were archaeologists – they’re used to such sights.
There are around 2,000 listed buildings in York (here’s a list of the most famous Grade I tourist-traps)…and I know precious few of them.
Yes, I know – there’s a challenge to set myself.