Review: The Principal Hotel and Refectory Restaurant, York

Historic old York’s hardly short of a swanky hotel or two, but the Principal’s successful refurb puts it up there as one of the city’s most impressive spots for a stayover.

Schlepping from station to centre (usually by way of the ace Pivni bar) I’ve trudged past its imposing exterior on countless trips, but this visit was the first time I get through the door for a proper nosey.

First impressions – a light and spacious lobby; classic but uncluttered garden room – suggest that the half-a-million-quid refurb was money well spent. Venerable old spots like the Principal can run the risk of becoming shrines to their former selves but the historic touches are deployed subtly; a wrought iron bannister here, a traditionally-tiled corridor there.

It’s a lightness of touch that continues into luxurious bedrooms decked out in smart greys and whites, many with views of the Minster. The wi-fi’s strong, the TV’s huge and although fresh milk’s always welcome, some proper tea in which to use it would’ve been useful instead of the Earl Grey that’s provided.

Ever industrious we use the opportunity to seek alternative refreshment in the hotel’s bustling Chapter House Bar before ambling through for dinner in the Refectory. With its exposed brickwork (of course), collection of pot plants and natty use of lighting the restaurant feels outdoorsy without being cold. (Whoever’s behind the refurb is a dab hand with lamps and lights: they’re a striking feature throughout.)

A bunch of recognisable crowd-pleasers on the Refectory menu are given a leg up through some smart cooking.

Glossy strands of beef short-rib and tangy Swaledale cheese inject a dose of Yorkshire oomph into a steaming bowl of macaroni cheese. A wodge of sticky, deeply flavoured venison, stewed slowly for 36 hours, is the byword for ‘winter warmer’.

The only dud’s a ‘coriander pesto’ which tastes as if someone’s decided to dust off the Nutri-bullet and make something ‘a bit healthy’. The slab of hake it comes with, however, is tip-top; bronze-skinned and pearly-white of flesh.

We ponder snaffling an extra bowl of sticky toffee pudding – possibly the lightest version we’ve ever scarfed – to horde for breakfast.

Instead, we descend the next morning and get busy with the hot buffet. Surprisingly there’s no menu to order from unless you want porridge, but traditional provisions are sound and plentiful. Don’t have too much of a lie-in, though; the queues are lengthy as we neck the last of our toast.

The bottom line: classic old hotel spruced up with a slick and stylish makeover.

Principal York website here. See also the Grand Hotel, York.

Double rooms start from £130 per night.

More of this here: @eatingthenorth

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