Keep York out of the chain gang

18 Nov 2013 @ 2.44 pm
| Opinion
Done Danish
Done Danish

emma-beaumont-headshotYork is getting yet another chain restaurant. Emma Beaumont says that we should retain our city’s individuality

The Danish Kitchen has closed. You know the Danish Kitchen, on High Ousegate, opposite Ann Summers. Yes, that one. After 36 years it has stopped serving hearty Danish fare, whatever that is.

I’ll level with you; I’m not that devastated about this demise. The restaurant never looked that inviting and their website is largely photos of whipped cream and mayonnaise bathed prawns.

Still, what rankles me is that it’s being replaced by a Byron burger restaurant. For those who don’t know, Byron is a London chain pushing poshed-up burgers and other Americana fare.

Like a one-night stand in a five star hotel, it’s a way of getting the dirtiness you crave, but in sanitised surroundings.

Oh Byron; lovely, consistent Byron. When I took a four year sabbatical from York (for university) you were a regular hangover haunt of my pals and mine.

It had a knack for delivering the fatty junk that we craved, but with less shame and self-loathing after. To top this off you could even accompany your heart attack on a plate with a glass (bottle) of pinot, numbing the guilt further.

There have been only two moments, which shook this love.

1) The photo that emerged of a piggy-snouted George Osborne destroying a Byron burger in a manner similar to how he’s devoured all our hopes and dreams. He Tweeted a photo of the meaty carnage in an attempt to be a man of the people. The people were repulsed.

The Chancellor studies Byron

2) When in Byron, Covent Garden in 2012, a blazer clad waiter couldn’t contain his astonishment that we had finished the courgette fries, skin on chips, onion rings and (most of the) side salad. “Wow, you shouldn’t eat for a week after that,” he sputtered. This is not a way to encourage people to return to your establishment blazer man.

These unfortunate incidents aside Byron and I have a solid relationship, but under no circumstances do I want them moving to York.

To be honest my instant reaction when I heard the news was one of relief. I love sprawling London and miss it dearly. Anything bringing York closer to the capital is a good thing in my mind. Ahh yes; my goldfish-like mind…

And I’ve been here before with these southern chains infecting our city. Wagamama’s, Waitrose, GBK, Yo Sushi, Strada, Urban Outfitters, and the massive Topshop… the list goes on.

I welcomed each with a hefty “Finally!” But with every one of these openings York’s sense of individuality is slowly being chipped away.

What we are in danger of creating is a homogenised city, a sort of sub-London. York is not just another English town, but one steeped in history, individuality and slight oddness.

Change is good, but a slide towards a world with Lord Starbucks as the supreme ruler cannot be desirable

The influx of these chains takes the vibrancy out the city and renders us rather schizophrenic. We have the historic Shambles, intimidating city walls, yet they exist messily alongside Ask, Zizzi’s and the house of the bastardisation of Italian food, Bella Italia.

Chains are tempting, familiar, and I would be lying if I said I haven’t found myself in one of the two Pizza Expresses in the city. Although quite why there are two is beyond me: can people not walk the length of Davygate without thinking about round two of doughballs?

But when I have friends to stay I want to take them to Il Paradiso, Evil Eye or even Betty’s.

We have great places to eat and drink, yet it’s Jamie’s (generic) Italian that is booked up on a Saturday night.

I’m not trying to create some weird fossilised York, representative of my childhood, that I can show off to others in an all-knowing, “weren’t my young years cool” manner. OK, that’s not the only thing I’m trying to do.

Change is good, but a slide towards a world with Lord Starbucks as the supreme ruler, flanked by Colonel Nandos and Lieutenant Pret a Manger cannot be a desirable thing.

If (when) you eat at Byron, the chances are that my dystopian view of the future won’t come to fruition, but great restaurants like the dearly departed J Baker’s won’t be able to keep up in this Chain City.

So stick it to the man and to George Osborne (synonymous things), and head to that special little burger place on Blake Street. I reckon they need all the help they can get. McSomething? Must be Scottish…