York has its fair share of bustling streets – some are rows of swanky bars and restaurants, others a shopper’s paradise, not startlingly different to any other city. But what connects these streets is truly unique – York is riddled with lanes, alleys and paths, known collectively and affectionately as The Sidings. Tourists rarely find them, so their contents have a wonderful air of secrecy and discovery. They hide a plethora of independent bookshops, cafes, boutiques and restaurants that are begging to be stumbled upon, and fallen in love with. Here is my guide to just a few of these magnificent hidden gems…
Tucked away on Grape Lane and overlooked by the princely Clifford’s Tower is vintage boutique, One [link]. With the tag line ‘Responsibly Gorgeous,’ One combines unique vintage pieces with fairly manufactured garments in unusual fabrics such as bamboo (a brilliant and ethical alternative to cotton). The store itself is beautiful; softly lit with baroque chandeliers and antique bird cages hanging from the ceiling. If you’re dying to escape the same old high street stores, and find somewhere with real character and stock you’ve never seen before, it’s well deserving of a visit.
If you’re feeling painfully virtuous after all that ethical fashion, it must be time to indulge in something sweet and guilt-ridden. De Clare coffee shop is sandwiched between two of York’s busiest streets – Coney St and Parliament St – on a siding named Peter Lane. Stepping inside transports you from the hustle and bustle into a place of calm and serenity – but the real star of the place isn’t the sleek white decor, or the local art on the walls, but the incredible homemade cakes. Gooseberry and elderflower, ginger with rhubarb compote, butterscotch and pecan cheesecake, gluten free lemon polenta… My personal recommendation would be the rich and silky chocolate and Guinness cake, but truly, make it your mission to try every one on the list at some point, and you won’t regret it. Myself and a friend recently stumbled upon this place when desperately in need of a mid-shopping trip pick-me-up, and the moreish food and delightful service has seen it fast become our favourite haunt. “Shop ‘til you drop” is for weaklings – shop ‘til you drop, have a piece of cake, then carry on!
Stonegate is one of York’s most famous streets, with a host of high end shops and bars inside the charmingly crooked Tudor-beamed buildings. Down a secret side street, opposite the infamous Evil Eye Lounge, is a new and wonderful restaurant, Kuja Lounge. In York’s inimitable style the restaurant overlooks a medieval cobbled courtyard, complete with its own set of stocks. Inside, the modern food is served either upstairs in the stylish dining area, or below in the romantic, candlelit basement. Of course, it wouldn’t be real dining in York without an unbelievable snippet of history, and sitting in Kuja’s basement you can admire York’s first ever coffee roasting oven, unchanged since the 18th century. The food is contemporary British, and it is phenomenal – the Haunch of Venison and the Fish Pie (from the specials menu) come especially highly recommended.
In a place like York, it’s easy to look no further than the pages of a guide book. The city can be admired from above on the stunning ancient walls, but if you want to feel the real history, and the magic of York’s community, dip into the next side street you come across – you might just unearth your very own hidden gem.