Arriving at dusk on a crisp, sunny afternoon in November, York’s cobbled streets are filled with shoppers drifting home from the Christmas markets. We are here to visit Legacy – a new fine dining restaurant at the city’s only five-star hotel, The Grand, York. Waiting to greet us at the door are two jovial bowler-hatted doormen. An enormous tree sparkles invitingly from the lobby. If you’re looking for a cozy winter retreat – under two hours by train from London – this might just be your place.
Built in 1906 to house the headquarters of the North Eastern Railway, The Grand is situated a stone’s throw from the station, overlooking York’s medieval city walls and magnificent cathedral. The Edwardian Grade II listed building was transformed into a hotel in 2010 and underwent a dramatic £15m (approx. $18m) refurbishment in 2018, reopening with a total of 208 luxurious bedrooms and suites.
The hotel boasts several drinking and dining spots including The Rise (an AA rosette awarded eatery) and the maroon-hued 1906 Bar, which is well stocked with a large collection of single malt whiskeys. But The Grand isn’t one for resting on its laurels. Earlier this year, the hotel welcomed diners to Legacy – a new gourmet restaurant helmed by talented head chef Ahmed Abdalla. Naturally, we were eager to see if it could live up to expectations.
We needn’t have worried. From the moment we were ushered into the moodily lit dining room by Derek Scaife, Legacy’s inimitable restaurant manager and sommelier, it was clear we were in safe hands. Of course, the food is the real draw. Abdalla makes a point of leaving the kitchen to greet guests and talk them through his expertly crafted eight-course tasting menu.
“I dreamt about running my own restaurant for years and it’s amazing to be at the helm of something truly unique in York,” he tells us. “I’ve been involved in everything which has allowed me to pour my inspiration and creativity into every aspect of the guest journey. From start to finish, all I want is for the guests to be blown away to experience our region’s incredible ingredients.”
Abdalla cut his teeth at some of the UK’s most prestigious fine dining restaurants including Yorebridge House (a three AA rosette boutique hotel in the Yorkshire Dales), Michelin-starred The Dining Room at Whatley Manor, The Swinton Estate and Restaurant Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park.
He worked closely with Neil Bentinck at the popular Micklegate eatery Skosh (known for its vibrant dishes inspired by Japan) before securing his first coveted head chef role at The Grand. The ambitious young chef is clearly ready to make his mark on the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene.
During his impressive career, Abdalla has honed a unique culinary style rooted in modern British cooking, but with European and Asian influences and the occasional nod to classic French techniques. Above all, he is passionate, inventive, and – as becomes clear over the course of our meal – will stop at nothing to wow his diners.
Abdalla has scoured Yorkshire to find the very best seasonal ingredients – and it shows. The ever-changing eight-course tasting menu at Legacy is a glorious celebration of the region’s produce, bursting with colorful vegetables and freshly caught fish.
The head chef kicked things off with a selection of hors d’oeuvres that set the tone for the rest of the meal. Oysters marinaded in a delicate mirin sauce were followed by crisp cones brimming with trout roe and miniature pastry cases filled with dots of mustard mayonnaise, garden peas, and dehydrated gherkin that conjured the flavors of a traditional ham hock terrine (but looked much daintier).
Other standout dishes from the menu include the beautifully flaking fillet of halibut, drizzled with a creamy mousseline sauce and dotted with tiny chunks of cauliflower and mussels, and the silky Jerusalem artichoke velouté topped with little pieces of parsley root, Wensleydale, and a parmesan crisp, and served with fluffy parker house bread rolls and whipped butter. But the star of the show was the addictive salt-baked celeriac dish coated with black garlic and shaved truffle and served with chopped hazelnuts.
The desserts also deserve a mention. Rich spiced plums with a gingerbread tuile were followed by a delicate yuzu and elderflower pudding made with honeycomb straight from the bees on the hotel’s rooftop. Each course was thoughtfully paired with wines chosen by Scaife, including a glass or two of Nyetimber (a lovely English sparkling wine).
The restaurant itself is intimate and cozy with space for just 26 guests. Faber was brought in for the interiors, creating an elegant dining room in shades of royal blue and cream, with plush leather booths and warmly glowing brass lamps.
In a nod to The Grand’s rich history, Legacy features original oak paneling and a beautiful parquet floor. The walls are adorned with portraits of influential figures who helped shape the modern history of York including ‘Railway King’ George Hudson who controlled over 1,000 miles of railway by the mid-nineteenth century, English diarist Anne Lister, and Quaker philanthropist Joseph Rowntree.