Today I visited Sutlers Bar and Kitchen, eager to experience the restaurant I have heard many positive things about. On reflection, I felt it was a great establishment, but with need for a few minor improvements. It is situated on Fossgate, my favourite street in York, full to the brim with exciting eateries and quirky shops. Sutlers has a fantastic exterior, with windows brandishing their logo and offering a great view of what the interior has to offer. The grey-coloured wood finishing on the exterior provides a subtle background to the logo-embellished glass, creating an intriguing exterior, without excess. Restaurants and shops often go to excess when creating their exterior; Sutlers gets the balance of intrigue without excess just right.
When we arrived the restaurant was not too busy, so we were able to be seated in one of the rooms they have upstairs. This room was nicely decorated, complete with faux wood panel wallpaper, traditional grey sofa and chairs, and old gin and whiskey bottles, keeping well with the British theme they aim for. Sutlers serve over 100 gins and 70 whiskies, an accolade nowhere else in York can claim. The aim to keep to this traditional British theme was successful, but not brilliant. The use of the wallpaper was a little tacky, and the room we were in was atmospheric, but slightly too dark. One of the restaurants most redeeming features was its genius use of Bowler hats as lampshades. This was a clever use of a classic British item; nobody wears them on their heads anymore, so why not use them as a lampshade? Very clever. The menus were as if they were a ration card of sorts, I suppose following a World War I or II theme. Our condiments were served in what seemed to resemble a soldier’s mess kit, following the same sort of theme. Yet this use of war-themed serving plates and menus contrasted to the more Edwardian interior design. Our menus represented war whilst our room represented a sumptuous British mansion. This contrast was a little jarring, yet I guess one could loosely link them all together under the broad theme of anything British, as both periods were almost in the same decades. I have been told that the ground floor and first floors have different ideas behind their design, hence the difference between serving plates from downstairs and the interior design of upstairs. However, I did not find these supposed differences clear-cut enough. I shouldn’t have to be told that this is the case, I should be able to see that this is the case! These aforementioned discrepancies between the menu and interior design are some of the subtleties which – in my opinion – mean Sutlers still have some minor improvements to make.
The food and drink itself was thoroughly enjoyable. I had a latte coffee, made with just the right amount of milk. Restaurants and cafes often overload you with milk to disguise the use of average beans. Sutlers did not do this, and the coffee was really tasty. I would highly recommend visiting for a coffee. If you sit in the downstairs bar you can get a fantastic view of York and Fossgate. The bar also features some lights which do in fact continue the war-theme. These iron-clad lights are lights you could imagine to fit perfectly in an air-raid shelter.
The chicken and bacon sandwich was enjoyable on all accounts, other than the fact that the chicken was mildly dry. The chips, however, were the best chips I’ve had in York: crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, with no faults whatsoever. Overall, the food I had at Sutlers was great, and I will definitely be re-visiting to try out their evening menu soon!
To conclude, Sutlers is an accomplished bar and restaurant, with a few minor improvements needed, such as a definite approach to theme, rather than a mismatch of different designs and ideas. Sutlers needs to have a clear focus; is it going for the Edwardian mansion, full of excess and American mistresses, or is it going for the WWI and II theme, full of moderation and the Great British stiff upper-lip? A combination of the two, as it currently is, is lazy and lacking creativity. There are various intentions – according to one of Sutlers’ staff – in the design, not just the two key ones I identified in this blog. There is supposedly a nod to its military past, a nod to the first and second World Wars, and that of Edwardian excess. Yet these intentions were not apparent to me or my friends. I understand the intentions the designers had, but were I not to be told that then I would have never known. Art should speak for itself, thus the Sutlers’ staff should not be having to tell me the design intentions of the restaurant, the design should speak for itself.
Fortunately, after talking to the staff there today, I have been informed that there is refurbishment underway, and a new menu will be coming soon. This new menu and refurbishment is the perfect opportunity for Sutlers to change what is needed, thus enabling the restaurant to reach its full potential. I will be back to visit in a few months time, hopefully having seen the changes Sutlers needs to make.
Photos above taken from http://www.sutlersbar.com/gallery-2/ and my iPhone. All credit for the photos not taken by me (all of them other than the bowler hat photos, menu, condiments and food photos) goes to Kristina Harrison Photography.